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U.S. Sen. Tina Smith urges Biden Administration to restart study on mining in Superior National Forest

The study, which the Trump Administration stopped, would determine the environmental and economic impacts of a ban on mining in the area.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

U.S. Senator Tina Smith is pushing the Biden Administration to restart a study on copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that was canceled under former President Donald Trump. 

The Democratic senator from Minnesota sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture asking them to restart and complete the mineral segregation and withdrawal study for the Rainy River Watershed.

“I became a senator in January 2018. In June of that year, three months before the previous segregation and withdrawal period was ended early and without real explanation, I wrote to Trump Administration officials to request that they follow through on their initial commitment to completion of the study process,” wrote Sen. Smith in her letter urging Secretary Thomas Vilsack of the USDA and Secretary Deb Haaland of the Department of the Interior to direct the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to take this action.

The U.S. Forest Service had proposed the study, which could have led to a 20-year ban on mining land in the Superior National Forest and the Rainy River Watershed, but after President Trump took office he ended it. Smith is hoping to resume that study, which would determine the environmental and economic impacts of a ban on mining for copper, nickel and other metals on the federal lands in northern Minnesota. 

Related [2018]: Trump administration cancels proposed Superior National Forest mining ban

At the time, Smith stressed to the Trump Administration that "mining is an important tradition in northeastern Minnesota and an ongoing source of good jobs" but also said the BWCAW is a "fragile and irreplaceable resource," adding the decision-making process must be "thorough, complete and unbiased" because the country "cannot afford to get this one wrong."

Smith in her letter to Biden Administration officials says she still feels the same way. 

“The miners on Minnesota’s Iron Range are the best in the world at what they do, and they have long depended on mining jobs to provide for their families and their communities. We owe it to all the people of Minnesota to determine openly and transparently where it is safe and under what conditions it is appropriate to mine copper-nickel-sulfide deposits," she wrote in the letter. 

In the years since Trump took office, some members of Minnesota's Congressional district have pushed to restart this study as well as conduct further environmental reviews of how mining could impact the pristine BWCAW. 

In a news release Friday, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters praised Smith's request. 

"Minnesota's Boundary Waters is a national treasure and a fundamental part of Minnesotans' way of life. Sen. Tina Smith's support for protecting this priceless natural wonder and the thousands of jobs that depend upon it is tremendous news for not just Minnesotans, but for the thousands upon thousands of Americans who love this special place. We believe this science-based environmental assessment will show decision-makers the Boundary Waters should be protected. This is a critical step on the path to permanent protection," Executive Director Tom Landwehr said in a statement. 

The group notes the BWCAW is the most heavily visited wilderness area in the U.S., attracting more than 155,000 visitors from all over the world, which drives more than $900 million in annual economic activity and supports more than 17,000 jobs in northern Minnesota. 

A study from Harvard University found protecting the BWCAW from the proposed Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine would create more jobs and income in a 20-year period. Meanwhile, the group says nearly 70% of Minnesotans support a ban on copper mining in the Superior National Forest. 

Earthjustice also said it's grateful for Smith's efforts to restart the study, with Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley saying: 

“The previous administration wasn’t interested in finishing a federal study regarding the impacts on mining near the Boundary Waters because they knew that the study would not yield the results needed to realize their toxic mining dreams. We are grateful to Senator Smith for her leadership in calling for the completion of the study, and publicly defending the pristine Minnesota wilderness. We look forward to working with the Senator and her team in the future so that this special area can one day be permanently protected.”

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