All Minnesotans can agree that the jewel of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness should be preserved as far into eternity as is possible with mortals at the helm.
So a proposal for a large copper-nickel underground mine in the BWCA watershed and just five miles from the BWCA itself has rightfully created fears of environmental degradation.
And while even seemingly straightforward regulatory processes can be political, the decision on Twin Metals mining proposal should be more about law and science than politics.
Twin Metals submitted its plan for mining to state and federal regulators in December. A day before the plan was submitted, former DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr urged Gov. Tim Walz to put a halt to the plan even before it was filed.
He argued Walz could stop the plan because the federal government has yet to turn over an environmental study it stopped after President Donald Trump was elected. The EPA said there was no new information in the plan that hadn’t been disclosed previously. The Obama administration, for its part, had said there was great risk to the Twin Metals project.
Landwehr also argued the state’s environmental laws aren’t tough enough to stop potential pollution of the BWCA.
Landwehr’s argument for a Walz intervention falls short on at least one count. If Minnesota’s environmental laws are not tough enough to prevent pollution from mining in the BWCA, it falls to the Legislature, not the governor, to fix them.
And it is important to look at the incomplete federal study. Walz’s DNR has requested a copy.
Both sides in this debate have solid arguments, though they are so far mostly based on politics. Democrats and unions and other Iron Range supporters see the potential of 700 high-paying jobs in an area of the state that has been stressed economically. The average weekly wage in the mining industry in Minnesota is $1,900.
Environmentalists, again many Democrats, say any mining is just too risky to be done so close to the BWCA. When sulfides in rock meet the air and water in nickel mining, it can create an acidic runoff leaching heavy metals into water. That could be the beginning of the end for the pristine waters of the BWCA.
The environmentalists also argue mining could actually be detrimental to the economy of the BWCA as damage from mines would hurt the environment and the tourism industry.
The environmental review could take five to seven years at both the state and federal levels. That review should be based on law and science including the science of risk assessment. Politics should not be the determining factor.