Perdue says buck stops with Walz on Twin Metals mine

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (l) along with Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, DFL-7th, answers question from reporters Wednesday during Farmfest near Morgan, Minn.

A huge crowd turned out to query a panel of the Minnesota’s U.S. congressional delegation as well as President Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sony Perdue at Farmfest yesterday near Morgan. Minn. My column in next week’s print edition will have more details about Farmfest, but for purposes of this blog, allow me to share some comments Perdue offered about the Twin Metals Mine.

On Wednesday, the state’s largest newspaper had an editorial entitled “Secrecy on Mining” that criticized Perdue for shutting down a U.S. Forest Service study analyzing the environmental risks of copper-sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed. The piece noted that Perdue and other federal officials have refused to release data from the taxpayer-funded study while the Trump administration appears to be fast-tracking the mine.

Perdue has received questions about the study in the past and has deferred to the Department of the Interior. I tried to ask a question about Twin Metals during the raucous press conference after the panel discussion, but he wanted to keep the focus of questions on agriculture. He and his staff, however, provided me the opportunity to ask my question semi-privately before he exited Farmfest. My question and his answer follow. You can listen to the audio from the brief interview here.

Outdoor News: I have a Twin Metals Mine question. The state’s largest newspaper today had this editorial “Secrecy on Mining.

My question is why stop the study? Would you consider releasing the data? It also seems like you’ve been asked these questions a couple of times and you’ve deferred to Interior. This is land your agency manages. Can you answer these questions?

Perdue: “Well, yes and no on the management obviously.

“This study was done in December 2016. Actually the initial study was one that aborted sound science because we always have environmental impact studies on any issue and we will on this one as well, and that falls under Department of Interior to do environmental impact study over mining. And what happened in December in the waning days of Obama administration was, they wanted to abort that whole process and say we’re going to withdraw and there’s no chance of that. They bended to the environmentalist activists to do that.

I’ll refer you back to an exchange of letters between your senior Senator Amy Klobuchar and then Secretary of Ag Vilsack. That’s in a Wall Street Journal article. I can produce a copy. (Perdue’s PR person held up a hard copy printout of the WSJ story from a website.) Look at that and see the real facts of this issue.

“We only stopped a study that was a political decision that was issued in the waning days of the Obama administration which said ‘we’re not going to depend on sound science investigation, we’re just going to make a political decision to stop.’

“We’re trying to balance environment and the great Boundary Waters of Minnesota which is precious but also the economic opportunity of Minnesotans as well. That’s what environmental impact studies are all about.

The other factor on this is the governor of Minnesota in this particular situation has the last say so the buck stops there. It was not the USDA to stop this. It will be the governor of Minnesota if it’s stopped. He has the power to stop it without anything.

Interior will do the scientific study just like we do with every other project over environmental impact statements, and so the fact that the misinformation from the Star Tribune about the USDA stopping the study – we only stopped a political decision that was put in place in the waning days of the Obama Administration.

Outdoor News: So you’re confident that this is going to be thoroughly reviewed and we’re going to protect the Boundary Waters watershed.

Perdue:  “Absolutely. Absolutely. It will be a balanced kind of way. That’s why you do environmental impact studies. You don’t say we’re going to do a study just to stop it and have no consideration of that. Let the science make the decision and then the governor of state of Minnesota will have final yes or no decision based on the facts.”

I checked in with Spencer Shaver, conservation director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters for a response to Perdue’s comments. He provided a copy of the 1984 Interagency Agreement between the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in the Superior National Forest that he said gives Perdue’s agency the authority to deny consent. He also provided former U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell’s letter denying Twin Metals leases on the basis of science.

Shaver offered this response to Perdue’s answer to my question:

“Whether or not the Boundary Waters will be polluted by a sulfide ore copper mine should not be up to politics. In the Superior National Forest, the Forest Service has the authority to deny all leasing and development of this mine. The Twin Metals project is on federal land, and the Forest Service, managed by Secretary Perdue’s Department of Agriculture, has the power to deny the project today. The Forest Service should complete the cancelled mineral withdrawal study of the Boundary Waters so the science is clear to everyone concerned, and questions about whether any decisions regarding this project were politically motivated are put to rest.

“We agree with Secretary Perdue that Governor Tim Walz should take action to protect the Boundary Waters, as the Forest Service will not, or is not being allowed to, protect the Wilderness.”

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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