BWCAW land exchange
Cravaack bill represents poor public policy, shortchanges the region

It’s time to cut through the political spin and take a look at some of the troubling realities behind Rep. Chip Cravaack’s recently approved bill to exchange state lands inside the federally-protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for federal lands located outside the wilderness in the Superior National Forest.

While Rep. Cravaack has touted passage of the bill in the apparent hope that voters in our region will look kindly on him come Nov. 6, the legislation is a poor example of public policy— and it’s one that residents of our region will come to regret if anything close to this is ultimately approved in Washington (which is unlikely).

First, contrary to his public statements, Cravaack’s bill, known as the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, does cost St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties annual payments that they otherwise would have received under a more advantageous land exchange.

By converting 86,000 acres of state lands in the BWCAW to federal ownership, the counties would be entitled to additional federal payments under the Thye-Blatnik Act. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that those additional payments would amount to about $1 million annually, but the bill passed by the House last week includes a provision that prohibits any additional payment to the Arrowhead counties. While the legislation doesn’t reduce current payments, advancing a land exchange under these terms does reduce funding that these counties would otherwise have received annually.

Second, despite claims by Rep. Cravaack and some Iron Range legislators to the contrary, this measure won’t generate one additional dime for Minnesota school kids. In speaking for his legislation, Rep. Cravaack claimed that “school kids and their teachers have been cheated out of public education funding now for over 34 years.”

That’s just political hyperbole.

In fact, annual proceeds from the state’s school trust amount to roughly one-half of one percent of total school costs, and those proceeds simply offset spending from the state’s general fund—they don’t augment it. In other words, increasing the school trust doesn’t mean so much as one penny in additional funding for schools, and Rep. Cravaack should know that. In this case, it appears he’s just using the idea of helping “school kids” to push an entirely different agenda.

Which gets us to the real effect of the bill, which is to set the stage for a wholesale give-away of public lands (currently open to all of us) to mining companies. Let’s just be honest— that’s what this is really about. Converting existing federal lands in the Superior National Forest to state ownership exempts these lands from a host of federal laws, including the Weeks Act, which prohibits strip mining in the Superior, and potentially hands environmental review and oversight over to state officials who have largely allowed the mining industry to have its way in Minnesota in recent years. Even so, there’s no guarantee that any mining jobs will be created as a result of the proposed exchange.

At the same time, the bill supersedes a well-established process already underway to develop a state-federal land exchange that meets the interests of a wide range of stakeholders, not just foreign mining companies. This is the worst kind of special interest legislation, intended to circumvent longstanding laws and rules and sacrifice the interests of the majority of stakeholders to benefit a handful of private corporations. Minnesotans shouldn’t stand for it, much less be praising it.

While the state clearly has a legitimate interest in a solution to the longstanding problem of its land ownership in the BWCAW, Rep. Cravaack’s solution sells our local governments short, disregards the interests of many residents and business owners in our state and region, and doesn’t generate an extra penny for schools.

Hopefully, the state’s U.S. Senators will take a more thoughtful approach.


4 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

I think they should have continued with the process they originally were working on with maybe a 50% cash and 50% land exchange. All parties had come close to agreeing tand were very satisfied. The Minnesota DNR,USFS,and other parties.

At present the new plans map is very incomplete and not finalized. It also leaves out public input.The exchange will come,but lets do it right.

Rep. Chip did not want to talk about the map in close detail. He was doing a walk around on the issue. I think is campaign is getting a little money from certain interest groups.

Friday, September 21, 2012 | Report this

The editor is dead wrong here. The lands were set aside in 1849 for production of income for schools, and there is nothing more to be said about it. Logging and mining provides more private sector income for the schools than any other rediculous recirculation of additional tax dollars so packsackers can sit back and adore the flora, fauna and trees without contributing a nickel out of their backpockets, expecting those of us who choose not to give more for their exclusive enjoyment. The Range DFL delegation and the DFL Governor agree and are dead right on this issue. Thank you very much Congressman Cravaack, you are the best Congressman the 8th has ever had and probably ever will.

As for the public input, that was already taken care of in 1849, if you weren't there, then shut your yap!

Friday, September 21, 2012 | Report this

A;ways love hearing the soothing words ... the keen insights ... the rational thoughts ... and seems I'm going to have to wait.

Friday, September 21, 2012 | Report this
hard rock miner

Thank you for educating the masses (as usual) orrcountry. The wise folks of Minnesota elected Nolan, the genius who helped develop the BWCA. What short memories we northeners have.

Saturday, November 17, 2012 | Report this