Public Comment on the Rainy River Watershed Withdrawal

My written comments ran to five pages, so instead of posting them here, I put them online as a PDF, which you can read here. I also made a three-minute comment in the live session hosted by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service this afternoon. My comments focus mainly on the story I’ve been pursuing for the past few years — a story of corruption. The first couple of paragraphs convey the general idea:

Federal lands in the Rainy River Watershed should be withdrawn from disposition under US mineral and geothermal leasing laws for the proposed initial twenty-year period, if not permanently. This is an overdue decision, grounded in science, economics, law, and environmental ethics.

Why, then, hasn’t it already happened? How did this withdrawal process, which started in 2017, go off track? Agency records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show clearly that a foreign mining company, Antofagasta plc, acted to prevent the withdrawal; and from 2017-2021, members of Congress and the executive branch ran political interference on its behalf. Decisions taken behind closed doors during that period served foreign private interests, not the American public interest. The agencies now have an opportunity to rectify the situation.

I end with three recommendations:

The announcement on October 20, 2021, that the Biden administration will complete the “science-based environmental analysis” was encouraging. Given all the political interference, the two-year study really ought to have been started all over again, from scratch, in the interest of scientific integrity. At the very least, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack should release – unredacted — the preliminary findings of the canceled two-year scientific study, so that they can be compared with the new and complete analysis.

As agencies work toward a science-based decision on the twenty-year withdrawal, they also need to take additional steps to restore public confidence and guard against undue influence. As a first step, the USDA Inspector General could review Secretary Perdue’s decision to cancel the 2017 withdrawal process and report on scientific independence, ethical conduct, and political interference at the agency.

Finally, the agencies can help raise standards. Industry repeatedly assures us that non-ferrous mining in the Rainy River Watershed and elsewhere can be done “responsibly,” and there are a growing number of calls, from Congress and from within the Biden administration, for “responsible mining” for the transition to renewables. How should government respond? Rigorous and practical guidance for agencies on the law and ethics as well as the technical and scientific aspects of “responsible mining” would be a good start.

Here is a recording of my three-minute live comment, which tracks all this pretty closely. Video is cued to the mark.

6 thoughts on “Public Comment on the Rainy River Watershed Withdrawal

  1. david goddy

    When will they announce what they’re going to do? At this point one wants them to conclude before the 2024 election

    Reply
    1. lvgaldieri Post author

      Well they’ve asked for another extension in the District of Columbia case (Wilderness Society v. Bernhardt), to Feb 22. That was over the objections of the mining company, which made itself party to the suit (on the Bernhardt side, obviously), and that relationship might be deteriorating. And they still have to complete the two year scientific study that Sonny Perdue interrupted and canceled. That could take until March or so. Then the Secretary of the Interior needs to look at the findings of that study and make a decision on the 20 year withdrawal. And if Halaand withdraws the Rainy River lands from mining, the mining company is going to sue again. They’ve already threatened to do so in court filings. In Minnesota, at least, this will be an election issue in 2022. And judging from the comments I heard yesterday, it’s pretty clear that the building trades and organized labor are going to line up with the pro-mining, anti-withdrawal forces, which are now pretending that mining the Duluth Complex will give us the minerals we need for the transition to renewables. So, outside the Twin Cities, Duluth, and other blue strongholds, and especially in the northeast, a green-right-labor coalition might emerge. Trumpism for the climate crisis?

      Reply
      1. david goddy

        That’s too bad on the election issue for 2022, Minnesota is not the same state as it was in Mondale’s day. I was not really aware that there was significant “rare earth” metals there. Is there a potential outcome where very stringent environmental requirements and regulations are put into place as a condition of allowing mining, perhaps in a reduced or more targeted way?

      2. lvgaldieri Post author

        The aim of the twenty year withdrawal is to allow for study and maybe, just maybe, some technical advances that would make mining the Duluth Complex safe. Right now, the ore grades are pretty low and the risk is so high that it’s hard to justify.

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