Somebody asked for a PEIS, nobody will admit it, yet we know the truth

Ely Echo editorial

This past week city councils in Ely, Babbitt and Aurora passed resolutions in opposition to a proposed PEIS in the Superior National Forest. We’re sure this was done with the best of intentions, but the further we dig into this the stranger it gets.
To start with, a PEIS is a programmatic environmental impact statement. From what we can gather, instead of looking at one proposed mining project, the USFS would look at all projects and see what the impact would be.
The PEIS has been called a “stealth attack” on the future of mining in northeastern Minnesota. Those looking to support mining see this as a delay in getting projects underway and a duplication of other EIS already completed or in the works.
Understandably, this has a lot of folks very upset including Rep. Rick Nolan, the Iron Range delegation, industry groups and mining businesses.
What’s strange is no group or individual has had the intestinal fortitude to stand up and say that they requested that a PEIS be conducted. There have been plenty of fingers pointed at groups like Friends of the Boundary Waters, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, Sustainable Ely along with one person who has connections to those groups and who has consistently spoken against copper-nickel mining in northeast Minnesota. That person is Becky Rom of Ely.
So we called Rom and asked her if she or any of the groups she is affiliated with formally requested a PEIS from the Forest Service. As a former attorney, Rom is skilled at not answering questions. So we pressed and pressed some more.
Here’s the best of answers we could get:
“I’ve encouraged the agencies to do what’s required under the law and using the best science.”
“Nobody is pushing for an extra layer or extra delays or costs or more money. I’m just saying this is really important and doing right is following the law and basing decisions on the best science.”
“I did not pen any letter but I’ve had these discussions.”
“As far as I know there’s no formal process for a request like a petition.”
We specifically asked if Rom had approached U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie (who oversees the USFS).
“I never talked about this to Mr. Bonnie.”
We put a phone call into the USFS office in Duluth but weren’t able to get any answers prior to deadline on the Thursday prior to Memorial Day weekend.
We checked the news releases of the various groups who have been accused of asking for the PEIS and found nothing. Nobody wants to claim they asked for this.
Then, late Thursday a Freedom of Information Act request by Twin Metals-Minnesota was granted. Upon request, they shared those documents with us. If anyone would like a copy, just send us an email.
In the documents provided by the Bureau of Land Management was a letter asking for the PEIS. The agency requesting the PEIS? Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. And who is the vice-chair of NEMW? Becky Rom.
We also have copies of emails sent by Rom outlining a meeting with the BLM where the agenda included: “The BLM, together with the Forest Service, should undertake a programmatic environmental impact statement.”
Rom told us the first she heard of the PEIS was when Tom Rukavina, an aide for Congressman Rick Nolan, was in Ely on March 5.
We’d like to refresh her memory.
A letter sent Jan. 23 from the attorney for NEMW specifically requests that the BLM and the USFS undertake a PEIS. The letter even references a meeting held on Dec. 10, 2013 with Bonnie and NEMW members.
The letter to Bonnie is nine pages long and is a multi-pronged attack on copper-nickel mining in northeast Minnesota. It specifically targets Twin Metals Minnesota.
Groups like the Friends and NEMW have long-sought to expand the federally established boundaries of the BWCA. Their newest tactic is using watersheds to define the BWCA. If water flows toward the BWCA it should be treated as if it were in the wilderness is their logic.
In the letter to Bonnie, Rom’s group states: “The EIS should include as an alternate the withdrawal of federal minerals from leasing and development within the Boundary Waters watershed.”
We attempted to contact Rom after receiving this information. She did not respond.
The response from elected officials against NEMW’s request has come from both city councils and state elected officials.
The Range Delegation, including Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. David Dill, have sent a letter to Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar to follow Nolan’s lead and reject a call for a PEIS in the Superior National Forest.
“Copper-nickel mining will provide thousands of construction and long-term mining jobs, thousands of spin-off jobs, and billions of dollars in new investment and economic growth. This is a tremendous opportunity for both the region and the state,” the letter states.
“Mining with the SNF has been thoroughly studied over the past 50 years, and has repeatedly been found to be compatible and consistent with federal policy encouraging multiple-use of national forest and state policy encouraging mineral development,” the letter states.
One of the best responses to this whole PEIS political football came from Rep. Nolan who has the advantage of serving in the House prior to the 1978 BWCA Act and being back in D.C. today.
He told the Mesabi Daily News the issue  “has already been resolved as policy. It was resolved a long time ago during the Boundary Waters debate in 1978.”
He said a deal was made when 1.1 million acres for the BWCAW were taken out of multiple use, “the remaining federal lands were supposed to be used for mining and forestry. It’s a matter of law and public policy.”
That outlook won’t work with Rom or others who are convinced that it is impossible for copper-nickel mining to be done here without damaging the environment. There is no regard for the multitude of laws and regulations on the books or the advances in technology. For Rom it can’t be done. Ever. Period.
We find it most amusing that the anti-mining crowd is always clamoring for transparency and openness from companies like PolyMet and Twin Metals.
Yet when the tables are turned, groups like NEMW hide their actions. They don’t consult with the elected officials or the public. They don’t make their actions known.
And worst of all, when they are asked to respond to questions we get lawyer-speak and double talk.
Did Rom write a letter to the Under Secretary for the Department of Agriculture? Maybe not. But the attorney for the organization she is the vice-chair for did. Now how hard would it be to just say that?
“I never talked about this to Mr. Bonnie.”
Maybe not, Ms. Rom, but now we know that Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness is behind this and has been since last December. There’s no talking around that.