Biden protects Minnesota’s boundary waters from mining



An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that mining was proposed inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The proposed mining would be near the wilderness area.

The Biden administration has banned mining for 20 years in a giant watershed near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, the president’s latest effort to fulfill his conservation promises that would shape the future of America’s wild lands.

The move, announced Thursday, extends a temporary decision from a year ago to block mining of copper, nickel and other hard rocks that the Trump administration had tried to greenlight near the Canadian border. Officials said they determined the potential toxic leaching from mining would be too threatening to nature, local Native American communities and a growing recreational economy.

According to the Home Office, Boundary Waters is the most visited wilderness area in the country. And Thursday’s decision will affect 225,000 acres of federal lands and waters in the Rainy River watershed, which adjoins the wilderness northwest of Lake Superior.

It comes a day after the administration moved to protect Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, and as it faces other decisions on hotly contested sites in Alaska and Nevada. The Biden administration has vowed to set aside sacred tribal sites and conserve 30% of US land and water by 2030, but has been criticized for how to balance that push with demand for oil, renewable energy and minerals.

“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to manage public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is essential to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, maintaining our tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreational economy.

Mining advocates in the region have said it can be a key national source of the materials needed for President Biden’s promised transition to cleaner energy. Twin Metals Minnesota, a subsidiary of Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta, held leases there that the administration canceled last year, and accused the administration of trying to circumvent the law to stop the project for political purposes.

In a statement Thursday, a mining industry leader said the decision was frustrating, given the Biden administration’s stated goals on “electrification, energy transition and supply chain security.” “.

“At a time when demand for minerals such as copper, nickel and cobalt is skyrocketing for use in electric vehicles and solar and wind infrastructure, the administration is removing hundreds of thousands of acres of land that could provide American manufacturers with abundant sources of these same minerals,” said Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association.

The administration’s environmental agenda has led to similar clashes with oil and mining companies in Alaska and solar developers in Nevada. He faces decisions many expect in days on the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska and on 33,000 acres around Avi Kwa Ame Mountain in Nevada.

He also pledged to Alaskan leaders to complete an environmental review this month of ConocoPhillips’ multi-billion dollar Willow oil project, which climate activists oppose. That deadline comes on Tuesday, and the administration has signaled that it may allow drilling to continue there, in a smaller area.

Current and former administration officials believe the company’s long-standing leases would be difficult for the federal government to break. Such legal hurdles have forced the administration to slow down on large swaths of its climate agenda and limited how far it can go to deliver on promises Biden has made to block oil drilling in the Arctic and other territories. federal.

“They had legitimate difficulties with a divided country and Congress,” said John Leshy, a law professor who served as an interior lawyer under President Bill Clinton and has written about federal authority to limit rental of fossil fuels. “They urge people – in state government, in the private sector, at all levels – to pay more attention to conservation. I think that usually works.

Biden pledges to honor tribes by protecting Nevada’s public lands

Administration officials did not respond to questions about the timing of their moves and whether there is a strategy to accelerate them now. But in recent days, they have emphasized that they are committed to delivering on the environmental promises made by Biden early in his administration.

On Thursday, an interior official noted that the department had already canceled Twin Metals’ leases, opening an easier path for Haaland to order protections around the 1.1 million acres of Boundary Waters to take effect. . He said the leases were improperly renewed under the Trump administration thanks to inadequate environmental analysis that bypassed the US Forest Service, which manages the acreage.

Senior department officials see the wilderness there as unique, “irreplaceable” and easily damaged due to the huge and fragile connections between all the waterways that run through the region. In 2021, the Biden administration launched a scientific analysis, which found that mining could cause irreparable damage to nature and culture in the region, officials said Thursday. He found several examples over the past decade where containment efforts failed and other mine spills in the region caused such damage, an agriculture ministry official said.

Each year, Boundary Waters attracts around 150,000 Boy Scouts and other visitors who want to canoe, fish and connect with nature. The glaciers that carved out the area over the past 2 million years left behind rugged terrain that is now home to wolves, moose, bobcats, beavers, bald eagles and peregrine falcons .

“Acid pollution from sulphide mines as far away as 100 miles threatens park waters and all who visit. Even small amounts of this pollution are detrimental to public health,” Christine Goepfert, campaign manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. “Prohibiting mining activities in the region’s valuable boundary waters will protect the entire park ecosystem now and for years to come.