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Opinion: End to mining study is a major blow to the future of the Boundary Waters

On Sept. 6, President Donald Trump's Department of Agriculture killed a comprehensive study about the potential impacts of copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

This type of mining has never existed in Minnesota and presents a far greater risk of toxic pollution than our traditional taconite mining.

The study in question was meant to inform nonpartisan federal land managers about whether copper mining should take place right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), a sensitive wilderness home to some of the world's cleanest water and best outdoor recreation opportunities.

We should be clear about what this decision says about Trump and what it means for Minnesota.

By ending the study, the Trump administration plainly showed Trump does not care about creating a successful future for the vast majority of Minnesotans. By every measure, the decision to reopen the possibility of copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters will hurt significantly more people than it will help, particularly in northeastern Minnesota.

Take jobs, for instance. The figures are stark: Trump's choice will result in 1,500 to 4,600 fewer jobs and $100 million to $900 million less family income for Arrowhead communities, according to an independent study that analyzed dozens of long-term economic scenarios with and without copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

Much has been made about the economic promise of copper mining in Minnesota, but those arguments ignore both the boom-and-bust nature of mining and the cost it would inflict on the region's fastest-growing industries, which all depend on a healthy wilderness.

Since taconite mining declined in the early 1980s, the Arrowhead has steadily built a stable and diverse economy in which tourism and recreation, small businesses, health care, manufacturing, construction, services, forest products and, yes, taconite mining can coexist peacefully.

Trump's decision trades all that to benefit a single industry. Unless you work in mining, nobody wants to live next to a polluted wilderness, let alone spend a vacation there.

What about local property values? Copper mining near the Boundary Waters would cause up to $509 million in lost property value if and when America's most toxic industry comes to town. This would spawn reductions in local property tax revenue throughout the region, depleting quality of life across the board.

Of course, the Chilean mining executives who own Twin Metals Minnesota don't care; they're just renters. Public land owners — you and I — will foot the bill when they inevitably make a mess.

How about our health? Copper mining would expose our state's air and water to six of the 10 toxins that pose the greatest concern to human health, according to the World Health Organization. These toxins (mercury, lead, arsenic, particulate air pollution, asbestos, and cadmium) are known to cause cancer, lung and heart disease, and neurodevelopmental diseases like autism and dyslexia — a disturbing truth that led Minnesota's medical community to plead with Trump to protect the region.

Who might escape these consequences? The rich executives half a world away who stand to profit.

Most Minnesotans very clearly understand that copper mining on the edge of America's most popular wilderness is a terrible deal for our state. In a recent poll, 70 percent of Minnesota voters representing large contingents from both parties said they firmly oppose the idea — an 11 percent increase since Trump was elected.

The families on the Iron Range who have long relied on taconite mining jobs are right to demand more economic opportunity as their industry becomes increasingly automated and Minnesota iron is passed over for cheaper global alternatives. They deserve the urgent attention of our elected leaders. But copper mining less than a mile from America's most popular wilderness area is simply not the right solution if we have the long-term interests of most Minnesotans in mind.

Sadly, Trump does not. He doesn't care about us. Antofagasta's owners and top brass have pulled out all the stops to influence this administration, including renting a lavish mansion to Trump's daughter and son-in-law. They were handed a big reward, at our expense.

There's just one thing foreign executives can't do: vote.

This November, Minnesotans of both parties should support candidates who will fight to protect our most valuable natural resource — not sell it out.

Adam Fetcher is board co-chair for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, lead organization in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. He served as press secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Obama administration. This opinion piece first appeared in MinnPost.

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