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Long-awaited federal study finds threat to Boundary Waters from hardrock mining

Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

Hardrock mining on public land in northern Minnesota risks contaminating the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, even with measures designed to head off those problems, a long-awaited federal study says.

The environment assessment released Thursday by the U.S. Forest Service buttresses the Biden Administration's quest for a 20-year moratorium on hardrock mining on more than 200,000 acres in Superior National Forest next to the Boundary Waters.

The Forest Service report was released following years of controversy and a concerted effort to keep its work secret. Launched at the end of the Obama Administration, the study was canceled in 2018 by the Trump Administration which declared it an unnecessary "roadblock" to minerals exploration in the Rainy River Watershed, which drains into the Boundary Waters. President Joe Biden restarted the study.

During the Trump Administration, members of Congress and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources tried unsuccessfully to get access to the research. Some of the repeated requests, including from the Star Tribune, were met with blacked out pages.

Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said she is still plowing through the report — and at least 18 scientific studies attached to it. She said she feels "satisfaction" that the Forest Service was able to complete its work.

"The American people can read it, and policy decisions can be based on this nonbiased, non partisan report," Rom said.

 

Rom wants Congress to impose a permanent ban on hardrock mining on the federal land in the Rainy River Watershed, in Superior National Forest next to the Boundary Waters. Legislation that would do that, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn, had a hearing last month in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

McCollum issued a statement Thursday saying the Boundary Waters demands permanent protection.

"The proposed 20-year withdrawal is absolutely justified – and to avoid the type of political intervention we previously saw from the Trump administration, my legislation must pass to permanently protect this federal Wilderness and the interests of the American people in perpetuity," it said.

There is no Senate companion bill. Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have publicly said they were waiting for the study to be released before committing to further action.

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