How ‘Copper’ Should Always Look Here

I returned from my most recent trip into Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Sept. 10 (shot this photo there the night before) to see front-page headlines about the current U.S. president’s most recent attempt to win votes in northern Minnesota. His administration gave a green light to potential mining of 234,000 acres of national forest land there.

I’m concerned any time a politician does something like this. But I also know there’s a lot of passion about this part of the world that won’t let things change as quickly as the president may like (or even if they do, stay that way). In some ways it appears history is simply repeating itself. Here’s some perspective to consider, from a column I wrote last year:

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent, and epic legal, political and conservation-vs.-industry battles have been fought over the BWCA since the U.S. government first withdrew 500,000 acres from availability for settlement there in 1902.

In 1925, considerable effort went into a proposal for a series of dams to harness hydroelectric power; doing so would have obliterated most of the wilderness area. Most people living near the area favored the idea because of the jobs it would bring, but conservationists won out, and the idea eventually died.

Meanwhile, efforts to mine near and even within the BWCA have continued for decades. As far back as the mid-1960s, there was copper-nickel prospecting adjacent to it.

Industry and environment can work well together, and I remain hopeful this will be proven as Twin Metals’ copper mine goes online just south of the BWCA in the near future (in case you didn’t know, waters there flow north and spread throughout the BWCA).

[Update Nov. 2, 2018]

[Verbatim from the Star Tribune] State regulators on Thursday gave PolyMet Mining Corp. the green light to move forward with a $1 billion copper/nickel mine near the Iron Range, nearly completing one of the longest and most contentious environmental reviews in Minnesota’s history.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said it has issued a set of long-awaited permits PolyMet needs to proceed with the 6,000-acre open-pit mine, tailings basin and processing plant at the former LTV taconite site near Hoyt Lakes. It includes a financial assurance plan that would eventually peak at more than $1 billion to protect taxpayers against future cleanup costs and accidents, and pay for a water treatment plant that would operate for decades after the mine closes.