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The fate of the Boundary Waters is on the November ballot

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The fate of the Boundary Waters is on the November ballot

May 22, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Becky Rom
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The fate of the Boundary Waters is on the November ballot
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Seagull Lake near the end of the Gunflint Trail. The Boundary Waters and surrounding Superior National Forest are home to 20% of the freshwater in the national forest system. Photo by Christina MacGillivray/Minnesota Reformer.

An extraordinary story in the Washington Post on May 9 reported that at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump told oil and gas industry executives that if they gave $1 billion to his presidential campaign, he would reverse dozens of President Biden’s regulations enacted to combat the climate and biodiversity extinction crises.

That sort of crassness is entirely consistent with Trump’s drive to help Chilean billionaires exploit our public lands by mining copper in the Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. He callously disregards the welfare of the American people. All that matters to Trump is what’s in it for Trump. 

In June 2018, while attending a political rally for then-GOP candidate and now U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, Trump called for the cancellation of the Forest Service’s ongoing study of the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. Why? Because shortly before the rally, a Minnesota politician told Trump that if he opened the Superior National Forest to sulfide-ore copper mining, he would win Minnesota in the 2020 election. He didn’t win Minnesota, because the people of Minnesota love the Boundary Waters. Nonetheless, his administration sought to enable destructive sulfide-ore copper mining for the benefit of Chilean billionaires and their mining company, Antofagasta. 

Trump used his administration — including officials who were former industry lobbyists — to issue federal mineral leases along rivers and lakes that flow directly into the Boundary Waters. He attempted to jam through approval of a defective mine plan of operation submitted by Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals. He halted and then buried the Forest Service study on the dangers of mining in this area. Under pressure to release the study, the Trump Administration produced a 60-page document that — but for the cover page — was entirely redacted, as if it were a top-secret document. 

Trump’s federal mineral leases to Antofagasta’s Twin Metals were cancelled after the Biden Administration determined that they had been unlawfully issued. Although the mining company challenged the cancellation in court, its lawsuit was dismissed because of legal inadequacy. The Biden administration re-instituted the study on the risks of harm to the Boundary Waters if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed upstream, and on January 26, 2023, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed a Public Land Order banning sulfide-ore copper mining on 225,504 acres of Superior National Forest lands for 20 years (the maximum period allowed under current law). The order thus helps to protect the Boundary Waters and other parts of the Superior National Forest; Quetico Park; and Voyageurs National Park from acid mine drainage and related water pollution.

What’s in it for Trump to reverse the strongest protection the Boundary Waters has received in 45 years? He obviously thinks he can benefit by shilling for extraction industry barons, as shown by the Washington Post article. 

Trump acolyte Stauber authored legislation that recently passed the U.S. House that would force the reinstatement of cancelled federal mineral leases for the benefit of one foreign corporation, Antofagasta, which is owned primarily by one of South America’s richest families. Stauber’s bill blocks judicial review of reinstated illegal leases, because Stauber knows that a court would throw out the leases. The Stauber bill would also rescind the 20-year ban on sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters and compel rapid approval of a dangerous mine plan. 

Stauber’s plan, pandering to South American billionaires, is Trump’s plan. The blatancy of the mutual pandering is chilling. For four years, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner rented a Washington, D.C., mansion owned by a member of the family that controls Antofagasta. 

Make no mistake, Trump would sell out the Boundary Waters. On May 17, at the GOP Lincoln-Reagan dinner in St. Paul, Trump stated that he would reverse Biden administration policies that restrict mining in northeastern Minnesota to protect the Boundary Waters: “I rescinded the federal withdrawal of, in Superior, you know, Superior National Forest, did anybody ever hear of Superior National Forest? Well, I opened it up. What’s wrong with that?”

Trump’s plans for America include quitting international climate treaties, doubling down on fossil fuels, gutting America’s civil service and replacing it with political cronies and sycophants, and giving foreign mining conglomerates sweetheart deals that would irreparably damage America’s greatest canoe country. 

What kind of planet, in what condition, do we wish our children and grandchildren to inherit? 

The borderlands canoe country ecosystem is one of the most important areas in North America for addressing the climate and extinction crisis. It is a critical migratory pathway, and it is an area of high biodiversity that possesses strong attributes for resilience and adaptation to a changing climate.

Should we allow Donald Trump — a corrupt politician and dishonest businessman who has no regard for the natural world or the fate of the planet and its inhabitants — to be the most powerful man in the world? 

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