MINER Act passes House

Nolan joins 216-204 majority to back Emmer’s pro-mining legislation

by Tom Coombe -

Copper-nickel mining supporters gained their second Congressional victory of the week Thursday afternoon, when the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that could revive the Twin Metals Minnesota project near Ely.
On a 216-204 vote, the House approved the Minnesota Economic Rights Act authored by Minnesota Republican Tom Emmer.
The bill would allow the renewal of mineral exploration leases held by Twin Metals and reverse an Obama Administration 11th-hour ban on mining activity and exploration on over 234,000 acres of federal land in northeastern Minnesota.
After publicly wavering, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D), voted in favor of the Emmer legislation, dubbed the MINER Act. Earlier in the week, Nolan’s legislation to force a land exchange crucial to the PolyMet copper-nickel mining venture near Hoyt Lakes passed by a more comfortable 309-99 (see related story) margin.
“I support the overall intent of this legislation, which is to renew the Twin Metals mining exploratory leases while ensuring that our precious lands and waters remain protected,” said Nolan. “I want to be clear: This legislation does not approve any mining project nor circumvent the intensive environmental review process in any way. In addition, Twin Metals has not proposed any mining project at this time. If and when a project is proposed, it will be required to go through the rigorous, multi-year environmental review process conducted by multiple state and federal entities. No mining project will proceed unless there is an absolute assurance that Minnesota’s precious air and water will be protected.”
The MINER Act faced more House opposition, including from members of the Minnesota delegation, who split evenly in Thursday’s vote.
Joining mining opponent U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D) in voting no were fellow Democrats Keith Ellison and Tim Walz, the latter a candidate for governor next year, as well as U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen.
Minnesotans in favor were Emmer, Nolan, Democrat and co-sponsor Collin Peterson and Republican Jason Lewis.
Late Thursday, Twin Metals spokesman Bob McFarlin released the following statement:
“Twin Metals is grateful for the strong bipartisan support shown by Congress today for the working families and communities of Northeast Minnesota. Today’s vote demonstrates Congress’ belief that environmentally-responsible mining can and should be an important component of the region’s and the nation’s future economic security and prosperity. We thank Minnesota congressmen Tom Emmer, Collin Peterson, Jason Lewis and Rick Nolan and Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar for their leadership, along with the dozens of community, labor and business organizations that joined hundreds of local and state elected officials and other citizens from Minnesota and across the country in support of today’s vote.”
For now, no companion legislation exists in the U.S. Senate, but mining advocates are also hoping that the Trump Administration takes notice and reverses the Obama edict - which created a two-year moratorium on mining activity on the affected national forest land and ignited a study on the potential environmental impacts of copper-nickel mining in the region. That process could lead to a 20-year mining ban.
The federal government’s action in 2016 prompted a lawsuit by Twin Metals, which plans to develop an underground copper-nickel mine south of Ely and create hundreds of new jobs.
Twin Metals and mining advocates charged that the mining ban circumvented existing processes for permitting mining activity, and noted that the leases had previously been routinely renewed.
Mining opponents, contending that the Twin Metals mine would pollute the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and destroy segments of the region’s economy, pressed for the environmental review and the rejection of Twin Metals’ leases.
Emmer’s House Resolution 3905 requires Congressional approval for any federal proposal to withdraw land from mining, or establishment of national monuments in Minnesota. That power now rests with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Mining has been a way of life for Minnesota since the 1800s and is a crucial part of our state’s economy. Unfortunately, this was not a shared interest with the Obama Administration,” said Emmer. “In their waning days, the previous administration took unnecessary, politically motivated actions by refusing to renew mineral leases and starting the process to withdraw nearly a quarter million acres of federal land from development. By passing the MINER Act today, we are protecting more than 10,000 jobs, and billions of dollars in revenue and education funding while leaving an extensive process intact to protect and preserve the environment and our beloved Boundary Waters.” The legislation would also allow the renewal of mineral leases in the area and would ensure that future leases in the area remain valid and renewed, consistent with current law. It also includes language specifically protecting land within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Late last month, the Ely council went on record in support of the MINER Act, and the proposal resulted in sharp House debate Wednesday, with Emmer among those testifying in favor.
Emmer, who visited Ely and the Twin Metals operation with Nolan in June, also gained support from two other leading Republicans who were on that field trip - Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas.
McCollum and Paulsen were among those who spoke in opposition during the House debate.