Language mandating a federal report that will include the effects of sulfide-ore copper mining on international waters was signed into law Friday under the 2020 federal funding package.
The language passed into law requires the U.S. Department of State to report to Congress in no more than 60 days, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul.
In the news release, McCollum said the report recommits the U.S. government to its international partnership with Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, which states that waters flowing across the two nation's boundaries should not be polluted.
Specifically, the language requires the report to include the characteristics of the hydrology and ecosystem of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, as well as Canada's Quetico Provincial Park, and copper-sulfide mining's impact on Canada; the U.S. government's plan for monitoring and mitigating risk from acid mine drainage polluting Canadian waters; and the U.S. government's efforts to notify Canada about potential cross-boundary pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining, according to the news release.
McCollum sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau notifying them of the expected report.
Twin Metals, a mining company owned by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta, wants to build an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely, within the Rainy River Watershed and on the edge of the BWCAW. Critics of the mine worry it would send tainted runoff into the BWCAW while supporters say it would improve the region's economy.
In 2016, Barack Obama ordered a different study on the effects of sulfide-ore mining near the BWCAW that was later canceled by the Trump administration. Earlier this week, language that would have reinstated a similar study was cut from the 2020 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.
"While the White House took aggressive action to ensure similar language was stripped out of the Interior-Environment funding bill — which would have ensured science is used in determining the impact of mining on the Boundary Waters — the language that is included is an important step to keeping our shared international waters clean and safe," McCollum said.
In a statement to the News Tribune, Twin Metals spokesperson Kathy Graul said that the company's submission of its mine plan on Wednesday will kick off years of environmental review and permitting, adding that the National Environmental Policy Act and Minnesota Environmental Policy Act will both "allow for a rigorous and thorough review of projects to ensure that they meet all federal and state standards.
"Canada has successfully permitted nonferrous mining in the Rainy River Watershed and is advancing several additional projects," Graul said. "We are confident that we can advance a project that will bring significant economic development to northeast Minnesota while also meeting or exceeding all regulatory requirements."
Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, wasn't concerned when he read the law's language because he saw nothing in it regarding how a company will have to move through an environmental review when proposing a project. Ongaro also said Canadians are already mining in the Rainy River Watershed. Teck Resources, for example, is a Vancouver-based mining company with a copper-nickel sulfide deposit within the Rainy River Watershed in Minnesota.
"They know it can be done responsibly just like any company will have to show in Minnesota, that they can do it responsibly, the rest is all fear," Ongaro said. "You can only deal with fact."
In a statement to the News Tribune, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Chris Knopf referred to the news of the language in the bill requiring the study as a "Christmas present."
"We look forward to reviewing the report on the effects of copper-sulfide mining that the Trump administration is required to produce within 60 days," Knopf said. "We are grateful for the efforts of Congresswoman Betty McCollum to ensure that science triumphs over politics.”