Rediscovered 2012 EIS shows FS changing rules

If an EIS study showed in 2012 that mining exploration should be allowed in the Superior National Forest, why is the U.S. Forest Service going through another similar EIS five years later?
That’s the question raised this past week by Up North Jobs as the final comment period ends on withdrawing 234,328 acres of federal land from mineral exploration.
According to documents filed by Up North Jobs, a meeting was held in Duluth in November of 2006 with mining company representatives and the Superior National Forest supervisor.
On the table were requests by mining companies to be issued prospecting permits for copper, nickel, platinum and related minerals in the Superior National Forest.
Jim Sanders, the now-retired Forest Supervisor, reportedly told the group he had been contacted by an anti-mining environmental organization and was told that if the USFS moved forward supporting the issuance of prospecting permits without completing an EIS, that they intended to file a lawsuit. And Sanders said, he did not have the personnel nor funds available to complete an EIS.
The fear of a lawsuit alone delayed any action for two years, until a notice of intent to complete an EIS was filed in December of 2008.
From the end of 2008, it took until May of 2012 for the Forest Service to produce a final EIS.
In September of 2012, almost six years after the mining companies were told in November 2006 that no permits could be issued until the EIS was completed, the Bureau of Land Management finally issued 28 prospecting permits to Duluth Metals, Twin Metals Minnesota; Lehmann Exploration, Encampment Resources, and Prime Meridian Resources.
The 318 page Environmental Impact Statement published in 2012 covered 38,545 acres of the Superior National Forest in Cook, Lake, St. Louis and Koochiching counties.
Here are some of the findings:
• The BLM proposes to issue 29 prospecting permits.
• Recommendations from the Forest Service on conditions of approval for operating plans will be provided.
• These actions are needed because the federal agencies are mandated by federal law and mineral regulations to facilitate access to federally held mineral resources to continue to meet the nation’s demand for mineral commodities.
• The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) includes analysis of projected impacts derived from potential prospecting permit applications and operating plans.
• This Forest-wide analysis will be considered for use in analysis by the Forest Service and BLM if and when future proposals are received.
• The presence and abundances of minerals in northeastern Minnesota such as iron ores has been known and mined for well over 120 years and has played a pivotal role in the development of local communities in the region.
• Exploratory drilling, such as is considered in the proposed prospecting permits and operating plans, is used to determine the extent and location of ore bodies.
• The proposed action responds to the federal government’s overall policy to foster and encourage the development of economically sound and stable industries, in the orderly and economic development of domestic resources to help assure satisfaction of industrial, security and environmental needs.
• Minerals exploration may be conducted in an environmentally sound manner with the application of stipulations shown in the Forest Service record of decision…along with State of Minnesota rules for exploratory drilling.
Three years later, Up North Jobs believes the wheels were set in motion to find a way around the 2012 EIS decision.
Here’s what Up North Jobs alleges:
• In April, 2015, collaborating with anti-mining activists, Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced a bill to ban mining on all federal lands within the Rainy River Watershed in the Superior National Forest.
• In March, 2016, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, in collusion with the anti-mining activists, directed the Minnesota DNR not to authorize or enter into any new state access agreements on state lands in the Rainy River Watershed of the Superior National Forest.
• Following a well-orchestrated, pre-conceived plan, only two days after Governor Dayton’s unlawful directive was issued to the Minnesota DNR, the Interior Departments’ Solicitor instructed the BLM state director that the BLM could deny renewal of Twin Metals Minnesota mineral leases.
• In December, 2016, the BLM notified Twin Metals Minnesota that it would not renew its leases.
• In January, 2017 the USFS submitted an application to the Secretary of Interior proposing a withdrawal, for a 20-year term of approximately 234,328 acres of National Forest System lands, within the Rainy River Watershed on the Superior National Forest and published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register of its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.
• The decision made by the USFS to prepare an EIS was made by the previous administration, just seven days before the Trump administration took office.
• The decision by the USFS to prepare an EIS will replicate the EIS completed by the USFS in May 2012 and prohibit mineral development on all federal lands within the Rainy River Watershed for at least two years, and the cost of the study will be borne by the taxpayers.
Up North Jobs says the records of decision published in 2012 by the USFS and BLM are “clear, unambiguous and irrefutable.” The Ely-based non-profit also takes direct aim at the Obama administration’s decision.
“Given that a Final EIS was completed by the USFS in May 2012, following a five-year study to determine the potential effects of issuing prospecting permits, exploration and mineral development on the Forest lands, the Obama administration’s decision to use its agencies to conduct yet another study and prepare yet another Environmental Impact Statement only five years later, is tantamount to a costly fraud perpetrated upon and at the expense of Northeastern Minnesota citizens.”
Up North Jobs asks the feds to rescind the proposed 234,000 acre withdrawal and proposed EIS. In addition, Twin Metals Minnesota leases should be renewed.
This is an interesting argument and sure to be countered with a “Well, this EIS is different.” The USFS has termed it as a “programmatic” EIS that is more planning based than site specific. That would make more sense if the 2012 EIS hadn’t green lighted exploratory drilling.
Apparently we should just consider ourselves lucky well drilling companies are still allowed to find water for those who live and visit here. That’s the saddest part of this whole situation. Exploration is one thing, mining is another. If only the feds could see through what’s being done here. Up North Jobs calls it fraud. They just may very well be right.