An amendment to halt a 234,000 acre mining ban in Superior National Forest was passed by the U.S. House late Thursday night, moving the effort to effectively reversing the Obama administration decision a step closer.
Congressmen Rick Nolan, D-Minn. and Tom Emmer, R-Minn., introduced the amendment to the omnibus 2018 federal spending package, which would strike down funding to be used on the land withdrawal action put in place in the final weeks of President Barack Obama’s term.
Nolan praised the House passage in a news release.
“The law and legislative history made it clear that mining, forestry and other multiple use activities were explicitly to be allowed in the remaining two million acres of the SNF,” Nolan said. “In fact, the U.S. Forest Service cited mining as a ‘desired condition,’ provided that mining would move forward only when a proposed project passes our rigorous federal and state environmental rules, regulations and requirements.”
Emmer and a contingent of Republican lawmakers toured the Iron Range and the proposed land withdrawal site in June with Nolan. Congressmen Paul Gosar of Arizona and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas were among them.
Gosar is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources while Westerman serves both on that subcommittee and the Federal Lands Subcommittee. Both supported the amendment, which had the backing of Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“If this ban were to take effect, it would have a devastating impact on the economy of my state, as well as our nation as a whole,” Emmer said Thursday night on the House floor. “Through this amendment, we have a real opportunity to get the federal government out of the way so this land can remain available for future development to bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the great state of Minnesota.”
Emmer added that the amendment was in line with President Donald Trump’s campaign efforts to create job and boost the rural economy.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated about $500 billion in mineral development on the 234,000 acre land mass, and about $3 billion in statewide public school trust fund money.
Officials for the Obama administration announced their decision to block the land in December and it took effect on Jan. 13. They issued a two-year moratorium on activity within the acreage near the Boundary Waters with a study to determine if a 20-year industry ban was necessary.
No current mining project has an active proposal in the land withdrawal area. Twin Metals Minnesota has conducted testing, which was also denied by the administration by stripping its mineral leases, but the company has no formal plans to develop an underground copper-nickel mine.
The withdrawal now has several routes it can go, amendment aside.
The Trump administration can still outright reverse the action, or it can follow the comment and review process the action is currently undergoing through the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department. That process is less sure for either side of the issue, because the two-year moratorium the 20-year ban can be enacted or throwing out the withdrawal are still in play, as is an arbitrary decision by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
As for the amendment, it will be attached to the FYI2018 spending/appropriations bill for passage in the House, where it also needs to survive the Senate and likely a conference committee between the chambers.
Since Trump and Democratic leaders struck a deal this week to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government through Dec. 15, the urgency to pass the omnibus bill at the end of the month is not as immediate, pushing back the bill and the amendment.
Still, Congress will try to finish the budgeting process before another shutdown looms in December, and get a signature from Trump before the start of next year.