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Public Statements

Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. McCOLLUM. The House should not be spending its limited floor time on this bill. The House should be debating the American Jobs Act, the President's plan to put nearly 2 million Americans back to work without adding a dime to the deficit. Instead, today, the Republican majority has a land exchange bill on the floor that is completely unnecessary. I want to stress that. It is unnecessary. The State of Minnesota and the U.S. Forestry Service have all the authority they need to finalize this land exchange--and finalization is what they are working on.

There's a stakeholder process underway in Minnesota to determine this proposed land sale and exchange. And it's underway. And they're going to do it. And they're working on it, with everyone at the table. So why are we debating this bill at all?

I was a State representative for many years, and I worked on a lot of land exchanges. And I have never worked on a land exchange that has been so unnecessary as what I'm being asked to vote on today. This is a reckless bill, and it also sets a terrible precedent.

This legislation does not specify what lands are to be exchanged. Yes, we know about the school's trust fund land, and that's specified, we know where that is, but we don't know what lands are to be exchanged. We don't know what the finished product is.

Members of Congress are being asked to endorse a land exchange without knowing what lands will be exchanged. This legislation does refer to a bill in the Minnesota State legislature, and the Minnesota State legislation does not include a map of the Federal lands to be exchanged. It does not include a map.

This is the first time in the history of this Congress--of Congress--to bring a bill, a land exchange, to the floor without maps specifying what lands are to be exchanged. The first time in history. Every Member of this House should be asking themselves one simple question: where are the maps?

Now, as I said, I've done many land exchange bills in my service in the Minnesota legislature, and the first rule of all of those land exchange bills is don't forget what you are exchanging out. We always had maps. We had the cost, we had the value, and the public input, and I believe the Minnesota State legislators should be able to finish that process themselves working with the U.S. Forestry, working in a transparent fashion to know exactly what we're voting on.

Why are maps important? Because without a map it's impossible to determine how many Minnesotans could possibly see their property rights threatened by this bill. Can anyone here today tell me how many Minnesota cabin owners could open up their front doors and find a lack of public access to water that they have used and recreated in for years? There's no map. No one can answer that question.

Can anyone tell me how many millions of dollars Minnesota will lose in property value because of issues like this, because of H.R. 5544? No one can answer that question because there are no maps.

This bill could, and I believe will, greatly reduce public access to hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling in areas where the public currently has access. Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is a sportsmen's conservation group. They represent over 2 million hunters in Minnesota and anglers as well. The group sent a letter to the U.S. Members of the House this month opposing this bill, and I'd like to quote from it. ``It provides no protective measures for how the land may be used, and no assurances that existing activities like hunting and angling would continue.'' Why? Because there is no map.

There are also 700 miles of snowmobile trails in Superior National Forest that could be at risk because of this bill, trails where public and private trails intermingle and where public and private entities have worked for years raising money and revenues to be able to recreate. But no one can tell me, not Mr. Cravaack, not Mr. Hastings, no one here, no one can tell me how many trails, lakes, and hunting areas could be closed by this bill because there is no map.

In addition, this bill eliminates the public's ability to participate in any decisionmaking process because it waives the National Environmental Policy Act process.

This is just not the way we do things in Minnesota. We bring people together at the table. We make sure everyone is at the table: the State, the Federal Government, the local governments, the property owners, the hunters, the anglers, the tribal nations, the conservationists, the taxpayers, and yes, the job generators. We make sure that decisions are transparent, and transparency means you have to include a map.

We make sure to get fair market value for land that is sold in exchange so that it's in the best interest of the taxpayers.

As a Member of Congress representing Minnesota, and as a Member of the House Interior Subcommittee, I want to stress I am committed to supporting land exchange so that it is a good deal for Minnesota, a good deal for the American taxpayers, and I'm committed that the process that's in place in Minnesota moves forward.

I serve with those northern legislators. They have fought for years to get something on the table. They deserve to have the process finish and finish correctly. They need good legislation, not bad legislation. Minnesota will produce good legislation.

There is a stakeholders group in Minnesota that is working to determine if the land proposal is fair and transparent. They're not at the table, folks. It does not require a congressional action to finalize their proposal. It does not take congressional action to move forward the legislation that has passed and been signed into law by the Governor.

This bill is unnecessary, it is reckless, and it sets a dangerous precedent for this House for the first time ever to vote on a land exchange without a full, complete map.

The House should defeat H.R. 5544, and it should allow Minnesota to move forward without this interference and this recklessness.

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Ms. McCOLLUM. Mr. Chairman, as you've already heard here today, H.R. 5544 is missing an awful lot of important details and taxpayer protections. One major omission in this bill is its failure to acknowledge the treaty rights of Minnesota's tribal nations.

Treaty rights are a predominant concern in this land exchange because unspecified lands are under consideration in H.R. 5544 because we don't have a map. They're all within the Superior National Forest, which is governed by the 1854 treaty between the Chippewa nations and the United States Government.

The terms of the treaty guarantee that tribal nations can continue to fish, hunt and gather, and otherwise use the land to support their way of life. However, in its current form, this bill completely ignores the treaty rights of tribal nations.

The Minnesota process that's moving forward in the State of Minnesota includes the tribal nations. We need to make sure that the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have their treaty obligations protected and met by the United States Government.

The tribal council of Grand Portage of Chippewa has contacted my office to express their great opposition to this bill. Chairwoman Diver of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa has sent letters in opposition to Governor Dayton, Secretary Vilsack of Agriculture, Senators Franken, Klobuchar, and to Representative Cravaack.

Mr. Chair, at the appropriate time, I have a copy of that letter to submit to the Record.

Minnesota's tribes foresee a negative impact of this bill on their guaranteed treaty rights for use of their land because they are not being considered as part of the process under the Cravaack bill.

The quote from Chairwoman Diver's letter, in fact, is:

We oppose the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act until suitable tribal consultation has occurred.

The chairwoman also disagrees with the conclusion that the exchange of more than 86,000 acres without government-to-government consultation ``shall not be considered to be major Federal action.''

It's hard to see how anyone could consider the exchange of land that is being governed by a Federal treaty with sovereign tribal nations to be anything less than a major Federal action. Yet this bill denies the level of consideration for the exchange.

The amendment that I'm introducing would recognize the reserved fishing, hunting and gathering rights of the tribes and other lands under consideration. The language for this amendment was drafted in consultation with legal representation from the three impacted tribes and from input from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

This amendment will not solve the fundamental problems of this bill, but it is an effort to respond to the threat against tribal interests and tribal sovereignty that this bill contains. This bill does not change the fact that Minnesota now sees the Federal Government in a jump-start effort to establish a process for Minnesota on how to handle the finishing touches to the land transfer.

Well, I believe at least the tribal voices should be at the table to be heard.

So, Mr. Chair, I do not believe that H.R. 5544 should be moved forward. I will be voting against the bill. I want to be clear about that.

However, if this unnecessary, unclear bill is to proceed, at least at a minimum, we should protect our U.S. government-to-government treaty rights and any land exchange.

Mr. Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. McCOLLUM. I thank Mr. Grijalva.

This is not about slowing down the process, and I know it's not the intention of the Members on the other side to assume my motivations. I know it's not their intention.

This and the amendments that I offered are because there is a process in place in Minnesota that allows for people to be at the table, for tribes to be at the table to follow the regular order to have a regular appraisal like everyone else has had, and to have a map on the floor and not start creating a wave of Federal legislation that, to my knowledge, to my knowledge, no one has asked for this legislation to have a vote on the floor today.

There is no Senate companion. There is no urgency; there is no emergency. The State of Minnesota has a process in place; and I will say, as a State legislator, there were times, yes, I didn't think we needed to move forward with the land exchange.

But the northern legislators are convinced, overwhelmingly with the Governor of Minnesota, that this land exchange needs to take place, and it should take place, and I'm not trying to slow it down. I am trying to take this bad legislation and put it aside and let the good legislation and let the regular order that the State of Minnesota has established in order to have these land exchanges move forward. That is my motivation, good legislation, not for the first time in the history of the floor of this House passing a land exchange without a map and for the first time that I've heard not use the regular Federal standard appraisal process.

It sets a bad precedent. I don't think anybody is out to do wrong by the schoolchildren of Minnesota.

My children attended K through higher ed in Minnesota, and I know how strapped we are for cash. And I do believe that there will be very slight amounts of dollars that will go back into school trusts, but that's going to happen whether or not we take this bad vote on this bad bill today or not.

The schoolchildren in Minnesota will be served. This land will be exchanged. The question for this Congress is: Do we do it the right way; do we do it the wrong way; do we set a bad precedent for future land exchange bills; or do we make sure that we allow a fair, open, transparent process that started in Minnesota, finishes in Minnesota?

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