St. Louis County Turns to Trump to Overturn Obama Mining Ban

supportersA month before leaving office, President Obama basically banned copper mining in the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota with a stroke of his pen. The post-election executive order went over big with environmentalists, but not so much with union members and businesses. They warned the ban would not only kill the Twin Metals copper mine, but also thousands of hard-to-come-by jobs and billions in related investment on the Iron Range.

Like much of the previous president’s agenda, however, what lives by the pen may be destined to die by the pen. Local media accounts indicate the St. Louis County Board, dominated by Democrats, appears likely to appeal to President Trump today to overturn the mining prohibition.

St. Louis County commissioners Tuesday will likely approve a resolution calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to overturn a recently imposed copper mining prohibition near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The County Board’s resolution is part of a region-wide effort to show support for copper mining in the Superior National Forest after the Obama administration decision to at least temporarily ban mining exploration over about 235,000 acres adjacent to the federal wilderness.

Observers expect a jam-packed board room with dozens of supporters and opponents of mining on hand. While the resolution may not be technically binding, it speaks volumes about the way political winds are blowing in northeastern Minnesota.

Mining “is our way of life. This is our culture. This is nothing but a land grab,” Commissioner Tom Rukavina of Pike Township said of the federal action.

The resolution in front of the board’s Committee of the Whole states that “the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners hereby requests the Trump administration to immediately rescind the (Bureau of Land Management-U.S. Forest Service) proposal to withdraw 240,000 acres of land in Northeastern Minnesota from future leasing, exploration and potential development.”

The county resolution calls the federal action “politically motivated” and says it will cause “irreversible damage” to the Iron Range economy by limiting the state’s expansion into copper mining.

The resolution says the federal fears of potential water pollution are “based on hypothetical and unfounded fears of generalized impacts from mining.”

Upon expected passage, the resolution will also be forwarded to Democratic Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to seek their help in overturning Obama’s ban. Democratic Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan supports overturning the prohibition, but the issue continues to expose the fault lines within the party over mining and resource development.

The proposed Twin Metals underground mine would employ about 800 people, although no formal proposal has been submitted for review by regulators. It would be much larger than the proposed open-pit PolyMet copper mine about 35 miles to the south. Twin Metals is in the Rainy River watershed that moves north into the BWCAW and on to Canada while PolyMet is in the St. Louis River watershed that flows into Lake Superior.

The County Board voted 4-3 in December of 2011 to support the proposed PolyMet copper mine between Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt after two long and acrimonious meetings in Duluth and Ely.

The Twin Metals issue hasn’t just split the County Board but also the state DFL party, with Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum fervently opposing the project and Nolan in support.