Monday, December 19, 2016

Obama administration denies permit for copper-nickel mine near Minnesota wilderness area

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday denied a lease for a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness, a popular tourist destination in northern Minnesota, Dan Kraker reports for MPR News. Kathleen Atkinson, a regional forester with the Forest Service, said "We're concerned about the impacts of copper-nickel mining in sulfide deposits, because there is extensive research that shows that should impacts occur, it would be virtually impossible to mitigate those impacts."

Bob McFarlin, spokesman for Twin Metals Minnesota, which has projected the mine could create 850 jobs and operate for at least 30 years, said, "We believe the action taken by the Bureau of Land Management is contrary to federal law. We've already filed suit, earlier this year, challenging the authority of the bureau to make such a decision. That lawsuit will continue. We believe we will prevail." (Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness map)
The Obama administration "has launched a rare, two-year national environmental review to answer a question that has dogged Minnesotans for years: Is the state’s crown jewel, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, at such risk from copper-nickel mining that trillions of dollars worth of precious metals should remain in the ground for decades in order to protect it?" Josephine Marcotty, reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "If federal regulators decide the answer is yes, they could place much of the watershed of the BWCA off limits to minerals exploration for the next two decades."

"The affected zone—234,000 acres of Superior National Forest land in the Rainy River watershed—is about 50 times bigger than the leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota," Marcotty writes. "It holds some of Minnesota’s primary deposits of precious metals, but it also drains into a pristine and much-loved wilderness. That would put the Boundary Waters on a par with other iconic places across the country, such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and the Front Range in Montana, all of which been granted similar protections."

"But it could cripple Minnesota’s nascent copper mining industry, especially if DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) Gov. Mark Dayton follows through on his pledge to halt new mineral exploration on state-owned lands near the Boundary Waters," Marcotty writes. "Geologists say that about two-thirds of the known precious-metal mineral deposits in Minnesota lie within that watershed, and more than half are controlled by the state and federal governments."

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