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Rep. Pete Stauber introduces bill to speed up federal mining reviews

Opponents of copper-nickel mining say the bill won't go anywhere in Congress.

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U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, speaks at the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute in September. (Jed Carlson / 2020 file / News Tribune)
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DULUTH — U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber introduced a bill that would speed up the federal permitting process for mining projects on federal land.

The bill would require permitting to finish within two and a half years, prevent "duplication" of work by federal agencies if it's already done by a state agency and set performance standards and other timelines to track permitting agencies.

In a news release Thursday, Stauber, R-Hermantown, said it targets "the most burdensome regulations that have delayed good mining projects for years." Two pro-mining organizations — National Mining Association and Mining Minnesota — expressed their support in the release.

“For too long, activist groups have been able to hijack the permitting process, leaving our workers sidelined to wait for high-quality jobs," Stauber said.

Two of those environmental groups on Thursday discounted Stauber's legislation.

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Chris Knopf, executive director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, called it "legislation as a press release."

"This legislation will go nowhere in Congress," Knopf said in an interview. "But what Congressman Stauber is signaling is he's really a willing stooge of foreign mining interests."

In a statement, Tom Landwehr, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, called it "a stunt to fast-track risky mining next to the Boundary Waters."

Opponents of copper-nickel mining fear pollution from the mining projects would seep into nearby waterways.

In Minnesota, the bill, if passed, would affect Twin Metals, a proposed underground copper-nickel mine, processing facility and dry-stacked tailings facility along the shores of Birch Lake, which flows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness via the Kawishiwi River.

The project, which sits on several federal mineral leases, has been under review by state and federal regulators since December 2019.

Several other companies have explored for minerals within the Superior National Forest but have not announced plans for mines.

PolyMet, which faces numerous court challenges, is vying to be the state's first copper-nickel mine. It sits outside the Superior National Forest and has no federal mineral leases, so its permitting process was handled primarily by state agencies.

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The bill — coined the "Accessing America's Critical Minerals Act" — is the second bill introduced by Stauber during this year aimed at moving mining projects forward. In January, Stauber introduced a bill that would prevent the president from barring mining on federal land , a move the Obama administration used on Twin Metals in the final days of its administration. The bill was referred to the the subcommittee on conservation and forestry in February.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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