Are Minnesota's public lands up for sale?
The Superior National Forest, including the spectacular Boundary Waters, is owned by every American. The Superior is part of our national heritage — a priceless system of public lands managed by the U.S. government for the benefit of every citizen.
But in a Nov. 14 hearing in federal court, Chilean mining company Antofagasta claimed the absolute right to mine copper on thousands of acres of land owned by the people of the United States. "They are ours," said the lawyer representing Antofagasta. "We own these minerals."
Antofagasta bases this outrageous claim — which is contrary to federal law — on its 2015 purchase of Twin Metals Minnesota. This was a cheap purchase of a struggling company with no economically viable mining plan. Part of the purchase included two federal mineral leases that had expired in 2013 and were not renewed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Respect for the law and fair dealing seem to be unfamiliar concepts to Antofagasta.
The company, which has mines in South America but none in the United States, has a history of water pollution and other environmental violations, labor strife, and a questionable coziness with politicians.
Despite an ongoing lawsuit demanding the right to mine public lands near the Boundary Waters, this is exactly how Antofagasta is behaving in the United States.
In December 2016, Andronico Luksic, of the family that owns the controlling interest in Antofagasta, purchased a $5.5 million mansion in Washington D.C. Within weeks, the mansion was rented to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
The conduct of Antofagasta's Minnesota politicians is as outrageous as the conduct of Antofagasta itself.
Congressman Tom Emmer, R-6th District, has introduced legislation, H.R. 3905, that could appropriately be titled the "Minnesota Shall Henceforth Be a Banana Republic Act of 2017."
Emmer's bill would:
- Grant mining leases to Antofagasta with an infinitesimal amount of environmental review and make any mining leases granted on Minnesota's National Forests permanent and forever.
- Dismiss the 126,000 people who weighed in during a 2017 environmental study scoping process.
- Amend the Antiquities Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to deprive Minnesota — only Minnesota — of the benefits of these statutes enjoyed by the other 49 states.
- And block the Forest Service from complying with the mandate of the 1978 Boundary Waters Wilderness Act that it protect the water quality of the Boundary Waters.
If it gets its way, Antofagasta will devastate thousands of acres in the heart of the Superior National Forest, pollute Basswood Lake and other lakes of the Boundary Waters that provide one of the world's great sport fisheries, and lay waste to the sustainable economy of the Minnesota Arrowhead — all to pad Antofagasta's already extravagant wealth.
The question is, will we let that happen?
This is the opinion of Jason Zabokrtsky, chair of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. Also contributing were Steve Piragis of the Boundary Waters Business Coalition; Doug Niemela of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters; Erik Packard of Veterans for the Boundary Waters; and Ann McNally and Don Lee of Girl Scouts & Boy Scouts for the Boundary Waters. It first ran in the St. Cloud Times.