Speak up to ban mining near the BWCA


Thanks to the commitment and hard work of thousands of individuals, the federal government has taken one of the most significant steps to protecting the Boundary Waters from the dangers of copper-sulfide mining.

If things go well — that is, if the process is guided by science and the popular will — we may soon see a 20-year ban on copper-sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters.

Here are the details.

The science behind protecting the Boundary Waters from toxic mining

Almost five years ago, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it would begin work on a two-year study into the potential effects of sulfide mining on the Rainy River Watershed.

The intent was to make a rigorous, scientific examination of how this industry might impact the environment. Such research was needed. After all, the Environmental Protection Agency has listed this type of mining as the most polluting industry in the United States.

In fact, the industry is so toxic that every copper mine that has ever operated has polluted the surrounding water. Because the risks are amplified in a water-rich environment like the Boundary Waters, such a study was needed to determine if this risky industry could safely operate in this unique ecosystem.

Depending on the findings, the study could have resulted in the Forest Service recommending a 20-year ban on mining activity on over 200,000 acres of federal land in the Boundary Waters watershed.

To no surprise, the mining industry and their allies fought this scientific study. They did not want it completed and did not want any part of the findings to be released. As the two-year study was reaching completion, the Trump administration, which had developed a cozy relationship with Antofagasta, the Chilean-owned mining company that owns Twin Metals, abruptly canceled the study.

When the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, was forced to release the findings from the study to the public, what we got was over sixty pages that were entirely redacted. Blacked out. Except for the title page.

Fortunately, after Trump left office, the Biden administration announced that it would resume the study.

A victory for clean water and the BWCA

Finally, after years of delay, the study has been completed. And on June 23, 2022, the U.S Forest Service released a draft of its study into the potential impact copper-sulfide mining would have on the Boundary Waters. 

The release of this study, which powerful interests tried to suppress, is a true victory and a testament to your work to protect the Boundary Waters.

Simply put, the study found that sulfide mining in the Rainy River watershed, would risk contaminating the Boundary Waters, even with protective measures put in place.

Further, pollution from mining wouldn’t just affect recreational paddlers and visitors to the area, it touches on important environmental justice issues. The study found that low-income and Native American populations in the Arrowhead would be disproportionately harmed by the acid mine drainage.

“Native American populations in Cook and St. Louis Counties and low-income communities identified in this analysis within the Arrowhead Region would experience a disproportionate level of adverse risk from the potential for acid mine drainage pollution to the Rainy River watershed from hardrock minerals mining due to cultural practices associated with the harvesting and consumption of wild rice, fish and fowl from the region (Bouyad 2020). In addition, low-income communities, many of which are located within the withdrawal application area, have a long-standing tradition of subsistence harvest and consumption (see historical overview) and may also be more likely to consume self-caught fish (Smith et al. 2009, Stackleberg et al. 2017), a known source of risk in exposure to methylmercury in the Region (Sakar et al. 2022, Pearson et al. 2020). Mining could result in a disproportionate adverse risk to Native American and low-income communities. These risks to environmental justice communities would persist indefinitely. Regulation, mine design and monitoring may reduce risk, but this risk cannot be eliminated.”

As with PolyMet, the other proposed copper-sulfide mine in northeastern Minnesota, environmental justice and human health are at the heart of the issue. The study concluded that the risks are too great.

And as a result of these findings, the Forest Service is now moving to recommend a 20-year mineral withdrawal on 225,378 acres of federal lands surrounding the Boundary Waters.

We have taken an enormous step to ending to any future copper-sulfide mining operation in the Rainy River watershed, including Twin Metals.

To make this happen, we need your help.

From now until August 12 (extended from original July 28 date), the Forest Service will have a 45-day public comment period to finalize the study. They want to hear from you! And it’s easy! Simply sign your name to the petition below and let the Agency know that science, clean water and environmental justice matter.

Sign the Petition

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