Minnesota to rewrite mining rules around Boundary Waters

June 1, 2023

Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources announced that it will rewrite its mining rules to expand the surface mining buffer zone around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The announcement comes after the agency determined its existing rules didn't do enough to prevent light and noise pollution.

The Star Tribune reported that the agency was ordered by a court to re-examine regulations for nonferrous mines.

Mining of any kind is already banned in the Boundary Waters and any mining that disturbs the surface is banned in the corridor. The new rules will be expand the size of a protective minerals management corridor next to the Boundary Waters.

The agency will also state lawmakers to address concerns about tailings and storage that were raised by the public through comments collected about its rule in 2021. The agency reviewed 4,000 messages and letters.

DNR's decision stems from a 2020 lawsuit filed by NMW. The suit argued that the DNR hadn't done enough to protect the Boundary Waters from pollution and degradation because the state's rules didn't cover all of the Rainy River headwaters watershed, which flows south to north, through the 1.1 million acre preserve, the Star Tribune reported.

Twin Metals, a company attempting to open a copper mine near Ely, MN, intervened in the suit. Company spokeswoman Kathy Graul wrote in a statement that it was reviewing the DNR's decision, and that the state already had “some of the most rigorous standards in the world.”

In January, the Biden Administration imposed a 20-year ban on mineral leases on 225,000 acres of national forest land in northern Minnesota, including Twin Metal’s mine site.

Last year, the administration also canceled Twin Metal's mineral leases. The company sued in federal court, where the case is still pending.

Graul wrote that “we remain committed to advancing a modern mining project that is protective of the environment and that meets or exceeds all state and federal standards.”

While the DNR is taking action based on light and noise concerns, the agency will not consider air and water issues as it re-examines its rule. In its decision, it pointed to existing Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regulations that already protect air and water quality.

NMW and Twin Metals both have 30 days to challenge the decision by asking for a contested case hearing, where parties can bring experts before a judge to analyze the details of the DNR's decision.

Photo: Shutterstock 


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