Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles This water is so clean, you can drink it. I've been drinking out of this river for probably fifty years. What does it taste like? Tastes like water. That's because the water here comes from one of the most protected places in the United States. You can't get here with a car. You can't use a boat with a motor. We couldn't even fly our drone past this point. These are the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota's Superior National Forest. Thousands of pristine lakes like this one. Hundreds of thousands of people come to see it every year. You listen to the sounds of the rapids. You watch the eagle fly overhead. You paddle on still waters. Be on your own. But there's one problem. The Boundary Waters is just outside one of the largest untapped sources of copper in the world. Under the previous administration, America's rich natural resources, of which your state has a lot, were put under lock and key. Since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has opened up more than 13 million acres of public land for drilling and mining, that's more than any previous administration, including a part of Superior National Forest, right outside the Boundary Waters. Copper, the mineral underneath the forest, is the wiring in our phones, the pipes in our walls. And we also need it for electric car batteries, and solar panels, and wind turbines. We need copper, and there aren't that many places in the world to get it. All this has renewed a really old and complicated question: when is it worth risking the life above ground for the riches underneath? The US has more than 600 million acres of national parks, monuments, forests and wilderness areas. They are the brainchild of President Theodore Roosevelt. He worried that the reckless speed logging, blast rock mining, and oil drilling that fueled the Industrial Revolution could ruin the country's beauty and resources for future generations. So he created 150 national forests and parks, 18 national monuments, and 51 bird sanctuaries. I mean, get up on a high mountain somewhere and remember that somebody saved that so that you could have that experience and that's a kind of remarkable legacy. We call them drinking water lakes, because you can dip your cup right out the side of your canoe and drink straight from the lakes without even treating them or anything. Jason owns a business that outfits visitors for canoe trips in the Boundary Waters. They come here because what we have is so special and it's so unique you just can't you can't have this sort of an experience anyplace else in the world. To have, you know, a million acres totally undeveloped. The recreation and tourism industry here is big. it brings in about $77 million a year. The problem is, that's not enough to support the entire region. Seasonal recreation workers typically make about twenty-five thousand dollars a year. That's less than the state's average income. You're not going to be able to raise a family on $25,000 a year. You're not even going to be able to buy a house. And this part of the state used to have a different core industry: iron mining. We've been mining up in this area for well over a hundred years, and so it has a big significance. There are lot of second, third, fourth, generation miners that have always worked in the mine or their family has worked in the mine. The company that plans to build the mine near the Boundary Waters, Twin Metals, has said they'll pay about $90,000 a year, which is well over the state's average income. But copper mining is also risky in ways that iron mining wasn't. For the last two years, the Twin Metals company has been collecting samples of the rock that they plan to mine near the Boundary Waters. This is a typical core sample, these little blocks that you're seeing in here really establish how deep we are below ground surface. Once we hit this, 755 feet, this is where we start seeing the minerals. The copper is locked inside this shiny part here. To get it out, you have to crush up the rock to a powder-like consistency copper only makes up about 1% of the sample, which means 99% of it is waste. The crushed up rock is submerged in a solution that floats the copper to the top. It's eventually what becomes wires, pipes, and everything else. And the waste rock sinks. That's the risky part. It contains toxic elements like arsenic, lead, and mercury, which were previously trapped inside the rock. And usually, when mining companies produce toxic waste, they store it in giant pits, like these. But those pits don't always hold up. It may be the worst environmental disaster in British Columbia's history. 3 million gallon toxic stew of heavy metals poured downstream. Devastation as far as the eye can see. and the question that everyone here is just stunned by is how this could ever have been allowed to happen. And even when there isn't one of these huge, catastrophic spills, abandoned mines leak millions of gallons of waste into streams. These colors indicate heavy metal contamination that poisons aquatic life and taints drinking water. A lot of the economy that this region was based on was getting gold and silver out of these hills and it left of a legacy of pollution. The cleanup costs taxpayers millions of dollars long after mining companies take their profits and leave. Twin metals plans to store the waste from its mine right here: next to a river that ultimately leads to the Boundary Waters. And instead of storing wastewater in a pit, their plan is to dry out the waste and store it in stacks like these. On its website, Twin Metals calls the dry stack method "environmentally friendly," but to support that, they point to another dry stack mine in Alaska, where the verdict isn't actually that clear. The Alaska mining company's own data show that lead contaminated dust is blowing off the dry stacks, and they've acknowledged that it could be getting into the water. And in aquatic life near the mine, scientists found elevated levels of arsenic, lead, and mercury. Just like the Alaska mine, the Twin Metals mine would be surrounded by interconnected waterways. Any pollution would spread far beyond the initial impact site. All this is why, in 2016, the Obama administration decided the risks of copper mining here would be "unacceptable," and said that Twin Metals couldn't do it. But two years later, the Trump administration reversed that decision. Tonight I'm proudly announcing that we will soon be taking the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration for our amazing people and miners and workers. In the 1980s, the iron mines of northeastern Minnesota started to close. These days unemployment there has gone as high as 90%. Of the 15,000 union men and women who work the Iron Range mines, more than 3,000 are laid off and hundreds more jobs are in jeopardy. A full-scale depression forcing thousands of miners to abandon the area. When the layoffs happened in the mine, we were all hit. Everyone was hit, day care was hit, the hairdresser was hit, the grocery store was hit, not just the people that were laid off. That's because mining jobs tend to not stick around. I actually worked in several different states in the mining industry. And one of the things I noticed, when I go back to the places where I worked 20 years ago, none of those communities are thriving. You don't build long-term prosperity on a mining industry. Industry and conservation have always fought over the best use of our public lands, and the people closest to those lands often have differing visions for their own future. This proposed mine really puts the sustainable wilderness-edge economy, that we have going right now, at risk. And it definitely puts businesses like mine at risk. Jobs are scarce up here. Good jobs, I should say. Ones with benefits, where you can raise a family, put money aside for your retirement. So this is a very good hope for us. For our towns, our families, our kids. In a speech in 1908, Teddy Roosevelt took stock of America's industrial progress. "We have become great in a material sense because of the lavish use of our resources," he said. "But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted." More than a hundred years later, many of the most impressive human inventions, including those that could ultimately eliminate the need for fossil fuels, still depend on resources like copper. Resources that will run out someday. The question isn't really whether to let companies mine for copper near the Boundary Waters. It's whether the short-term gains are worth changing places like this forever.