MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Plans to swap state-owned land in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for federal land are probably dead and will need revisiting in the next Congress, U.S. Rep.-elect Rick Nolan said.
Passing the bill in the House was one of the main accomplishments of GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack, whom Nolan defeated in Tuesday’s election. It would fulfill a long-held goal of trading strictly protected state-owned land that’s locked inside the BWCA for federal land in northeastern Minnesota that could bring revenue for the state’s school trust fund.
The Sierra Club and other groups have fought the proposal because they say it would reduce environmental protections on the Superior National Forest land that the state receives, which likely would be offered up for mining and logging leases. They’d prefer to see the federal government buy out the state-owned land instead.
In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Nolan said he doesn’t believe the bill will advance before the congressional session ends because it lacks enough bipartisan support and companion legislation in the Senate.
Nolan — who also was a congressman three decades ago — said he hopes to work with Iron Range legislators, along with the governor and the state’s U.S. senators, “to put together a good bipartisan proposal that all the parties and stakeholders are comfortable with. And it’ll be a high priority for us to get that done.”
Nolan did not say how it might look different from Cravaack’s proposal.
The school trust fund dates to Minnesota’s early years as a state in the mid-1800s, when the federal government gave Minnesota more than 8 million acres scattered across the state to support its schools.
Much of the land was sold, but about 2.5 million acres remain in trust and generate about $17 million a year for the fund, mostly though leases to mining and logging companies. The fund provides public schools across the state with about $25 million in investment income annually.
However, about 86,000 acres within the BWCA can’t produce lease income due to federal wilderness protections.
Nolan plans to head to Washington for freshman orientation starting Monday after being away from Capitol Hill for 32 years, time he spent working in business and leading the Minnesota World Trade Center Corp under Gov. Rudy Perpich.
From 1975 to 1982, he represented a district that stretched from the southwest corner of the state up to east-central Minnesota. Come Jan. 3, he’ll represent northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District.
“I feel better prepared today to go to Washington and start making a difference on Day One than I ever was the first time I was elected,” Nolan said.
He said he hopes to be on the Natural Resources Committee, because mining, forestry, agriculture and tourism are pillars of his district’s economy. Nolan also hopes to be on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, because a strong transportation system is crucial for those.
Nolan said he’ll take office with credit for three terms worth of seniority, which increases his chances of getting his committee choices and gives him a good chance of being designated the ranking Democrat on one or more of his subcommittees, increasing his influence.
Nolan said he has reason for hoping the new Congress will be less partisan. He said the defeat of several tea party candidates, who were resistant to compromise, should strengthen the hand of GOP House Speaker John Boehner.
“I know John Boehner, and I know him fairly well. And he’s a good man, and I don’t anticipate any problem at all working with Boehner and other Republicans. I was a very effective legislator in my day but I always had a Republican partner in anything and everything that I ever accomplished,” Nolan said.
He said he wants Congress to undo a U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of political cash. Including the primary campaign, he said, independent groups spent between $15 million and $20 million in the 8th District race.
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