The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has a good chance of getting the protection it needs from mining pollution after President Joe Biden’s administration announced last week it is seeking a 20-year moratorium on mining in Superior National Forest.
The U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture — which together regulate mining — said that they want to protect Minnesota’s BWCA, which they called a “unique natural wonder.”
The departments will now start a two-year study that will look at the environmental, cultural and economic impacts of mining near the Boundary Waters. After that a 20-year moratorium will be considered.
The moratorium is needed to halt Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals Minnesota from further developing plans for a $1.7 billion underground copper-nickel mine along Birch Lake, just outside the Boundary Waters, set to open by 2030.
A similar study for a potential moratorium on mining was being done during the end of the Obama administration, but after President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration ended the study before it was complete. With more than three years left in the Biden administration, the process will this time play out.
While creating a 20 year moratorium on mining near the BWCA would be a big victory, a permanent mining ban should be enacted. But that’s something only Congress can do.
While the former Trump administration and many Republicans support mining near the BWCA, it should be noted that the tools the Biden administration is now using to potentially ban mining near the BWCA was also used under the Trump administration.
In 2018 Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke approved a ban on new mining on federal land near Yellowstone National Park in his home state of Montana.
Zinke withdrew more than 30,000 acres in an area known as the Paradise Valley. The ban will last for 20 years.
Zinke’s words then are pertinent today for the BWCA: “There are places where it is appropriate to mine and places where it is not. Paradise Valley is one of the areas it’s not,” Zinke said.