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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, today we have before us a bill that tells the American taxpayers to take a hike--not to take a walk in the woods, but to give up their place in any decisionmaking, to get lost, a hike from democracy and engagement in our government--because H.R. 5544 has a provision that would bar all Americans, including Native Americans, from being provided the information about the land exchange to take place and that would bar them from participating in the democratic process of being able to voice their views about the disposition of their property.
My amendment would restore public participation in the development of this proposed land exchange by striking language that would subvert proper environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA. H.R. 5544 continues what we have seen elsewhere on this floor and on the Resources Committee that can only be called an attack on NEPA.
I wonder what my colleagues have in mind, why they have such a strong knee-jerk reaction to this bipartisan initiative that was signed into law by President Nixon, you may recall. Whatever any of my colleagues may think about the advisability of the underlying bill and the exchange that is proposed here, whatever that exchange may be, I would think my colleagues would at least want this to be done with transparency, full knowledge and public participation.
Public participation should always be of the utmost concern when planning public land projects, but it is particularly critical for the exchange that is proposed here. We aren't talking about a small land exchange. We are talking about tens of thousands of Federal acres that will be going out of Federal ownership and into State ownership for the purposes of mining and logging.
The bill doesn't tell us which parcels will be exchanged. We have no map. We really have no idea. We do know that there are 700 miles of snowmobile trails within the Superior National Forest and that there are thousands of lakes, 77 points of lake access, and 13 fishing piers. We know that hunting is allowed on all of these lands, including lands included within the boundary waters.
We also know that no fewer than 25 groups have written in opposition to
this exchange, expressing concerns about their ability to participate in what should be a public process. We also know that 2 million hunters and anglers, represented by the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, oppose this bill because, in their words:
Hunters have a vested interest because we now have access to these properties--something that's never guaranteed when management begins switching hands.
Finally, we know why the State of Minnesota wants these Federal lands. They want the lands to generate receipts for their school trust through mining and logging.
So we know some things, but there is much we don't know. There is much that should be brought out to the public. This entire exchange is justified on the State's belief that it is losing $650,000 a year because it can't mine and log lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The public deserves to know more about this exchange and to have a voice in the future of these lands. I urge my colleagues to support my amendment, which would ensure that the public can play a role in this exchange if the exchange is to go forward.
I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. HOLT. The chairman must think that it is so inconvenient to deal with a pesky public. Whether this is congressionally mandated or comes about in any way, something of this scale, that of involving the public's land, should involve the public in a very open way in understanding what it will be and in carrying it out. That's all this says. That's all this amendment would do. It would allow the NEPA process, the environmental process that applies to so many things around this country, to apply to this important transaction.
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