WASHINGTON – Two controversial measures from Minnesota congressmen, both of which would ease the way for mining expansion in northeastern Minnesota, have divided the state’s congressional delegation while spurring a broader environmental debate in the U.S. House.
The House on Tuesday passed legislation by DFL Rep. Rick Nolan that would finalize a land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet Mining. Nolan said his bill is key to advancing PolyMet’s proposed northeastern Minnesota copper-nickel mining project, with 6,690 acres of private land becoming public while 6,650 acres of contiguous forest and wetlands would fall under PolyMet’s control.
“This bill is a win for taxpayers, for the environment, and for good-paying jobs,” Nolan said. Other prominent DFLers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, have supported Nolan’s proposal, although it does not currently have a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
Nolan was adamant that his legislation would not enable mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, pointing out that any new mining project would still have to pass muster with state and federal regulators before proceeding. But environmentalists have warned that copper-nickel mining is more harmful to surrounding waters than the region’s existing taconite mines.
Preservation of the BWCA was also the subject of spirited debate Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. House, as Republican Rep. Tom Emmer defended his measure that would require congressional approval of any move by the federal government to withdraw government-owned land from mining.
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