During his presidency, President Trump has pulled back environmental protections and regulations all over the United States, even releasing 13 million acres of federal land for mining. From laws regarding mining pollution to agricultural waste, the effects of his influence have been wide reaching. And in western states the influence of the president on the environment is even more so because western states contain far more federal land. Washington State is 32.8 percent federal land, of which it has little to no control over. Federal land is primarily controlled by four organizations: the National Park Service, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. In the case of Washington, The Forest Service is the most dominant, controlling almost all the federal land in the state.
It’s important to differentiate the Forest Service and the National Park Service, specifically that land run by the Forest Service can be used for developmental purposes while the National Parks are entirely for recreation and preservation. This is important when remembering that 71 percent of federal land in Washington is run by the Forest Service and can therefore be used for extraction purposes. This can be worrying when you remember that we as Washingtonians have little to no control over what happens on this land, especially when you look at what’s happening on other federal lands.
The boundary waters of Lake Superior National Forest have been for a long time one of the most protected areas in the United States. They’re even known as cup lakes, since you can drink directly from the water without any filtering. They also have one of the largest untapped copper deposits in the world. Copper happens to be one of the dirtiest minerals to mine, and the extraction of copper near the boundary waters could lead to massive consequences.
Historically, copper mines dealt with waste by storing it in large above-ground pools. However, these pools are notorious for leaks, and once the chemicals enter an environment, there is little to no recourse. The elevated levels of lead can sometimes last for decades if it dissipates at all. Newer methods have emerged for waste management, but their improved effectiveness is questionable. The specific method that Twin Metals plans to use involves storing the waste dry, in large mounds. This isn’t much better, and other sites that employ dry waste storage have found that lead dust blew off the mounds and contaminated surrounding areas.
Washington State has a number of its own mines, a majority of which are operated on Forest Service Land, but it wasn’t Washingtonians who decided on regulation of these mines. These kinds of decisions can have massive implications on an economy and environment for exceedingly long periods of time, and it’s concerning that states don’t have a voice in these decisions. Mining pays well and looks attractive to boost an economy. But mines deplete over time, and when they’re gone, all you have left is the pollution they leave behind. It’s an important issue, and it’s troubling when that decision is made entirely by administrations reversing decisions every few years. The Obama administration decided copper mining near the boundary waters was too dangerous, but Trump reversed the ban. And who knows what later administration’s positions on the matter will be. In the end, it’s the residents who are left to watch as major decisions about their area are made without their input.