House votes to overturn Obama mining ban in Minnesota

House votes to overturn Obama mining ban in Minnesota
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The House voted Thursday to overturn the Obama administration’s decision to temporarily ban mining in an area of northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest.

The Minnesota's Economic Rights in the Superior National Forest, or MINER, Act, passed 216-204, with nearly all Republicans in support and nearly all Democrats opposed.

The Obama administration’s decision, made the day before former President Obama left office, blocked mining for two years in an area of the forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, in an effort to protect those waters from potential mine waste output.

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The bill would also require the Forest Service to renew two-decades-old mining leases for sulfide ore in the forest that had gone unused before Obama declined to renew them in 2016.

“This is about more than 10,000 jobs which are now at risk because of the lame-duck actions by the Obama administration,” said Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerTrump mocks 'elites' at campaign rally Rally crowd chants 'CNN sucks' after Trump rips media Koch-backed group to target some Republicans over spending vote in new ad campaign MORE (R-Minn.), the bill’s sponsor. His district includes parts of northern Minnesota, but not the area that could be mined.

“This is about billions of dollars in revenue for Minnesota’s economy and billions more in education funding for Minnesota’s schools that are now on the line. This is also about strategically important metals and minerals which are used by Americans every day,” he said.

“This MINER Act is about protecting Minnesota’s right to explore, and again, if environmentally appropriate, to mine valuable precious metals.”

Rep. Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornThe Hill's Morning Report: Frustration mounts as Republicans blow up tax message Federal judge rules Lamborn should be on primary ballot Colorado Supreme Court rules GOP lawmaker should be kept off ballot MORE (R-Colo.), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee subpanel with responsibility over the Forest Service, said the bill is important both for Minnesota and the rest of the country.

“What initiated this situation is an arbitrary overreach by the Obama administration at the last minute. It was looking to score political points on its way out the door by taking the near-unprecedented action of initiating a full mineral withdrawal that was undemocratic,” he said.

Democrats countered that the bill would open the door to a mining project that, under extensive study, was found to be environmentally disastrous.

“This bill undermines bedrock environmental and public land management laws in order to create a perpetual lease for a foreign-owned, toxic mine,” said Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumHouse lawmakers vote to give modest budget cuts to EPA, Interior How the embassy move widens the partisan divide over Israel Five takeaways from Pruitt's big testimony MORE (D-Minn.).

The wilderness area supports thousands of jobs and millions in economic activity annually, and that is at risk with the mining proposals, McCollum said.

“If this bill passes, it will create an industrial wasteland along this chain of lakes and rivers, which so many people and businesses depend on. This bill poses an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to a pristine wilderness,” she said.

Rep. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenFighting back against the opioid crisis GOP super PAC targets House districts with new M ad buys House immigration fight could boost vulnerable Republicans MORE (R-Minn.) crossed the aisle to join Democrats in opposition to the bill.

“It threatens Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” he said. “It stops the scientific environmental review that’s going on right now. It weakens the Antiquities Act, and it singles out Minnesota’s national forests as not being allowed the same protections that national forests in every other state receive.”

While the mining leases would be renewed, any actual proposals to start mines would still have to go through state and federal approval processes, a point that the GOP highlighted to argue that the bill does not shortcut environmental protections.