Former White House lawyer speaks about treaty rights and environmental issues in Minnesota

State and federal agencies are now seeking public input that could impact the future of copper-nickel mining near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, tourism along the North Shore, and the economy. of northeastern Minnesota.

With so many public comment periods currently open, including for some of the most pressing environmental issues currently facing the region, it is worth analyzing the real value or role of these public comment periods when it comes to is about shaping policy and decision-making by the state. and federal governments.

Richard Painter is a law professor at the University of Minnesota and a former White House ethics attorney for George W. Bush. He is considering running for governor of Minnesota in 2022.

During a recent interview with WTIP, Painter said the public comment periods currently open by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the US Forest Service are valuable. He encouraged people to learn about the issues and submit comments to the agencies.

“Get involved in public comment periods,” Painter said. “Submit your views on the impact of all these projects on the environment, on the quality of life of the people of Minnesota.”

There are three major issues in the area where state and federal agencies are currently accepting public comment. The problems are:

1. Considerations for proposing a “mineral levy” — a 20-year ban on new mining — in the watershed of boundary waters.

2. DNRs examination of the rule for the location of non-ferrous mines near the BWCA.

3. One Lutsen Mountains Expansion Project, the local ski resort on the north coast of Cook County.

Painter told WTIP that public comment periods are an important part of the process when it comes to navigating these types of environmental reviews and decision-making at the state and federal levels. However, US Forest Service officials keep emphasizing public comment periods on an environmental impact statement are not public opinion polls. In other words, whichever aspect of an issue receives the most comments for or against a project or process will not necessarily determine the outcome.

And while public comment can impact decision-making, Painter said there are two remarkable realities beneath the surface that can also play a role: money and politics.

Take, for example, a situation in 2020 when the six Ojibwa bands forming the Chippewa tribe of Minnesota wrote a letter in support of a federal bill to prohibit copper-nickel mining in the BWCA watershed. Just days after the letter was sent, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and the Fortune Bay Resort Casino received a flurry of phone calls and emails from various groups and politicians seeking to cancel events, including the senator from Tom Bakk State.

Painter said the situation with Bakk illustrates how money and politics can attempt to control decision-making at the state and federal levels.

“In other words, if you stand up for your treaty rights, if you stand up for clean water, we’re going to boycott your company,” Painter said. “And that’s no way to play politics in Minnesota.”

The painter said that the Treaty of 1854 must be considered for all of the environmental issues currently facing the WTIP listening area and northeast Minnesota.

“It’s absolutely critical that we respect those treaty rights,” Painter said. “And the United States has a history, of course, going back centuries of making treaties with Native American tribes and then breaking the treaties. So we have a treaty, we have treaties with the tribes, what are we going to do, are we going to break the treaties again?

And regarding the proposed expansion of the Lutsen Mountains, Painter said treaty rights must be considered in any decision made by the US Forest Service.

“We are bound by our treaties with the Native American tribes. So ultimately this ski resort can’t expand if it’s going to violate that treaty,” Painter said. “Now if they want to renegotiate the treaty with the tribe, they can discuss it. But at the end of the day, there’s a treaty there, and that treaty is enforced, and treaties have to be honored. And I know we’ve broken many treaties with Native American tribes in the past, but that doesn’t say when we can in the future. And that’s not to say it was good then and it’s not now.

Painter recently published an article at the intersection of money, politics and environmental issues.

He also spoke recently with Joe Friedrichs of the WTIP on these topics. Audio below.

Listen: