Opinion: Boundary Waters important to our country
There’s no questioning where the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters group stands when it comes to the possibility of Twin Metals opening a copper mine in northern Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when it comes to a formal request the group made, asking her to withdraw from being mined the federal minerals Twin Metals is targeting.
Whether you support copper mining as an economic boon or are convinced the new-for-Minnesota industry would be an environmental disaster, you can agree the group deserves an answer from the interior secretary. At least a response to acknowledge its written request was received and will be or won’t be considered. But the group hasn’t heard anything.
“They don’t write back,” the campaign’s national chairwoman, Becky Rom of Ely, said in a meeting this week with News Tribune editorial board members and a reporter. “To us it’s an easy decision. And I think to Sally Jewell with her mandate under law, if she’s looking at this — and I don’t know if she is looking at this — it would seem to be a great thing she could do.”
The group’s request comes as mineral lease renewals are being considered for Twin Metals.
“We have asked that regardless of how that turns out, the secretary of interior exercise the rights that she has under current law ... to withdraw the federal minerals within (the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) from the (federal) mining program,” Rom said. “This happens a lot out West,” where federal minerals more often are located.
In 2012, for example, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew 1 million acres along the Colorado River from uranium mining that opponents said threatened the Grand Canyon; federal gold and copper deposits near Yellowstone National Park also have been declared hands-off, Rom said.
“When you have a very important, protected public land that is vulnerable to the negative impacts of mining, the secretary can say, ‘It’s my belief that we should not mine in this place,’ ” Rom said. Such withdrawals are for 20 years, offering time to determine the environmental threat, take action and make decisions.
Whether Twin Metals poses an environmental threat is undetermined. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and other environmental advocacy groups believes it does, of course. Four deposits being targeted by Twin Metals are located north of the Laurentian Divide, where water flows naturally north, which is toward the Boundary Waters, Voyageurs National Park, Quetico Provincial Park and other unspoiled areas, they point out.
Unlike the better-known PolyMet project, which is to be located south of the divide, Twin Metals isn’t far enough along to state or even suggest how it would mine in a way that also would be environmentally safe.
Regardless, last week, Gov. Mark Dayton said he had “grave concerns” about Twin Metals and its potential to pollute the Boundary Waters. Dayton said he wouldn’t allow the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to enter into new state lease or access agreements with Twin Metals. The strong stand was met by stiff resistance, including from U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.
“I strongly disagree with the governor’s refusal,” Nolan said in a statement. “To be clear, these agreements are not to be confused with the final approval or disapproval of the Twin Metals project itself. That decision will rest on a rigorous and thorough process based on science, facts and technology. “
So where does Interior Secretary Jewell stand? The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters group sure would like to know — and deserves to know at least if its request was received.
Because there’s no questioning where the group stands: “We’re here fighting because this is so important to the people of this country. You lose (the Boundary Waters area) once by industrializing it, you don’t get it back,” Rom said. “We would be sacrificing one of the great assets of this country for a Chilean-owned industrial operation utterly incompatible with this pristine place.”