An opponent of nonferrous mining is hoping to circumvent existing state and federal regulations by entirely banning copper-nickel and precious metals extraction in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and nearby federal wilderness lands.

U.S. Rep Betty McCollum has introduced a bill (H.R. 5598) that would prohibit non-ferrous mining on 234,328 acres. The area includes the Rainy River watershed of Superior National Forest, including Voyageurs National Park.

“This ban would be devastating,” said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a trade association that advocates for responsible development of natural resources. In a news release, he called it a “desperate attempt to pre-emptively sidestep the rigorousreview processes already well established under federal and state statutes to determine the feasibility and safety of mining projects on public lands.”

In her bill, entitled the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, McCollum contends a peer-reviewed study of water quality impacts from 14 operating United States copper sulfide mines found 100 percent of the mines experienced pipeline spills or accidental releases. Ongaro noted that nonferrous mines including the former Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wis., and the Eagle Mine in Upper Michigan prove the minerals can be safely extracted.

Rep. McCollum’s bill acknowledges that there are scientific methods to determine whether or not mining will be detrimental to the environment and allows the mining of certain minerals. Yet the bill is intended to prevent those same methods from being applied to the mining of copper, nickel and platinum group metals that are critical to our conversion to a green economy. As an industry, all we are asking for is a fair environmental review process and the bill is designed to prevent it,” he said.

He noted that banning nonferrous mining would also harm the Minnesota School Trust Fund, which receives revenue from mineral extraction.

This proposed permanent withdrawal in Minnesota would be a devastating blow to the economic future of northeast Minnesota, where revenue and taxes generated from a responsible mining industry has supported families and communities for generations,” he said.