26 Bipartisan Members Urge Zinke and Perdue to Rescind 425,000-acre Mineral Withdrawal and Renew Leases in Minnesota

Jun 30, 2017
Press Release
 

For Immediate Release                                                                                               Date:6/30/17
Contact: Jeff Small                                                                      Jeff.small@mail.house.gov
 

26 Bipartisan Members Urge Zinke and Perdue to Rescind
425,000-acre Mineral Withdrawal and Renew Leases in Minnesota

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Western Caucus members Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-06) and Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), and Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-08) released the following statements after sending a bipartisan letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue calling for the rescission of a 234,328-acre federal mineral withdrawal application and the renewal of two improperly terminated leases:

“After putting boots on the ground last week in Minnesota, I am confident, beyond a shadow of a doubt that President Obama shamelessly scapegoated responsible mining operations for his own anti-mining agenda by canceling these no-brainer leases and taking inappropriate actions that could result in nearly half a million acres being withdrawn from responsible development,” remarked Chairman Gosar. “Instead of prioritizing good-paying jobs, public education and local economies, the Obama Administration put the misguided agenda of extremist special-interest groups first, to the detriment of the people of Minnesota. I look forward to working with Secretaries Zinke and Perdue to right this wrong, create jobs and ensure good education funding for future generations in the Gopher State.”

“Last week, I was honored to lead a group of my colleagues on a tour of Northern Minnesota to showcase the incredible natural resources, mining opportunities, and job potential within our grasp,” said Congressman Emmer. “Unfortunately, in their last days, the Obama Administration remained adamant in their anti-mining stance by withdrawing approximately 425,000 acres of Minnesota land and refusing to renew mineral leases. This decision will result in the loss of thousands of good paying jobs and have a drastic impact on our local economy for decades to come. Today, more than two dozen members joined me in sending a letter to Secretary Zinke and Secretary Perdue to urge the reversal of a decision that could be detrimental to the future success of our great state. It is imperative we undue this harmful action leftover from the Obama Administration, and get the federal government out of the way so responsible mining can proceed and help communities across Northern Minnesota.”

“To be clear, I will never support or allow mining within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) under any circumstances. That said, prohibiting exploration outside of the BWCA buffer zone, before a project proposal is even made, is simply irresponsible,” Congressman Nolan said. “We should never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions. We must allow mining initiatives to proceed through the proper, rigorous and thorough environmental review process – using science, facts and technology to guide our review of actual projects and environmental technology. Our efforts have grown from a group of four Members of Congress to more than 20 – and we will continue working to bring good-paying jobs to northeastern Minnesota while protecting our environment.”

“Unnecessary rules handed down by unelected Washington, D.C., bureaucrats that violate agreements going back to the 1950s threaten the future of mining and economic development in Minnesota. After visiting the operation and meeting with stakeholders in Northern Minnesota, I understand this project's value to our country and our economy. I ask Secretaries Zinke and Perdue to honor long-standing agreements between the federal government and our citizens by lifting these last minute rules handed down by the Obama Administration, allowing Americans to continue investing in jobs, economic development, and education,” remarked Congressman Westerman.

Congressman LaMalfa said, “This type of Executive overreach by the Obama Administration is exactly the type of job-killing decision that stifles our economy, not only in Minnesota or California, but nationwide. We are talking about thousands of good-paying jobs at stake. I join my Western Caucus colleagues in urging Secretary Zinke and Secretary Perdue to look into this matter and rescind the previous administration’s decision.”

 

Background:

Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Gosar (AZ-04), Chief Forestry Officer Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Caucus Member Tom Emmer (MN-06) and Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-08) led a letter signed by 26 Members of Congress calling on Secretary Zinke and Secretary Perdue to rescind a 234,328-acre mineral withdrawal application and renew two improperly terminated leases.

Signers of the letter include: Representatives Mark Amodei (NV-02), Andy Biggs (AZ-05), Ken Buck (CO-04), Kevin Cramer (ND-AL), John Culberson (TX-07), Warren Davidson (OH-08), Scott DesJarlais (TN-04), Jeff Duncan (SC-03), Tom Emmer MN-06), Trent Franks (AZ-08), Bob Gibbs (OH-07), Paul Gosar (AZ-04), Mike Kelly (PA-03), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Doug Lamborn (CO-5), David McKinley (WV-01), Alex Mooney (WV-02), Rick Nolan (MN-08), Steve Pearce (NM-02), John Shimkus (IL-15), Glenn Thompson (PA-05), Scott Tipton (CO-03), Daniel Webster (FL-11), Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Ted Yoho (FL-03), Don Young (AK-AL).

Click HERE to read the letter.

Last week, Reps. Gosar, Emmer, Westerman and Nolan toured several mining operations, held a stakeholder meeting and visited the proposed federal withdrawal area adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness outside of the city of Ely, Minnesota. The comments they heard on the ground from American families, businesses and individuals who want these jobs and support these mining projects led to this effort.

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, federal land management agencies took several actions that could decimate local economies, stifle job creation and cause significant harm to K-12 education in Minnesota.

On January 5, 2017, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposed a 234,328-acre federal mineral withdrawal of National Forest System (NFS) lands, for a 20-year term, within the Rainy River Watershed on the Superior National Forest, immediately placing this vast area off limits to development for up to two years while the withdrawal is considered. The total withdrawal application boundary spans approximately 425,000 acres, including 95,000 acres of state school trust fund lands.

In conjunction with this massive mineral withdrawal, the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) inappropriately rejected Twin Metals Minnesota’s application to renew two hard rock mineral leases in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest – leases that were signed in 1966 and renewed without controversy in 1989 and 2004.

To date, Twin Metals has reportedly invested upward of $400 million – a significant investment – in reliance on two federal mineral leases that the BLM executed with the company's predecessors and renewed each time they expired.

According to Twin Metals, BLM’s refusal to renew the leases was based on a March 2016 opinion by the then-Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, concluding – based on flawed legal analysis - that BLM had the discretion to deny the renewal of the mineral leases.

In addition, Minnesota’s Constitution mandates that state trust lands ensure a long-term source of funds for K-12 education. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, revenues from state mineral leases derived from school trust lands in Minnesota totaled $51.6 million and $36.8 million, respectively. All told, Minnesota is projected to lose up to $3 billion in royalty revenues for the State’s Permanent School Trust Fund that would support nearly 900,000 K-12 students statewide if the withdrawal application and cancelled leases are not rejected by the new administration.

If left unchecked, the anti-mining actions pursued by the Obama Administration will block the creation of thousands of American jobs and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars. The University of Minnesota-Duluth estimates the creation of 12,000 construction jobs and 5,000 long-term mining jobs if mining projects already being pursued in Duluth Complex are allowed to move forward. These are good-paying jobs, as the average annual mining wage in Minnesota was $78,635 in 2015. These projects are also estimated to generate $2.5 billion annually for the economy.

The proposed withdrawal also contradicts the legislative intent of Congress. In 1950, Congress took action to make minerals available for mineral exploration and development within the Superior National Forest. In 1978, Congress passed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act (BWCAW), a historic compromise that prohibited mining within the Boundary Waters Area but explicitly permitted mining to occur in the Superior National Forest.

Environmental stewardship and positive economic growth are not mutually exclusive. Our members We support regulations that ensure environmentally-responsible mining in order to protect water quality and preserve the scenic beauty of the Boundary Waters area, where significant buffer zones already exist, including areas created by the BWCAW Act and the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act. Furthermore, any new mines proposed in the region will have to undergo, and adhere to, strict mandates and requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), state laws and other regulations. Unfortunately, the environmental study affiliated with the withdrawal pre-empts this comprehensive review from taking place, blocking the opportunity for a project to even be considered.

Minnesotans across the state have supported the development of the state’s mining industry, and specifically have voiced support for the Twin Metals project. Countless individuals and local businesses have weighed in against the actions of the Obama Administration. Government officials on both sides of the aisle have publically opposed these actions. In January, the Minnesota State Legislature sent a letter and “expressed their outrage at the recent politically driven decisions.” Additionally, the Lake County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing the proposed withdrawal.

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