Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Are Being Threatened By Hardrock Mining, Which Could Pollute Watersheds For Generations

The Boundary Waters within Minnesota’s Superior National Forest is America’s most visited National Wilderness Area, a 1.1 million acre region, with over 1,000 lakes and 1,200 miles of rivers and streams.

From this area, countless millions of Americans draw clean, drinkable water. They fish in the freshwater lakes, hunt in the deciduous forests, and enjoy the beauty of the thriving native flora and fauna all throughout the year. 

Now, imagine enjoying the same after covering the Boundary Waters with a half-inch oil laced with nickel, copper, and palladium.

The Boundary Waters are located in Northern Minnesota.
Source: YouTube/Vox
The Boundary Waters are located in Northern Minnesota.

Previously terminated in 2016 out of caution for the perceived environmental impact, two federal mining leases for Antofagasta’s Twin Metals Minnesota are being quickly–and potentially illegally–pushed through the federal approval process. The company wants to build a sulfide-ore copper mine on the banks of, and under, the South Kawishiwi and Birch Lake.

As the Star Tribune reports, the Trump administration reversed the cancellation by arguing that the Bureau of Land Management did not have the authority to cancel them. Renewing these hardrock mining leases meanwhile cancels a promised assessment of a proposed 20-year ban on copper mining on Superior National Forest lands near the Boundary Waters.

This 1.1 million acre region comprises over 1,000 lakes and 1,200 miles of rivers and streams.
Source: YouTube/Vox
This 1.1 million acre region comprises over 1,000 lakes and 1,200 miles of rivers and streams.

According to The Wilderness Society, the Department of the Interior announced the renewal in May 2020 after the Trump administration spent two years rallying for the project. But not everything has gone by the book this time around. Questions surround the hurried environmental assessments that were carried out, as well the volumes of scientific research that say this could be a bad idea.

“The rush to approve mining in the region and unwind science-based decision-making by the previous administration violates the law, disregards the science, and ignores widespread public opposition to mining in this beloved and vulnerable area,” said Alison Flint, director of litigation and agency policy at The Wilderness Society.

Boundary Waters is a popular spot for recreational activities throughout the year.
Source: YouTube/Vox
Boundary Waters is a popular spot for recreational activities throughout the year.

The location of the mines put the St. Louis River, Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters at risk of pollution from heavy metals and other contaminants. As Earthworks reports, the Forest Service in 2016 held that copper mining in the Wilderness watershed would be an unacceptable risk to the lakes, rivers, and wetlands of the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest. Dozens of reports and studies were submitted during the public comment period for the re-approval, including more than 55 science and economic studies that show the potential for long-lasting harm to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Superior National Forest, and Arrowhead region through copper mining alone.

The the Trump Administration denied them all, claiming no new scientific information had been produced.

Copper Sulfide Mining could pollute the Boundary Waters and other watersheds downstream.
Source: YouTube/Vox
Copper Sulfide Mining could pollute the Boundary Waters and other watersheds downstream.

As St Croix 360 reports, mining crews are already drilling deep holes into the rock near Tamarack, Minn. They are taking core samples, flying camera drones high overhead, and using other electromagnetic methods to look for signs of copper, nickel, and palladium. Talon Metals Corp. and multinational conglomerate partner Rio Tinto want to sell these minerals to manufacturers of stainless steel or electric vehicle batteries.

According to American Rivers, more than 99 percent of the material extracted from these mines would be waste, quickly turning to sulfuric acid, heavy metals and sulfates that can pollute critical waterways.

Acid mine drainage can lead to disastrous spills.
Source: YouTube/Vox
Acid mine drainage can lead to disastrous spills.

Peer-reviewed hydrology studies have meanwhile shown that acid mine drainage from these mines will undoubtedly pollute the Boundary Waters, leaving them damaged for hundreds of generations to come.

“Similar mines elsewhere generate hundreds of millions of tons of waste rock and acid mine drainage that requires active water treatment now and for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years,” the river advocacy group reports. “Acid mine drainage harms water, aquatic and terrestrial species, forests and soils, and poses a serious risk to human health.”

The effects of pollution from hardrock mining can last for thousands of years.
Source: YouTube/Vox
The effects of pollution from hardrock mining can last for thousands of years.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies hardrock mining as the top polluting industry in the United States.

Water Legacy, a nonprofit formed to “counter the threat of sulfide mining proposed for Northern Minnesota,” points out that a Tamarack sulfide mine could pollute tribal resources retained under the Treaty of 1837 and the Treaty of 1854, as well as communities of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Learn more in the video below.

The approval of these hardrock mining leases could spell disaster for Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and the watersheds down river. You can help prevent that disaster. Click below and join the growing number of voices who are speaking out on behalf of clean water and pristine American wilderness.

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