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Minnesota lets public weigh in on adequacy of mining rules, as Chilean company wants to mine upstream of Boundary Waters



FILE: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (PHOTO: Dave Freeman)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota regulators began accepting public comments Tuesday on whether the state’s regulation of nonferrous mining would provide sufficient protection against environmental damage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The comment period runs through Dec. 8. The Department of Natural Resources has established a dedicated webpage for its review with a link to submit public comments online. The DNR is also taking comments by regular mail.

Becky Rom, National Chair of the campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, discussed the mining threat to the area on La Crosse Talk PM in late October.

At issue is whether the state’s existing rule that governs siting for copper-nickel mines would adequately protect the Boundary Waters “from pollution, impairment, or destruction” from mining in the Rainy River Headwaters watershed.

The DNR launched a review of the rule under court order as part of a lawsuit that seeks to block the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely, which would be upstream from the country’s most-visited wilderness area.

“It is important that commenters provide substantive information on why the siting rule should or should not be changed,” the agency said in a statement. “Comments that only focus on support for or opposition to mining, without providing further information for the DNR to consider, will not assist the DNR in its decision making about the adequacy of the existing nonferrous mine siting rule.”

The lawsuit by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness seeks to prohibit nonferrous metallic mineral mining, particularly copper-nickel mining, in the entire Rainy River Headwaters watershed. The current siting rule is narrower. It prohibits mining within the wilderness and mining that disturbs the surface in a designated zone around the Boundary Waters.

The state proceedings are separate from a review launched by the Biden administration last month that created a serious obstacle to the Twin Metals project. It ordered a two-year study that could lead to a 20-year ban on mining upstream from the Boundary Waters. Twin Metals is appealing that decision. The federal government’s move revived an effort to block Twin Metals that began in the final weeks of the Obama administration but was reversed by the Trump administration.

Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, says its mine design would prevent any acid drainage from the sulfide-bearing ore and protect the wilderness from pollution. It says the environmental review process already underway, if allowed to move forward, would show that the mine can be safe for the environment and should be permitted.

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