This week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of two hazardous bills – H.R. 3115 and H.R. 3905 – that would provide major boosts to copper sulfide mining proposals in Minnesota. These bills support the PolyMet mine near Hoyt Lakes and the Twin Metals mine near Ely, respectively. The two mine proposals are in different watersheds, but both could have catastrophic effects on the water, land, and people in those areas.
PolyMet seeks to mine for copper and nickel at a site in the St. Louis River watershed. the PolyMet project would require water treatment long after the mine closes, for 500 years or more. The processing plant is built on an abandoned taconite site, raising the walls of a 40 year old dam by hundreds of feet and layering sulfide mining waste on top of an unstable foundation of taconite mining waste. A failure of this dam would have catastrophic consequences on communities living downstream. The St. Louis River flows into Lake Superior, meaning our greatest freshwater resource would be endangered as well. This land is also in the heart of 1854 Treaty Territory and will impact treaty rights and downstream communities, including the Fond du Lac Reservation.
H.R. 3115 would push forward a land exchange between the federal government and PolyMet that is currently under litigation. The bill bypasses due process on this critical decision. And PolyMet hasn’t completed the required permitting process, so forcing the exchange is a problematic step at this time. Unfortunately, the bill passed the House on Wednesday. We hope the Senate will not follow up with similar legislation. The PolyMet permitting and approval process will be a long one, and this would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction.
H.R. 3905, also known as the MINER Act, would override the authority of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and grant mineral leases to the Twin Metals copper-nickel mine project. Federal agencies rejected mineral leases for Twin Metals because they concluded it was too risky in this water rich environment without further study. The Twin Metals mine would extract sulfide ores in the Boundary Waters watershed, and threaten our vulnerable waters and the livelihoods and jobs of Minnesotans who live and work there. H.R. 3905 would subvert science and due process not only by approving these leases, but by requiring Congressional approval for agencies to withdraw mineral leases anywhere in the country. And it would single out Minnesota for unfair treatment by eliminating the presidential power to create national monuments in our state.
H.R. 3905 passed the House on Thursday, but it did so by a thin margin of only twelve votes, and the high level of opposition is a strong boost to the effort to make sure a similar bill does not succeed in the U.S. Senate. This legislation would set a bad policy for this and future copper sulfide mining proposals.
Thanks in large part to the tireless work of advocates, including MEP’s staff, friends and partners, there was significant pushback against both bills.
We thank all of those who took action against these bad bills, and we have no intention of stepping aside in the face of this continuing challenge. We urge all Minnesotans who value clean water, healthy communities, and sustainable jobs to continue to speak up! You can call the United States Senate at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Senators’ offices to tell them to oppose giveaways to PolyMet and Twin Metals. Or visit our website, mepartnership.org, where we’ll be posting action forms you can use to email your Senator on these destructive bills. It’s time for all of us to speak up to defend our waters, our economy, and our communities.