H.R. 5544: Bad Deal for the Children, Good Deal for the Mining Companies
On June 8, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack’s bill, H.R. 5544, received a committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol. Cravaack explains that approximately 86,000 acres of state owned school trust lands are locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and cannot generate money for the state school trust fund. He states as his goal: “to preserve and protect the Boundary Waters and allow state-owned school trust lands to raise revenue for Minnesota education.” Touted as a bill for our state’s children, H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, would exchange Federal land in what is now Superior National Forest for state-owned lands within the BWCAW.
Rep. Cravaack’s goal needs some clarification. First, the lands inside of the BWCAW are already protected. That is why they cannot be logged, mined, or leased. However, lands withdrawn from Superior National Forest lose watershed protection and prohibition against strip mining. In addition, H.R. 5544 specifically eliminates environmental review and public comment, thus ignoring cumulative impacts and citizen input.
Second, while facilitating the exchange of surface rights, H.R. 5544 does not resolve the nearly 100,000 acres of state mineral rights within the Boundary Waters. This leaves the door open for future negotiations that would further reduce the size of Superior National Forest, while turning the Arrowhead into a sulfide mining district. As summarized by State Rep. David Dill (D-Crane Lake), “…we should mine, log, and lease the hell out of that land that we get in the [ex]change.”
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To further complicate matters, most of the lands that the state would get as part of an exchange have severed mineral estates which are held by private interests. Therefore, no money from mining these lands would go into the state school trust fund. Instead, private companies would be able to strip mine previously protected lands. While doing little for the monetary benefit of the school children, H.R. 5544 would destroy the legacy of Superior National Forest and create a windfall for mining companies.
The Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act is indeed a misnomer. Potential mining of the low-grade disseminated mineralization of the Arrowhead is speculative, based upon the costs of mining 99% waste rock. In addition, hardrock mining uses heavy machinery rather than a large work force. Mining displaces existing economic development, and the loss of current jobs in tourism, recreation, wood products, and real estate will far outnumber jobs added by mining. Those losses will be permanent. When mineral extraction is complete, remaining waste rock piles, open pits, and tailings basins diminish the use of the land for any other purpose. As is happening already, mineral exploration and the separation of land and mineral rights is decreasing private property values, and could result in condemnation or seizure through eminent domain.
When an Act of Congress must be disguised by its title, citizens need to take notice. H.R. 5544 is a give-away to multinational mining companies seeking to exploit northeast Minnesota. Citizens can contact their U.S Representative and Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and oppose using our children to advance sulfide mining. The best solution to state trust lands locked within the BWCAW is a complete sale of the lands to the Federal government. Money is available through designated Land and Water Conservation Funds and could be immediately deposited in the Permanent School Fund. This solution preserves the natural heritage of the Arrowhead for the children of the future.
For more information, visit www.sosbluewaters.org