Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 225-189 to pass a bill authorizing a controversial land transfer that would almost certainly result in the mining of public lands in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. These lands have numerous other values like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and recreation.
At issue is a bill introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), called the “Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act” (H.R. 5544). The bill would give 86,000 acres of state-owned “school trust” lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the federal government in exchange for similar but unspecified acreage in Superior National Forest outside of the wilderness area.
This bill is problematic on a number of levels. First, many of the lands within the Superior National Forest that would be transferred to the state have natural resources like sulfide ore which contains metals like copper and nickel. Transferring these mineral-rich lands to the state would almost certainly result in their being mined, because the Minnesota state constitution dictates that these school trust lands be utilized for “maximum long-term economic return.” As the Minneapolis Star Tribune editorialized:
This land swap isn’t about Minnesota’s hard-pressed schoolchildren. It’s about converting forest land to mining.
Craavack’s bill would also bypass the federal environmental review process that allows for an assessment of the impacts that the land exchange and resulting mining would have on the water and air quality of the Boundary Waters. In fact, the bill goes so far as to exempt the land exchange from the National Environmental Policy Act and its public review provisions by classifying it as “not a major federal action” which would be subject to NEPA.
Sulfide mining operations can be dirty and risky if not done properly. They can pollute rivers and streams, cause acid mine drainage, and tear up landscapes.
And yet Cravaack claimed in an editorial that “…this bill would not take away a single environmental protection or regulation.”
A number of sportsmen groups are opposed to the bill because mining by its very nature blocks access to prime wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing. As David Lien of the group Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers wrote:
Over 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed the Superior National Forest as a place “reserved from settlement” and “set apart as a public reservation, for the use and benefit of the people.” If HR 5544 passes, that will no longer be the case for 86,000 acres of public lands in the [Superior National Forest].
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.