House Passes Bill Ending Obama Mining Ban in Northern MN

The Obama administration’s last-minute ban on mineral exploration in northern Minnesota would be history under legislation passed late last week by the U.S. House of Representatives.  The measure still needs to clear the Senate in order to reach President Trump’s desk. But as the Duluth News Tribune and other media noted, it’s a big step in the effort to tap into the Iron Range’s vast mining potential.

The bill is aimed at Twin Metals, the Chilean-owned company that wants to build a massive underground copper mine near the Kawishiwi River southeast of Ely.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in January refused to renew mineral leases held by Twin Metals that allowed them to explore in the area. Moreover, the Forest Service moved to ban all new mining activities near the BWCAW for at least two years and potentially more while the agency conducts a generic study on the potential of mining to damage the wilderness.

The House bill includes a surprise bonus that’s also a rebuke of the previous administration’s abuse of presidential power with regard to federal government taking of land within Minnesota.

The bill passed by the House on Thursday — H.R. 3905, sponsored by Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn. — also prohibits any president from creating any new national monument in Minnesota without congressional approval.

The final vote came after a heated debate Wednesday on the House floor which included lawmakers from across the nation debating the potential impact, or not, of copper mining on the Boundary Waters.

“This legislation is critically important to the United States,” Emmer said during debate on the House floor before the vote, saying the copper, nickel and other metals are “strategically important” for the nation’s economy and national defense.

Opening up northern Minnesota to mineral exploration has clearly become a matter of national security, as well as Minnesota’s economic security. Any potential mine would still need to clear stringent environmental safeguards.

Copper mining supporters say Twin Metals, wholly owned by mining giant Antofagasta, should be given the chance to apply for environmental review for the massive underground mine. The company already has pumped $400 million into the project and plans to spend another $1.2 billion to develop the mine that could employ 650 people and spur hundreds of other jobs.

Earlier in the week the House of Representatives also gave a green light to another mining bill for northern Minnesota, directing the U.S. Forest Service to approve a land swap for the PolyMet copper mining project. The Iron Range’s mineral resources have clearly put northern Minnesota back on the map.