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McCollum Reintroduces Legislation to Permanently Protect Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from Toxic Mining Pollution

April 22, 2021
Press Release
Protecting 1.1 million acres of federal wilderness in Minnesota must be a national environmental priority

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) has introduced legislation to permanently protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from sulfide-ore copper mining pollution. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act protects 234,328 acres of federal land in the Superior National Forest within the watershed of the BWCAW to ensure the waters flowing into the BWCA are never polluted.

“The 1.1-million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an incredible, special, and vulnerable national treasure,” Rep. McCollum said. “This wilderness protects a priceless reserve of water so clean that you can drink directly from the lakes. Water is the world’s most critical natural resource, and it must be protected not only for today, but for future generations. The BWCAW is also a place of stillness and quiet that is unmatched anywhere else in the nation, and as the most-visited federal wilderness area in the country, it provides a refuge and source of adventure for millions of people each year. This bill establishes permanent federal protections where the water-rich Superior National Forest flows into the fragile ecosystem of the BWCAW, to ensure it is never polluted and poisoned from sulfide-ore copper mining. Once damaged, it would be damaged forever. Some places are simply too precious to mine.”

The full text of the bill can be found here.

Background:

  • In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service issued a Record of Decision denying consent for the renewal of two mineral leases within the Superior National Forest adjacent to the BWCAW, based on ample scientific evidence that sulfide-ore copper mining in the same watershed as the BWCAW risked “harm to this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area.”
  • In response to that risk, the Forest Service applied for the withdrawal of federal land and waters within the watershed of the Boundary Waters wilderness from the federal mineral leasing program. However, approximately 20 months into the 24-month environmental review period of that mineral withdrawal proposal, the Trump administration abruptly abandoned the environmental assessment without releasing any of the findings.
  • The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act would permanently ban dangerous sulfide-ore mining within the same 234,328 acres that the Forest Service identified in its withdrawal application. These are federal lands and waters within the Rainy River Drainage Basin – where the surface waters and groundwater flow north directly into the BWCAW and Voyageurs National Park.
  • In February 2021, Congresswoman McCollum wrote a letter to the Biden administration asking for a review of prior administration actions to advance the Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine project adjacent to the BWCAW, and asking to restart the environmental assessment canceled by the Trump administration.
  • In April 2021, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior are reviewing these actions.

Cosponsors: Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Daniel T. Kildee (MI-05), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Janice D. Schakowsky (IL-09), Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Sean Casten (IL-06), Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Ron Kind (WI-03), Gerald Connolly (VA-11), Dean Phillips (MN-03), Diana DeGette (CO-01), Judy Chu (CA-27), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Cindy Axne (IA-03), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Cori Bush (MO-01), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Moore (WI-04), Ed Case (HI-01), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Jerry Nadler (NY-10), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Jesus G. “Chuy” García (IL-04).

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