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Public Statements

Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ELLISON. Mr. Chair, I rise to present an amendment that would require that as these exchanges go forward, that they would have to be done in a manner that does not hurt private property interests.

There's no doubt that when the exchanges are effected, the people in the forest areas who will acquire them will be looking to mine them, log them, and things like that. But the fact remains that there are other legitimate private property interests there, and these private property interests should be protected.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Minnesota, Representative Cravaack, has no protections for areas of high ecological and recreational value, risks the livelihood of small businesses that rely on the recreational tourists to survive and thrive, and risks the values of private property within the Superior National Forest.

In a region that depends upon $1.6 billion of revenue from outdoor recreation, we cannot risk our natural lands for the short-term gain of the mining industry. My amendment would simply ensure that no land would be exchanged if it would likely have a negative impact on private or small business interests.

In this House, we often hear it said we should not pick winners and losers. I agree with that. We shouldn't. Therefore, this amendment, if adopted, would protect and ensure that no land would be exchanged if it would likely have a negative impact on private property interests.

Mr. Chair, I would like you to know that the white areas here are private property. As you can see, they're interspersed in the green. As land is transferred down and exchanged, there's a lot of private land next to the forestland, and the private property interests are at risk, and the amendment, if passed, would protect them.

Many studies have found that private property and housing values decrease the closer they are to mines. Just take it from the standpoint of a small business. Many small businesses depend upon protecting the natural resources in the area. Sulfide mining, being considered in this region, can leach sulfuric acid into lakes and rivers, killing aquatic life and ruining someone's small business or fishing resort. Sulfide mining is generating significant public concern and deserves an open, transparent process of evaluation.

Mining has a role in the economy in its right place and with the right protections. But no one denies that it can harm the environment and small businesses if it is done in the wrong place and in the wrong manner.

Mr. Chairman, let me just talk about Jane Koschak. Jane is the owner of the River Point Resort and Outfitting Company located in the Superior National Forest, and she's very concerned about the impact of this bill on her small business. She says the bill will be absolutely devastating to the tourism economy. She says her own town exists on tourism, which is dependent upon clean water and clean air. She also says private property values in the area are already going down from existing drilling. Mining hurts small businesses like Jane's that cater to the anglers, the paddlers, the hikers, and the vacationers in the region.

We need greater transparency. Minnesota landowners and small businesses deserve an open and transparent process, but that's not what we're getting. The State of Minnesota has already created an open process to transfer State lands within the boundary waters. No Federal legislation is required for this land exchange to take place. We should not be waiving environmental and public comment. At the very least, if we go forward with this misguided bill, we should ensure that private property and small business is protected.

I ask you to support the Ellison amendment and oppose the bill from my colleague in Minnesota.


Mr. ELLISON. I appreciate the gentleman's reflection that the exchange is between State land and State land, but it's next to private property land. That's exactly the point of my amendment. If I have a business--better yet, not me, but Jane, who does, in fact, have a business--that is next to a mine that is leaching hazardous material, it will negatively impact her business.

This is not a dispute between public and private. It's a dispute between big private interests and smaller ones.

We're here in Congress to stand up for people who need a voice. I doubt these multinational mining interests need Congress to stand up for them, but the Janes who are running resorts in this forest do. We're simply asking you to adopt an amendment that will stand up for the private property rights of regular citizens who had a dream and fulfilled it of opening a resort, opening a tackle shop, doing things that are deeply rooted in Minnesota's heritage.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. ELLISON. If I understand the gentleman's question correctly, I think that it will negatively impact jobs.

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I would ask my colleague if he knows how much mining taxes contribute to the State of Minnesota.

I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. ELLISON. The point of my amendment is that this bill, your bill, is going to hurt small business.

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time.

Mr. ELLISON. Look. I'm not going to yield to you if you won't let me answer the question.

Mr. CRAVAACK. He is out of order, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIR. The gentleman from Minnesota controls the time.

Mr. CRAVAACK. Mr. Chairman, as you can see from the most recent ``Mining Tax Guide'' from the State of Minnesota, the Eighth District of State of Minnesota contributes $79.1 million to the State of Minnesota. That is just not inclusive of the income related to taxes from jobs from the mining that will go on in the State of Minnesota.

Is the gentleman opposed to mining in Minnesota? Can he give me an example of how he has supported mining?

I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. ELLISON. If the gentleman is going to let me answer, I will be happy to answer you.

Mr. CRAVAACK. I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. ELLISON. Thank you. I appreciate that. Look, the fact is what you're doing is trying to say that you're going to stand up for the big-money people, as opposed to the cumulative small business people. I think if you put the number of small business people together, your big multinational mining interests that are going to pollute their business----

Mr. CRAVAACK. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to tell my colleague how much mining and timber contributes to the school trust fund.

Mr. Chairman, in the most recent school trust fund report, it shows that mining and timber contributed $23.17 million in 2011. Now, maybe that doesn't sound like much here inside the Beltway; but I tell you what, that's a lot of money where I come from.

Does the gentleman think that schools in Minneapolis are adequately funded? I'll answer that for you, probably not. Because in North Branch, Minnesota, where I live, public schools just went to 4 days, and then we've got 40 kids in a classroom. I think our teachers and kids could use the extra funding.

Also I'm very interested right now that now the gentleman is very concerned about small business interests in the rural communities. I find that very enlightening.

I yield to the gentleman if he could tell me how a small business would be affected by this land exchange and job creation.

Mr. ELLISON. I will tell you this, about less than 1 percent of money for schools comes from trust lands. It's a very tiny percentage. I mean, so we're going to sacrifice our heritage for a multinational mining company----


Mr. ELLISON. Mr. Speaker, this final amendment to the bill, if adopted, will not kill the bill or send it back to committee. This bill will immediately be voted upon on final passage as amended.

Mr. Speaker, this bill that we're arguing about right now actually is not necessary. The Minnesota State legislature has already decided that in one of the most beautiful wildernesses in our country, the Boundary Waters, that there will be about 86,000 acres transferred out of there into the Superior National Forest. The land will be moved from this wilderness area into the Superior National Forest, and the proceeds will be used to benefit Minnesota schoolchildren.

What this bill actually does is it doesn't actually facilitate the transfer. The Minnesota State legislature has handled that. What it does is it allows the circumvention of the regular process so that Minnesotans who are part of the business community, the school community, the local community, who are part of the recreational community, who have a stake in this thing, that they will be cut out of the deal. They won't be able to have the transparency that is necessary.

Without a doubt, the land that will be transferred will be transferred for the purpose of commercial exploitation, most likely mining. And mining, as you know, may have commercial importance and commercial benefit, but it is a dirty business. It does affect the businesses that are around it.

This bill is designed to help and will help the mining and the timber industry in northern Minnesota. But as we go about this process, we can at least do what we can to make sure that as the transfer takes place, that the outdoor recreational businesses, which are about $1.6 billion in northeastern Minnesota, do not get sacrificed in the process.

The Superior National Forest and Chippewa National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness make up Minnesota's premiere outdoor recreation area. They're just beautiful. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, there's been many a time when I've led young people up to the Boundary Waters so they can get out of the urban environment, into the natural wilderness, and experience what I believe is God's country.

As we effect this change and these land swaps are taking place, and there's no real process--we're bypassing it through this bill--to have real transparency, the interests of the recreational industry, the people who fish, the people who paddle, the people who hunt, and the businesses that supply them are at stake.

My amendment would simply protect the land in these forests currently used for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, bird watching, and all sorts of other activities, and the commercial interests associated with allowing them to do that.

The land that we're talking about has very high recreational value. The
Chippewa and Superior National Forest provide habitat for hunting and game like grouse, deer, or waterfowl. They contain some of the Nation's best fishing lakes, filled with trout, walleye, bass, and pike. I encourage all of you to come and visit. They attract 250,000 visitors every year, Americans of all kinds, but even international visitors, but mostly Minnesotans right from the area and from the Twin Cities.

The fact is the Superior National Forest is the eighth-most visited in the entire National Forest system. They drive, as I mentioned already, Mr. Speaker, $1.6 billion in tourism and recreation industry in northeastern Minnesota. Thousands of small businesses rely on the National Forest, including everything from resorts, to hunting outfitters, to local restaurants and shops.

I might add, there are almost--in fact, I would say there are no--restaurants or outfitters who name their business after the sulfide mines. No. They call themselves the Boundary Waters Cafe. They name themselves after the beauty and the natural wonder in the area.

This bill puts recreation at risk and the industry that supports it. This bill provides no protection for lands with high recreational value. In fact, it explicitly says that land acquired by the State should be used first for revenue-generating activities, such as mining and logging. This is why hunting and angling groups in Minnesota oppose the bill, including the Minnesota Conservation Foundation, Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Minnesota division of the Izaac Walton League.

What's more, Mr. Speaker, the bill does not even identify which lands will be exchanged. We don't even know in this map which private property interests will be affected.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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