C.A. Arneson, a retired teacher, lives on a lake near Ely.
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack wrote in a letter to the Duluth News Tribune last month that he'd been accused through insinuation of "pushing the land exchange to receive future campaign contributions from 'large international mining companies.' Never mind I will be self-term limited out of office before any mining would begin; this kind of casual, baseless accusation of criminal wrongdoing demonstrates what is wrong with our politics today.'"
Cravaack was referring to an editorial in the Star Tribune that had addressed his support for a deal that would swap ownership of land inside the BWCA with land in the Superior National Forest. He was also making an assertion that isn't true. Perhaps making an untrue statement is not technically "criminal wrongdoing" unless one is under oath, but it certainly demonstrates what is wrong with our politics today.
When Cravaack proclaimed in his letter, "Importantly, this bill [H.R. 5544] would not take away a single environmental protection or regulation," he wasn't being truthful. If Superior National Forest land outside the Boundary Waters were traded to the state of Minnesota, it would lose most of its federal protections.
The bill would take away environmental protections by removing traded lands from federal ownership. This would allow strip-mining on lands originally purchased and given watershed protection under the Weeks Act and other laws that protect our national forests. As long as the lands are in federal hands, the Weeks Act and other laws protect the surface rights and prohibit strip-mining. Additionally, Cravaack's bill specifically nullifies NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires environmental review, citizen input and the right to legal intervention.
In other words, the citizens of Minnesota would no longer have the means to protect their "Land of 10,000 Lakes." And if H.R. 5544 passes, the rest of the nation may well find itself just as powerless to defend and protect its waters, forests and wildlife, as yet another precedent would be set supporting corporate abuse of regulations and the law. Cravaack and supporters of H.R. 5544 are attempting to begin dismantling the Weeks Act piece by piece, undoing the work of a century.
In his letter, Cravaack describes constituents who are fighting to preserve Minnesota's wealth of water as radical environmentalists: "To prevent radical environmentalists from tying up the land exchange in court for years and consequently draining our state's budget, my bill largely limits these groups from suing the state of Minnesota."
The bill does nothing, however, to stop multinational mining corporations from attempting to sue the United States for their "right" to profit in Minnesota. Under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), sulfide-mining corporations could attempt to sue for the value of minerals they are not allowed to mine in Minnesota, even if contamination of our waters would occur or had occurred. Under NAFTA, "the majority of the investor-to-state cases filed to date ... challenge environmental laws, regulations and government decisions at the national, state and local level," according to Public Citizen.
Mining in Minnesota and H.R. 5544 are inextricably linked. Removing federal protection from Superior National Forest lands would pave the way for the mining company PolyMet's own land exchange, necessary to enable the permitting of its NorthMet strip/open pit mine.
And if Cravaack is, as he suggests, "self-term limited out of office before any mining begins," he will have left Minnesota for New Hampshire, where his family now lives. His children will never have to deal with the legacy of sulfide-mining-related health issues he would leave behind in northern Minnesota. Our children will.
Cravaack wrote, "Finally, I am confident this [land exchange] will get done because obstacles to progress have a hard time lasting forever." Sulfide mining contamination, however, has every possibility of lasting forever. PolyMet's failed Draft Environmental Impact Statement stated that its NorthMet project would require perpetual treatment. The definition of perpetual is "never ending or changing."
Cravaack's constituents are being told to accept decimation of our lakes in exchange for sulfide mining jobs for the relative few; we are being told to accept the resulting job, property, and business losses. A message is being sent to Minnesota, and to a drought- and fire-plagued nation, that water is less valuable and important than metals.
Sulfide mining has polluted waters wherever it has been done. Cravaack refuses to recognize that there is no sulfide mining technology in existence that, given the possibility that it worked, does not also require perpetual treatment — a concept in itself so delusional as to be a form of insanity.