Rep. Phillips praises new protections for Minnesota's Boundary Waters

October 20, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) praised the Biden Administration’s announcement of new protections of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) and surrounding watershed in northeastern Minnesota. The White House will initiate consideration of a 20-year withdrawal of key portions of the national forest lands from disposition under the mineral and geothermal leasing laws, which would temporarily prohibit the issuance of new prospecting permits and leases in the area a critical step towards preserving this unique natural wilderness.

“The BWCA is a Minnesota and national treasure,” said Rep. Phillips. “I’m grateful that the White House has reached the same conclusion as so many people in our state – we must rely on sound scientific consensus and sufficient public input when making decisions about mining activities around these pristine waters. I will continue to stand alongside Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a remarkable leader on this issue, to pass legislation to keep the BWCA unpolluted for generations to come.”

The Biden Administration is picking up where the Obama Administration left off. In 2016, the Obama administration initiated steps to withdraw portions of the watershed from new mineral permits and leases. In 2018, the Trump administration canceled the Forest Service’s withdrawal application and the associated environmental review after three public meetings already had been conducted, more than 90,000 public comments collected, with almost two years of environmental analyses undertaken.

Though the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to withdraw lands for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal; only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal. Rep. Phillips is an original co-sponsor of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, which would permanently prohibit sulfide-ore copper mining within 234,000 acres of federal wilderness in the Rainy River Drainage Basin, where the surface waters and groundwaters flow directly into the BWCA. Far more toxic than Minnesota’s traditional form of iron-ore and taconite mining, pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining can last for thousands of years and is almost impossible to contain. This mining puts the wilderness area’s watershed, fish and wildlife, Tribal treaty rights, and  nearly $100 million annual local recreation economy at risk.

The Boundary Waters is the most popular wilderness destination in the country, with more than 150,000 visitors each year from around the world. In addition to its negative environmental and public health impacts, an independent study from the Harvard Department of Economics found that pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining would threaten the 17,000 jobs that the BWCA brings to Minnesota.

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