Mining, the forest, and Trump: Why two MN Democrats are in a public fight

It's all over possible mining projects in 234,328 acres of the Superior National Forest.

The argument over mining in northeastern Minnesota's forest lands has two of the state's Democratic congressmen publicly at odds.

Rep. Rick Nolan (who represents the Iron Range and North Shore) wants 230,000 acres in the Superior National Forest to remain open to possible mining projects. And Rep. Betty McCollum (of St. Paul and the eastern Twin Cities area) is calling him out, accusing him of not protecting the environment after he asked President Donald Trump's administration for help.

Here's what led to their quarrel, and what each has said so far.

How we got here

OK, let's back up.

In January, the U.S. Forest Service – in its final days under the Obama administration – submitted a plan to make 234,328 acres of Superior National Forest land off limits to mine exploration. (Here's the order.) The reason was to protect the area from "potential adverse environmental impacts" that could come from exploring or developing mining operations.

That land all falls within Nolan's district (CD8), which covers the entire northeastern quadrant of Minnesota. That's an area where mining is a huge jobs creator.

When the Forest Service submitted that plan, Nolan called it "an anti-mining tactic and a waste of taxpayer dollars."

Nolan goes to the Trump administration

Fast forward a couple weeks. The Obama administration is out, the Trump administration is in.

Nolan sent a letter this week to the new faces at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking them to reverse the U.S. Forest Service's submitted plan to stop mine exploration on those acres because of its "negative impact" on his district. Though he reiterated he thinks water quality and wildlife needs to be protected.

"That being said, we should also never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions," he said, arguing projects should go through the "proper, rigorous and thorough environmental process" that we've set up.

McCollum responds

Well, McCollum was none too pleased.

In a statement Wednesday, McCollum chided her fellow Minnesotan and Democrat Nolan for the letter, saying she's "deeply disappointed" in his request and saying the "assault on this natural treasure is misguided."

"Particularly disturbing is that Representative Nolan thinks the Trump administration will make its decision using ‘science and facts,’ which puts an outrageous amount of faith in an administration that denies climate science and has openly peddled ‘alternative facts,'" she said.

And Nolan fires back

Nolan responded later Wednesday, noting he was an original cosponsor of the legislation that established protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (which is true).

And he doubled down on the process that's in place, noting there aren't any specific projects planned for the land right now. This U.S. Forest Service proposal would stop projects even before anyone has the chance to explore whether it could be done safely, he argued.

"Denying any business activity before you know what it is – and what kind of pollution abatement technology they will use or how effective it will be – lacks common sense and subverts the good, thorough and elaborate environmental review process we have in place," he said.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2021-08-01 at 9.16.26 AM

'Zero respect for authority': Olmsted Co. Fair wracked by wave of juvenile disturbances

Fair officials imposed strict new rules to deal with the problem.

ambulance, crash

Baby dies, 5 injured when SUV flips over fence onto I-94 in Brooklyn Center

Alcohol was detected on the driver, according to the State Patrol.

minneapolis police

Police say officers were shot at in north Minneapolis

Officers were checking into a suspicious activity report when gunfire erupted.


Walmart to mandate COVID vaccine for some managers, corporate employees

The company will also reinstate mask mandates for employees in high-transmission areas.

Minneapolis police

Driver plows into crowd after downtown Minneapolis brawl

Two suspects have reportedly been identified.

Jorge Alcala

Rare night for Twins' bullpen fuels victory over Cardinals

The Twins scored five runs in the third inning in an 8-1 victory.

Bisi Johnson

Report: Bisi Johnson tears ACL, will miss 2021 season

Johnson suffered the injury during Friday's practice.

Mike Zimmer

Frustrated Zimmer sounds off after Vikings' positive COVID test

"I’m frustrated, not just with my football players who didn’t get vaccinated, but I’m frustrated with everybody [who didn't]."

Kirk Cousins

Report: Kellen Mond has COVID, Cousins among players out of practice

The team is scheduled to practice on Saturday night.

USPS packages

Two Ramsey County men sentenced in mail theft scheme

Sonny Vang Xiong was sentenced to three years in prison, while Davis Her was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

Jeff Gladney

Jeff Gladney's ex-girlfriend files $1 million civil lawsuit

The civil lawsuit accuses Gladney of assaulting the woman for over two hours.


What the big mining and environment meeting in Duluth was all about

This all centers around more than 234,000 acres in the Superior National Forest.

What MN's lawmakers have said about the EPA, Trump's executive order

A look at MInnesota's U.S. senators and representatives, and their comments on the environment.

Trump administration scraps Superior National Forest mining ban

The Forest Service had sought to protect 234,000 acres of forest from mining exploration.

PolyMet gets the forest land it wanted for that copper-nickel mine

PolyMet got the land. But what else has to happen before the mine gets approved?

Plans for a copper-nickel mine near the BWCA have been blocked

People worried about the environment are happy. The mining company is not.

A MN Democrat actually agrees with a Donald Trump suggestion

Longtime Democratic Rep. RIck Nolan had nice things to say about a proposal from Republican President Donald Trump.

Trump officially moves to advance the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines

The two contested pipeline projects – Dakota Access and Keystone XL – have the official backing of the White House.

What Minnesota lawmakers thought of President Trump's address

What Minnesota's U.S. representatives and senators had to say about the president's speech.