CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, September 12, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, subject to a rule. The bill was introduced on May 8, 2012, by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MI) and referred to the Natural Resources Committee. On August 1, 2012, the Committee held a mark-up on the bill and reported the legislation, as amended, by a vote of 25-19. The rule for consideration of the bill (H.Res. 773) provides for one hour of general debate equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Natural Resources. The rule also makes five amendments in order–one manager’s amendment and four additional amendments. Each amendment made in order is summarized below.
H.R. 5544 would require the Secretary of Agriculture to exchange federal land for land owned by the State of Minnesota. Specifically, the bill would require the Secretary to exchange approximately 86,000 acres (according to CBO estimates) of National Forest System land located in the Superior National Forest for approximately 86,000 acres of land owned by the state within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Under the legislation, land obtained by the federal government would be added to and administered as part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Land acquired by the state would be deemed state trust lands and would be held in trust for the benefit of the Minnesota public school system.
Under the legislation, the exact acreage and legal description of the land to be exchanged would be determined through a survey that is paid for by the State of Minnesota and approved by the Secretary. In addition, the State of Minnesota would be responsible for all other administrative costs related to the land exchange. The exchange would occur pursuant to the terms outlined by law recently enacted by the State of Minnesota (S.F. 1750), that requires equal value for the parcels to be exchanged.
If the Secretary fails to complete the land transfer by the end of an 18-month period beginning after the legislation is enacted, the Secretary would be required to submit a report detailing why the exchange has not been completed.
The bill would prohibit the acquisition of land by the federal government from affecting any fishing and hunting rights in existence immediately before the land was transferred.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System which includes 1.1 million acres of land and water in and around the Superior National Forest in Northern Minnesota. The State of Minnesota owns multiple parcels of land in the BWCAW which are held in trust for the benefit of the public school system. According to the legislation, the state trust lands were acquired before the establishment of the National Forest or the BWCAW. These lands are scattered throughout the wilderness area and, largely because of federal development restrictions, are effectively prohibited from being used for development of resources to benefit the state’s public school system. The legislation would provide a land exchange that would allow the federal government to take over these lands in the BWCAW in exchange for National Forest land which the state could develop in order to provide assistance to the public school system.
In March, the Minnesota State Legislature enacted legislation to expedite the state’s portion of a proposed land exchange. Under that measure, the state-held lands within the canoe area would be conveyed to the federal government in exchange for lands of equal value outside the area. In addition to allowing the state to develop their trust lands, this transfer would also allow the Forest Service to manage and protect all of the land and resources within the wilderness area.
Initially, CBO estimated that implementing this legislation would increase direct spending by $6 million over ten years because it would increase the amount of land used to calculate federal payments made under the Humphrey-Thye-Blatnik-Andresen Acts. However, the manager’s amendment removes any transferred lands from such calculations, and therefore eliminates any direct spending associate with the bill.
Manager’s Amendment—Rep. Hastings (R-WA): The manager’s amendment (which was adopted with passage of the rule), would ensure that the legislation would not increase direct spending. Specifically, the amendment waived any land acquired by the federal government in this transfer from being counted when determining annual payments made by the Forest Service to three counties in Minnesota under current law. Under the Humphrey-Thye-Blatnik-Andresen Acts, the federal government makes annual payments to three counties that encompass portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Amendment #1—Rep. McCollum (D-MN): The amendment would add findings to the legislation regarding hunting and fishing rights reserved for Indian tribes on land transferred under the exchange. The amendment would also include “gathering rights” along with protections for existing hunting and fishing rights under the legislation. Finally, the bill would state that nothing in the legislation would limit rights to hunt, fish, and gather as reserved under the Treaty with the Chippewa of 1854.
Amendment #2—Rep. Holt (D-NJ): The amendment would remove the requirement that the Secretary of Agriculture transfer the land. The amendment would instead grant the Secretary merely the authority to carry out the transfer should they so choose. The amendment would also strike a provision of the bill which states that the exchange shall not be considered a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Amendment #3—Rep. Ellison (D-MN): The amendment would prohibit the Secretary from allowing a parcel of National Forest System land from being exchanged if the Secretary determines that the exchange is likely to have a negative impact on private property, property values, or small businesses.
Amendment #4—Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ): The amendment would strike language in the bill which requires the State of Minnesota to determine the land value. The amendment would require the Secretary of Agriculture to determine value of lands to be exchanged.