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Public Statements

Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRIJALVA. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, Federal land grants to States for education have resulted in the transfer of more than 77 million acres of land to over 30 States. These well-meaning acts, taken over 200 years ago, have left communities across the country with a fragmented pattern of land ownership.

Through the Northwest Ordinance enacted in 1787, Minnesota was granted 8.3 million acres of school trust lands. Today, the State has only 2.5 million acres left, with 93,000 located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Proponents of this legislation claim this will right inequities caused by the designation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For most of us, it would seem like common sense to do a land trade, but I think most of us would also want a land trade that is fair to both sides.

The State of Minnesota recently enacted State legislation that would allow an exchange of State and Federal lands. While controversial, it garnered bipartisan support and didn't include language suggesting that we need to waive Federal laws.

As my colleague, Congresswoman McCollum, will tell us, the State did their job. It is now time for Congress to do our job. Our job is to protect taxpayer assets and the democratic process. Congressman Cravaack's bill fails on both of these accounts. We just need to look at the facts.

By failing to require the standard public process that allows all Americans the ability to participate and comment on the exchange of assets, H.R. 5544 robs the citizens of this Nation of their right to participate in the democratic process.

Unlike every other land trade bill brought before this Congress, we have no map showing what Federal lands will go into State ownership for development. Neither the people of Minnesota nor the people of the United States have any idea that we will lose lands critical to protecting drinking water or vital to hunting or motorized recreation. There is no map. The Federal lands to be traded are not identified.

Three Native American tribes have tribal treaties guaranteeing tribal members the right to hunt, fish and gather in the Superior National Forest. This bill potentially deprives these tribes of their access rights.

Second, by failing to ensure that our assets are appropriately valued as part of the exchange, Congressman Cravaack's bill shortchanges the American taxpayer. H.R. 5544 defers to the State of Minnesota to decide the value of Federal lands. When Congress authorizes the sale or exchange of Federal assets, it is our job to make sure the Federal Government is getting a good deal.

Again, for every land exchange this Congress has considered, we have relied on standard appraisal processes that are well understood by real estate professionals and land managers. Overriding this practice is like buying a house based on an appraisal provided by the owner, with the owner admitting they really don't have an updated assessment.

Such a scheme fails to protect the interests of the American taxpayers who own this land. We are not talking about a couple million dollars of taxpayer assets here. Estimates nearly a decade old placed the value of these lands at nearly $100 million.

Third, it is not clear this legislation is going to accomplish its stated goal: education investment. During committee consideration of this legislation, Minnesota school officials testified that of the $9,000 per year spent on an average Minnesota student, $26, less than 1 percent, comes from school trust lands receipts. This entire bill is geared to making up the $650,000 the State believes it has lost, a mere drop in the bucket for the overall necessary education investment.

An amendment offered by Congressman Hastings that is self-executed in the rule shortchanges three counties in Minnesota. Since 1948, Congress has and continues to provide St. Louis, Cook, and Lake Counties mandatory annual payments to compensate them for lost revenues related to the designation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Since the passage of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, these counties have received nearly $60 million in compensation from Thye-Blatnik payments alone. Last year, these payments amounted to $6 million. Chairman Hastings' amendment stops increases in these payments, which CBO estimates would be approximately $1 million. This is ironic, considering the entire bill is justified on the State estimating the exchange will increase their school trust revenues by $650,000 a year. Wouldn't it make more sense to go back and see if we can make better use of the existing money going to the State and to the counties?

Finally, this bill fails to garner broad and bipartisan support. Not one Democrat from the Minnesota delegation has cosponsored the legislation. Nearly 25 organizations in the State have written Congress in opposition to the legislation. Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, representing over 2 million hunters and anglers, oppose the bill. The Star Tribune's editorial board says the bill ``fails the credibility test'' and ``is about converting forest land to mining.''

Many of us, including myself, have had bills to accelerate the land exchange process. However, those bills have safeguards like ensuring that the public can participate in the process; safeguards like ensuring Uncle Sam won't become Uncle Sucker, leaving taxpayers with a raw deal; safeguards like ensuring treaties guaranteeing access to tribes are not impacted. This bill has none of those safeguards. There are ways to do land exchanges that earn public support, garner bipartisan endorsements, and protect taxpayers. This bill fails on all counts and should be rejected.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRIJALVA. Mr. Chairman, part of the argument is that the Forest Service is dragging its feet and will not allow this process to continue. I would suggest that the Minnesota Legislature came to the realization it was something they needed to do. That process was initiated, legislation was passed, and that process continues. The role of the Federal Government in hindering that does not exist. This was a volition and a decision that Minnesota and its representatives had to take.

On June 22, 1948, President Truman signed legislation into law to authorize the acquisition of private lands within what is now known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The legislation was promoted as a way to protect important natural resource values from commercialization and to compensate Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties for the loss of private tax revenue.

During the legislative process, Congressman Blatnik argued that counties should receive 12 cents per acre of Federal land for compensation of lost property tax revenues. The Truman administration, arguing that the 12 cents per acre figure was excessive, negotiated compensation to three-quarters of 1 percent of fair market value, which is the way the law was enacted and stands today.

Each year since, these counties have received mandatory payments, adjusted periodically to reflect increased property values. Last year, these payments totaled over $6 million. Under the funding formula, more Federal lands mean more Federal money. Absent the Hastings amendment, Lake, Cook, and St. Louis Counties, all within the sponsor of this legislation's district, stood to receive another $1 million annually.

We raised questions regarding this payment from the time the bill was heard in subcommittee until the bill was reported from full committee. In fact, I sent letters to each county commissioner in these counties trying to learn more about how these funds were used. I received two responses. Both indicated they support the current Thye-Blatnik formula and relied on these payments to compensate for lost property tax revenue. Surprisingly, no one wants to talk about these payments because they would be considered earmarks--earmarks which the sponsor voted against supporting, along with many other members of his caucus.

I represent a district with a lot of Federal lands. My counties get payments through PILT and through Secure Rural Schools. We have to fight like crazy to extend payments every time these bills come for reauthorization. Yet today, we have a bill that purports to be about education funding for Minnesota kids. What kind of role models are we if we can't even have an educated conversation about what Federal money is currently going to Minnesota?

Let's just look at the arithmetic. Minnesota State Representative Denise Dittrich testified before the committee that the State was losing $650,000 annually from foregone revenues because the State trust lands were within the wilderness area. She supports the enactment of this legislation to make up for the revenue. Yet, because of the Hastings amendment, this legislation actually takes $1 million in revenue away from the Counties of Lake, Cook, and St. Louis.

Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul? That's the question.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. GRIJALVA. Mr. Chairman, among the many flaws in the legislation is a provision waiving compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, NEPA. NEPA has been under attack by the Republicans for years. Most famously, former Chairman Pombo led a yearlong effort to undermine the law before leaving Congress.

NEPA stands for two very simple principles: The first is that the Federal Government should think before it acts, and the second is that the Federal Government should listen to the American people before it acts.

NEPA does not dictate outcome. It requires Federal agencies to gather information, consider alternatives, and seek public input before taking action that would significantly impact the environment.

Waiving NEPA means waiving educated decisionmaking, waiving NEPA means waiving transparency, and waiving NEPA means waiving the possibility that the American people should play a role in managing the natural resources which they own.

In the case of H.R. 5544, waiving NEPA means waiving any process for determining which Federal lands will be given to the State, what lands will be traded away, and how will they be chosen. Apparently, that information is to remain secret.

Will lands currently used for recreation or to protect water quality or to preserve critical habitat be traded to the State for logging and mining? We have no way to know.

Waiving NEPA shrouds this land deal in secrecy and insulates it from any public input. Why should any Member in this House oppose allowing his or her constituents to have input in the management of Federal natural resources? Cutting out public input is undemocratic, unwise, and unfair.

Now we have heard claims that NEPA should be waived because it leads to so-called ``frivolous'' legislation. Of course, ``frivolous'' is often in the eye of the beholder.

The facts are that NEPA is more than 40 years old, its regulations are flexible and well-settled, and NEPA litigation is fairly rare. What's more, timber companies, cattlemen, mining companies, and other industry plaintiffs file NEPA litigation just as often, if not more, than environmental groups.

We are also told that NEPA causes too much delay. This accusation is also unfounded. NEPA regulations allow for agreed-upon timeframes and page limits to move the process along. Instances when the NEPA process appears to drag on are often the result of an applicant who fails to provide necessary information in a timely fashion or changes the parameters of their project midstream. These anti-NEPA claims are not based on fact and they are a smokescreen, a smokescreen designed to hide the fact that the real goal of exempting this land deal from NEPA is to shield this exchange from public scrutiny.

Later today, Mr. Holt will have an amendment to restore NEPA compliance for this land deal, and that amendment should be approved. A vote for NEPA is a vote for the idea that average Americans might have something valuable to say about the management of their natural resources. A vote for the bill without NEPA is a vote to shroud this deal in darkness so that its potential impacts on habitat or water quality or recreation remain hidden from public view.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRIJALVA. I will close at this point.

This debate, quite honestly, Mr. Chairman, makes me feel like I'm living in an alternative reality--a reality where the protections of God's bounty on this Earth are nothing more than an opportunity cost for local governments, a reality where we think it's perfectly acceptable to fund our children's education by stealing from the natural resource legacy our forefathers sought to protect, a reality where $650,000 for St. Paul is more important than $1 million going to counties most impacted by this exchange, a reality where the basic ability for people to be informed about government actions and to voice their views is blocked by a party that prides itself on the idea of liberty. I don't know about you, but this is not the reality that I want to live in.

We could have brought this bill to the floor today with strong bipartisan support and resolved the real issue of isolated State lands within the Boundary Waters, just like the Minnesota Legislation did. Instead, it is Groundhog Day where antiwilderness and antigovernment philosophies are masked as a concern for education funding when the arithmetic doesn't actually support the argument.

This is a disappointment. This bill is bad for forests, bad for wildlife, bad for the American people, and should be rejected.

I yield back the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRIJALVA. The amendment I am offering does one simple thing and one thing only. It ensures that this land trade is fair and protects the American taxpayers.

For every land exchange undertaken by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Park Service, or Fish and Wildlife Service, land managers must ensure taxpayer assets are protected by requiring land appraisals based on accepted Federal standards. This House has considered six different land exchange bills in this Congress. Each and every one of them required standard appraisals for those lands, and they all passed.

But today we have a bill that defers to legislation passed by the State of Minnesota to control the examination and the value determination of Federal lands. This is not how we treat Federal assets. Whether a land exchange is undertaken through an administrative process or through legislation, we require a standard appraisal and equalization payments if the value of the lands considered for exchange are not equal.

Surely we can provide better protections to the taxpayers of this country.

The last estimate, and I will stress estimate of the value of the land in question, was nearly $100 million. Do we really want to abandon our responsibilities as stewards to Federal taxpayers and waive fair appraisal standards?

Surely we can hold Congressman Cravaack's legislation to the same bar and standard we required for Congressman Herger, Congressman Gosar, Congresswoman Tsongas, Congressman McKeon, Congressman Amodei's bill and, yes, my own bill.

I understand a lot of Members on the other side of the aisle would happily turn over Federal lands to the States. In fact, that position is reflected in their party's platform. But this isn't what we're voting on today. Today we're voting on a land deal that shouldn't turn the taxpayer interests upside down.

I would urge support of my amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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