McCollum Floor Remarks Opposing H.R. 3905, Toxic Mining Adjacent to Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) made the following remarks on the House Floor in strong opposition to H.R. 3905, legislation that paves the way for toxic sulfide-ore copper mining on the doorstep of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness:
Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to this destructive bill. This bill undermines bedrock environmental and public land management laws in order to create perpetual leases for a foreign-owned, toxic mine. This mine will be on the doorstep of one of our country’s last truly wild places—The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Boundary Waters contains 1.1 million acres of unspoiled woodlands and more than 1,000 pristine lakes. This water wilderness is beloved by adventurers, canoers, and sportsmen and women from across the United States and around the world. To safeguard this natural treasure, Congress has prohibited logging, mining, and even the use of most motorized vehicles on this federal land. This has made the Boundary Waters a haven for birds and other wildlife, and the most-visited wilderness area in the United States. These visitors—over 250,000 annually—have helped the economy and created jobs in northern Minnesota.
But the bill we are debating today puts all that at risk. It paves the way for a massive sulfide-ore copper mine just a few miles from the Boundary Waters wilderness. Sulfide-ore mining is the most toxic industry in the United States. Sulfide mines pollute waterways with acid drainage that contains arsenic, mercury and lead. This type of mining is particularly risky in the vast, interconnected watershed that flows north through the Boundary Waters, into Voyageurs National Park, and across the border into a Canadian Provincial Park.
Supporters of H.R. 3905 claim that the bill still protects the Boundary Waters, because the mines will be located outside the wilderness area. Mr. Speaker, this is simply not the case. Let me show you where this mining would take place. This is the site of the proposed mine, on the edge of the wilderness area. The river that you see flows through the Boundary Waters. This area contains popular Forest Service campgrounds and entry points to the wilderness. It is a base for scouting and veterans’ outdoor recreation trips. Some of the Superior National Forest’s most popular fishing lakes and hunting grounds are in this area, as are hundreds of homes and businesses.
If this bill passes, it will create an industrial wasteland along this chain of lakes and rivers, which so many people and businesses depend on. This bill poses an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to a pristine wilderness. A 2012 study of American sulfide-ore mines found that ALL of them had leaked, and 92 percent had experienced failures that negatively affected the local water quality. Even state-of-the-art sulfide-ore copper mines consistently pollute their surrounding environments. For example, in August 2014, a copper mine in British Columbia released a toxic slurry— 10 billion liters of wastewater and 5 billion liters of tailings—that created a polluted dystopia of dead trees and a contaminated salmon spawning area.
Because of the risk involved with these mines, the Forest Service has begun a two-year environmental review. It will determine if the Boundary Waters is an appropriate place for dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining, or if a 20-year withdrawal of mining rights in the watershed is appropriate. This review is the process that Congress established, under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, for considering a mineral withdrawal. The review is supported by Minnesota’s Governor, tribal governments, and 79 percent of all Minnesotans.
But the bill we are considering today stops this established, scientific review process from going forward. Instead, it creates a loophole for the benefit of a foreign mining interest.
It automatically reinstates two expired and denied mining leases, which date back to 1966—before modern environmental protection laws like the Clean Water Act. It allows permanent mining leases on National Forest land— our nation’s public land— removing scientific safeguards, environmental considerations, and public input from the renewal process. It exempts the federal forests in Minnesota from the protections of the landmark Antiquities Act. This sets a dangerous precedent that will have consequences across our country. There is simply no justification for Congress to rewrite the rules for our federal forests in Minnesota. But that’s exactly what this piece of legislation does.
In short, this proposal is a giveaway of public resources to private interests — with one of our nation’s last wild places as the collateral damage.
Good people of both parties— all across Minnesota and throughout our country— know the importance of protecting this pristine wilderness. That is why so many of them have submitted letters to Congress in opposition to H.R. 3905.
I will be entering into the record just a few of those letters from:
- Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton;
- Three tribal nations—the Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and White Earth Bands of the Minnesota Chippewa;
- The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wildlife Federation, and other sporting groups.
- The Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin;
- Veterans for the Boundary Waters;
- and a coalition of dozens of national organizations that advocate for clean water, public lands, and conservation.
I urge all of my colleagues to join me, and to join them, in opposing this bill. I yield back the balance of my time.