Gov.-elect Tim Walz (D-MN) named Sarah Strommen his commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Thursday in a move some Republicans say raises “red flags.”
Strommen has worked in various roles in her more than 20-year career of interacting with the DNR, and most recently served as the assistant commissioner for the divisions of Fish and Wildlife, and Parks and Trails at the Minnesota DNR. But she also worked as policy director for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, a group that sued the federal government to block a mining project in northeastern Minnesota.
In May 2018, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management reinstated federal leases for a Twin Metals copper-nickel underground mine close to Ely and resting on Birch Lake, a body of water that flows into the Boundary Waters. That has made the project the ire of local and national environmental groups who are suing the federal government to prevent it from moving forward, according to The Star Tribune.
In total, three complaints were filed against the Interior Department, one from a cohort of national environmental groups, another from a group of nine local Minnesota businesses, and the last from Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. While these lawsuits have put the brakes on the proposed mine, the federal government continues to show signs of supporting Twin Metals.
In December, the Interior Department announced that it will begin finalizing leases for the Twin Metals project, which would be among the first copper-nickel mines in Minnesota.
“This will bring about $520 million of economic activity to northeastern Minnesota for a minimum of 20 years. This is like bringing the Super Bowl to northeastern Minnesota every year,” Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN-08) recently told The Star Tribune, saying Minnesota has “the best environmental standards in the world.”
“This is where we live. This is our backyard, and it’s our playground too. We don’t want to damage or harm our environment,” he added.
A press release from Twin Metals explains that the mining leases are renewed every ten years, and have been renewed twice by the federal government.
But activists aren’t convinced that the economic benefits outweigh the potential environmental risks, including Strommen’s former employer. Strommen told reporters Thursday that she doesn’t have an opinion on the Twin Metals mine, though Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said her appointment raises “red flags.”
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness celebrated Strommen’s appointment, calling it “one reason to love 2019.”
“As a sportsman and lifelong member of Pheasants Forever, I know firsthand the importance of this agency and being a steward of our land,” Walz said in a Thursday press release. “Sarah Strommen built her career integrating science and policy-making across sectors, and has a deep understanding and appreciation for our natural resources.”
Strommen said she was “honored” to be selected as the first female commissioner of the Minnesota DNR.
“Minnesota has a strong outdoor legacy, and I am excited to work collaboratively with staff, stakeholders, and everyday Minnesotans to enhance our diverse and first-rate outdoor experiences for all,” she said.
– – –