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Mr. CRAVAACK. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of the rule and the underlying bill, H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act. This bill will support the teachers and schoolchildren in the State of Minnesota, create well-paying jobs in northern Minnesota, and make the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, for the first time in its existence, whole.
We have to have a bit of context here.
When Minnesota became a State in 1858, sections 16 and 36 of every township in Minnesota were set aside in trust for the benefit of schools. The State could use, lease, or sell the land to raise money for education.
In the beginning, the State leaders decided to sell the more valuable parcels of the school trust lands, but around the turn of the century they realized they needed a more sustainable plan and began putting the school trust lands to productive use for timber and mining. This has been the goal of the State for over 100 years, and it has produced dividends for generations for our school kids.
As DFL State Representative Denise Dittrich has so ably educated me on, these lands are not so much owned by the State as held in trust by the State and owned by the schoolchildren of Minnesota. It is the responsibility of the school trust fund trustees to maximize the return on these lands for the benefit of this fund. This is a critical point. This is part of the Minnesota Constitution.
But in the 1970s, the Federal Government created the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. These lands within the Boundary Waters cannot be logged, leased, or mined in order to preserve the unique wilderness character of this pristine land. Thousands of visitors from around the country come to enjoy this beautiful area. But as a result of its creation, Minnesota and its students have been faced with an 86,000-acre problem for over 30 years.
Eighty-six thousand acres of State-owned school trust lands have been locked within the borders of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, unable to produce critical funding for Minnesota public education. It is imperative we resolve this longstanding problem. Our goal is to preserve and protect the Boundary Waters and allow State-owned school trust lands to raise revenue for Minnesota education.
Unfortunately, Minnesota school kids have been cheated out of public education funding for over 34 years now. In the past, there have been a number of working groups, studies, and resolutions. Finally, after years of inaction, stalling and dilatory tactics by special interest groups, Republicans and Democrats together in Minnesota said enough is enough.
It's been referred to as Mr. Cravaack's bill. That is not, in fact, the case. This is Minnesota's bill.
On March 22 of this year, an overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans from the State senate passed senate file 1750 on a vote of 53-11. On April 3, the house followed suit, passing a bipartisan bill 90-41. On April 27, our Democratic Governor, Governor Mark Dayton, signed the bill into law.
H.R. 5544 executes a bipartisan State plan that Governor Dayton signed into law earlier this year. H.R. 5544 would exchange State-owned school trust lands trapped in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the Federal Government in exchange for Federal Government-owned land outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
This bill includes important provisions that would ensure Minnesotans can maintain their existing hunting and fishing rights within the Boundary Waters. In addition, the bill exempts the land exchange process from NEPA.
The land exchange itself would have no environmental impact on any future development and would still be subject to strict State and Federal regulations.
Intuitively, a land swap is merely a redrawing of maps and has no environmental impact in and of itself. The mentioned activities, mining and logging, do, in fact, have environmental impact and would be subject to the full Federal and State review. Not one environmental protection is lost in the execution of this bill.
I want to be very transparent here. One of the hopes of my constituents is to have a bill to create good-paying jobs in the timber and mining industries. The lands listed in S.F. 1750 are rich in natural resources. Many of them lie in portions of the Superior National Forest that are already being successfully mined for iron ore and harvested for timber. It's a working and managed forest.
These activities employ thousands of workers and support tens of thousands of other ancillary jobs in the region. Northern Minnesotans want these and need these opportunities, and every American benefits from the steel and lumber that goes into our cars and into our homes.
While I generally support the aims of NEPA, the State of Minnesota has some of the strictest environmental standards in the country and a track record of successful regulation of mining and logging.
On the other hand, obstructionist special interest groups have a track record of abusing the NEPA process to sue and delay. I do not want these groups to continue to delay this land exchange, preventing Minnesota schools from receiving the funding that they need and, quite frankly, they deserve.
The State of Minnesota cannot afford to be sued by environmental groups for years. Some of those arguing for NEPA are, in fact, arguing that defending lawsuits is an appropriate use of the taxpayer dollars and that it's okay to transfer wealth from State coffers to special interest groups. Interesting to note, many of these special groups aren't even from Minnesota.
Make no mistake. This will be passed and a bipartisan land exchange is going to get done. I will not allow special interest groups, acting in bad faith, to abuse the NEPA process and use frivolous lawsuits to block and derail a land exchange. If I could trust special interest groups to act in good faith and if I could trust the Federal bureaucracy to act promptly, I would include NEPA in this legislation.
The teachers and schoolkids in Minnesota can't wait years, if not decades. Currently, some of the schools in Minnesota have classrooms with over 40 kids, and some school districts, like mine in North Branch, have been reduced to a 4-day school week. I ask, is that progress?
This legislation will generate a lot of funding for our schools and create good-paying jobs. Importantly, the Minnesota Education Investment Employment Act will not eliminate a single acre of Boundary Waters land. In fact, it would include wilderness acres to the existing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness boundaries while giving Minnesota's children land that rightfully and constitutionally belongs to them.
I urge my colleagues to support this rule and the underlying bill.
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