WASHINGTON - Two Minnesota U.S. representatives are at odds over mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan on Tuesday, Jan. 31, sent a letter to a senior federal Agriculture Department official urging him to overturn a decision by the Forest Service to stop mining exploration across 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest. Nolan serves the northeastern Minnesota area in question.
On Wednesday, Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul, a strong environmentalist, fired off a statement saying that she has worked for years to protect the Boundary Waters. In his final days in office, Democratic President Barack Obama's administration stopped the mining exploration.
McCollum said: "Given that recent triumph, I am deeply disappointed that my colleague Rep. Rick Nolan is now asking the Trump administration to reverse the Obama administration's decision and once again put our Boundary Waters at risk. Particularly disturbing is that Rep. Nolan thinks the Trump administration will make its decision using 'science and facts,' which puts an outrageous amount of faith in an administration that denies climate science and has openly peddled 'alternative facts.'"
Federal officials under Obama said the area around the water-studded wilderness was too sensitive to allow any large-scale copper mining because of the threat of acidic runoff.
Nolan's letter went to Dan Jiron, acting USDA under secretary for natural resources and environment at the ag department.
"We are all in agreement with the USDA's mission to maintain water quality and to protect fish and wildlife," Nolan said. "We must protect our environment. That being said, we should also never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions. We must allow mining initiatives to proceed through the proper, rigorous and thorough environmental process - using science, facts and technology to guide our review of actual projects and environmental technology. Prohibiting this exploration before a project proposal is even made is simply irresponsible."
McCollum often speaks out on environmental concerns.
"For years, I have worked alongside tens of thousands of Minnesotans and Americans to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the unacceptable risk of pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining," she said. "In December, President Obama rejected a Chilean-owned company's effort to renew 50-year-old leases adjacent to the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park and took additional steps that would protect the BWCA from dangerous mining. That decision was a victory for every Minnesotan who cares about preserving clean water, clean air, and pristine wild lands."
She said Nolan's "assault on this natural treasure is misguided. Minnesotans can count on me to stay the course and keep fighting every day to protect our Boundary Waters from polluters, the Trump administration, and politicians who stand with it."