Two Democratic lawmakers poised to rise to powerful positions in the U.S. House of Representatives are demanding that President Donald Trump’s administration explain its decision to abruptly abandon a study of the potential environmental impacts of mining on wildlands and waterways in northern Minnesota. The move marks the latest twist in what is becoming a major political battle over mining on U.S. public lands.
In a letter sent last week to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, representatives Betty McCollum (D–MN) and Raúl Grijalva (D–AZ) asked the officials to detail why they prematurely ended a 20-month-old environmental assessment aimed at examining the risks that a proposed copper and nickel mine might pose to 95,000 hectares of federal land within the Rainy River watershed. The study began in 2016, after former President Barack Obama’s administration moved to bar mining in the watershed, which sits within the Superior National Forest next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But the Trump administration canceled the study in September, saying it had revealed “no new scientific information” on mining risks. It also announced it would renew mineral leases in the watershed. One company, Twin Metals Minnesota based in St. Paul, has long eyed the area for a large open pit mine.
The Trump administration should immediately halt those leasing efforts, say the two lawmakers, who will become senior members of the House when Democrats take control of the chamber in January. McCollum is expected to lead a spending panel that oversees public lands, and Grijalva is expected to lead the House natural resources panel. Agency officials violated federal environmental laws by canceling the study, they alleged in a previous letter sent on 5 November. And they “appear to have disregarded scientific information” in many “new scientific reports detailing the risk of sulfide-ore mining.”