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Letter from Congresswoman McCollum to Constituents on National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act
Our nation has a long tradition of protecting extraordinary natural treasures. Next year we will celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service – 100 years of protecting iconic places like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I view my role in Congress as a steward of these special places and I am committed to protecting our national parks and wilderness areas so that for the next 100 years Americans can enjoy our nation’s natural treasures.
Since we live in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” it is fitting that Minnesotans are the stewards of two of the most unique and unspoiled areas in the United States – Voyageurs National Park and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Together, Voyageurs and the BWCA comprise over 1.3 million acres of federally protected land and water along the Canadian border.
It is the pristine water that makes these places special. Over 40% of Voyageurs is water. Within the BWCA there are 1,175 lakes and hundreds of miles of streams. Located within a single watershed – the Rainy River Drainage Basin – water flows west and north into Voyageurs and the BWCA and then into Canada eventually reaching Hudson Bay.
Ensuring that the water flowing into Voyageurs and the BWCA is as clean and clear as the water inside these protected areas will not happen without direct action from Congress and the Obama Administration. This week I will introduce legislation to do just that – extend additional protections to prevent mining related pollution from destroying these two treasures.
It is the combination of wilderness and water that every year draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across Minnesota, the U.S., and the world to visit Northeastern Minnesota to experience nature’s calm, true wilderness, and some of the purest water anywhere. These visitors to Voyageurs and the BWCA support a thriving tourist industry resulting in thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity annually.
Both Voyageurs and BWCA are federal lands protected by acts of Congress, but within the Rainy River Drainage Basin there are also federal lands with fifty year old mining leases. These leases are now in the hands of one of the largest foreign copper mining companies in the world – Antofagasta – which continues prospecting and exploring the potential for industrial scale mining in the Superior National Forest. Sulfide-ore mining for copper, nickel and other precious metals could take place on thousands of acres, including land that abuts protected wilderness.
Sulfide-ore mining poses a direct threat to the waters of Voyageurs and BWCA from a toxic byproduct called “acid mine drainage.” When sulfide rich ore is mined a chemical reaction occurs that produces sulfuric acid as sulfide rock becomes exposed to oxygen. If sulfide-ore mining is allowed to take place on federal lands in the Rainy River Drainage Basin “acid mine drainage” will endanger Voyageurs and BWCA’s fragile water ecosystem, as well as the tourism economy they support.
Citizens are concerned about this – very concerned. Over the past months I have been contacted by hundreds of 4th District constituents, thousands of Minnesotans, and more than 60,000 Americans from across the country all asking me to do one thing – protect Voyageurs and the BWCA’s waters from mining and its toxic pollution.
Today I want to respond to the thousands of passionate Minnesotans and Americans who love our state’s national park and our wilderness area. The legislation I will introduce this week in Congress would protect Voyageurs National Park and the BWCA. The National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act withdraws federal lands in the Rainy River Drainage Basin from the federal mineral leasing program. But, where federal mineral leases currently exist, my bill will require modern, enforceable conditions on mining companies that protect both the environment and American taxpayers. This bill only applies to waters that flow into Voyageurs and the BWCA.
In the 1970’s my predecessor, mentor, and friend, Congressman Bruce Vento, established himself as a national champion for our national parks and wild lands. He fought tirelessly to protect Voyageurs and the BWCA. Now decades later, it’s my turn to carry on the tradition of responsible environmental stewardship for our public lands. So I am going to start at home, in Minnesota. Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness belong to all of us as Minnesotans and Americans. It is worth protecting two special national treasures to make sure the next generation of Americans can enjoy their beauty, quiet, and pristine waters just as so many of us have.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum