Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area

Trump Administration Downgrades Study of Mining Impact

On January 26, 2018, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it will conduct an environmental assessment of risks related to sulfide-ore mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, abandoning its plans to complete a much more stringent environmental impact statement (EIS). The more thorough EIS was initiated by the Obama Administration late in 2016.

The announcement comes amid the Forest Service’s review of a plan to withdraw more than 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, in northeastern Minnesota, from mining operations, which could lead to a twenty-year ban on mining in the affected area. That acreage is adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, which TCLF included in its Landslide 2017: Open Season on Open Space.

In a statement reacting to the announcement, Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota said:

It's terrible that the Trump Administration is putting the financial interests of the Chilean mining conglomerate, Antofagasta, ahead of protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for generations of Minnesotans and other Americans. The Administration is downgrading its analysis of the impact of copper-nickel mining on the BWCA watershed and, shamefully, exempting from that review, Antofagasta’s proposed underground mine directly adjacent to the iconic wilderness area.

As TCLF reported last month, the Chilean mining company Antofagasta PLC, which has a history of environmental violations, met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to lobby for their position soon after his appointment. The Trump Administration then took steps to renew the leases for copper and nickel mining, reversing the Obama-era decision to suspend the leases while a federal review of the environmental impact of the mining was conducted.

Sulfide Ore Mining runoff
Sulfide Ore Mining runoff -

In his most recent statement, Governor Dayton added: “Incredibly, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management now says that Antofagasta’s leases of federal land are to be automatically renewed, which would mean that the company would control the public's land in perpetuity.”

The U.S. Forest Service will continue to accept public comment until February 28, 2018. The comments will be included in the project record delivered to the Bureau of Land Management after the completion of the environmental assessment later this fall. The Bureau of Land Management will then determine whether there is a finding of “No Significant Impact.” Comments from the public can be submitted via the project’s website. Mining could resume as early as January 2019, when Secretary Zinke will render his final decision.