DNR comment period on mining near BWCA ends December 8th

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Five days left to make a difference for the BWCA: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is currently accepting public comments on regulations that will play a key role in the future of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Rainy River Watershed. Minnesota’s nonferrous mining rules – covering mining ores other than iron – will help determine whether proposed sulfide ore mining projects can be built within the watershed.

The Biden Administration recently moved toward instating a moratorium on sulfide mining on federal lands near the BWCA, but that move would not cover state lands in the Boundary Waters watershed, making these rules no less important.

The most visible project that would be impacted by updated rules is the Twin Metals copper-nickel sulfide mine, proposed to be built near Ely. But future mines in the same area would also be affected, or stopped, if the rules are strong. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t be: federal law prohibits degradation of the water quality in the Boundary Waters. Minnesota has a responsibility to ensure that protection is a reality, not just a goal. 

The original nonferrous mining rules were created nearly 30 years ago, and the science hasn’t gotten rosier on the impact of sulfide mining on watersheds. No such mine has ever operated in the United States without significant, often permanent damage to the surrounding environment through toxic acid drainage.

Twin Metals, like the PolyMet mine proposed near Hoyt Lakes, has promised to use advanced technology to protect Minnesota waters, but has offered scant proof that it will work. Even in the absence of water pollution, this type of mining is energy- and land-intensive and would result in significant climate damage.

Making northern Minnesota a test case for new mining techniques is a dangerous proposition. The Boundary Waters hydrology is extremely interconnected, and extremely vulnerable to the acidic pollution of sulfide ore waste. Pollution at Twin Metals would not be contained at Twin Metals. A large spill could devastate one of the world’s largest freshwater resources and deal a massive blow to the region’s economy.

For all these reasons, it’s important that Minnesotans make their voices heard on these rule changes. Adequate protections by the state could completely prohibit sulfide mining in the Rainy River watershed, securing the Boundary Waters against this new threat. But given the recent history of state agencies when it comes to sulfide mining, it’s vital that the DNR hears loud and clear that Minnesotans want the rules to be proactive.

The comment period ends on December 8th. We encourage all concerned individuals – whether in Minnesota or outside the state – to submit comments in support of stronger rules by that date on the official DNR comment site, or by using this link from the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. You can use information from MEP’s blogs or from member organizations like the CampaignFriends of the Boundary Waters, or the Sierra Club.

In the long term, a key goal of our coalition is to see all of northern Minnesota’s waters and Lake Superior protected from sulfide mining, through protections like the Prove it First bill and the Boundary Waters Protection Bill. Given the threats our waters already face, we can’t afford to let unproven mines owned by unethical corporations put these vital resources in jeopardy.

If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at matthew@mepartnership.org.

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