Newly-elected Congressman Rick Nolan has headed to Washington for a week of orientation during which he plans to lay the groundwork for the upcoming term. He shared his plans in a press conference on Nov. 12. He says he plans to attend the National Mining Association reception, meet with the Minnesota delegation and to meet with Congressman Cravaack – who has offered to help make the transition smooth. Nolan also plans to meet with congressional leadership, including Committee Chairs, and Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer. He’ll seek slots on committees including the Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure Committees, citing the resource-based economy of his district.
Residence was an issue during the campaign, with Rep. Cravaack’s family split between North Branch, New Hampshire and Washington; some questioned his commitment to the state. Nolan’s family plans to stay in Crow Wing County, with Nolan taking a room near the Capitol during the session.
Asked about his goals at this time, Nolan responded that the primary goal is to “change the way we do politics.” Nolan says he doesn’t like the way the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has allowed so much money and so many negative ads to play such a big role in politics. He wants his first bill introduction to be a constitutional amendment that will overturn Citizens United and cited a number of ways the Supreme Court decision could be reversed even before such legislation can be accomplished. Nolan says members of Congress are spending way too much time “dialing for dollars” and need to spend time governing and meeting with constituents. Nolan wants to see federal funding for campaigns and he wants to see a limit on the amount of time members of Congress can devote to campaigns and elections.
Going forward with BWCA land exchange
Nolan says he wants to press ahead with a BWCA “land exchange” proposal Cravaack authored, but he’d like to see changes in it before it becomes law. At issue is land the federal government gave to school districts decades ago. Those School Trust lands are supposed to generate money for the school districts, but some of those lands are in the BWCA, making it very hard for them to generate revenue.
In recent years, the School Trust Advisory Committee has sought to be compensated for that land’s value. Rep. Cravaack proposed an “exchange,” which would remove School Trust ownership from lands within the BWCA and give lands currently owned by the Federal Government located in the Superior National Forest to the School Trust. However, this could open up the lands to mining, including open pit strip mining.
Nolan “applauds Cravaack’s effort to secure additional funding for the School Trust” but sees several problems with Cravaack’s bill, which passed the House but was never even introduced in the Senate. So Nolan is already talking to Minnesota’s US Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, about a companion bill as well as conferring with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, former state Representative Tom Rukavina and other stakeholders.
Nolan says the bill contains resolutions denying counties compensation under the Thye-Blatnik Act which compensates counties for the property taxes that would perhaps otherwise have been paid on the lands. Nolan says this has to be worked out so that counties are compensated.
Another problem, according to Nolan, is “concern over the various lands in the proposed swap would not be afforded continued protection on a whole wide range of matters that would normally be.” The proposed “land swap” could open up large swaths of the lands to mining such as open pit strip mining of copper, nickel and titanium and other ores.
To reach the ores, mining companies would need to dig into the sulfide-bearing rock that forms the Duluth Complex, where most of the lands under consideration for a “swap” are located. It is easy and cheap to mine when a company doesn’t have to worry about the resulting condition of surface lands and water – it’s more expensive for corporations to protect surface land and prevent toxic ooze from pits and piles of reactive rock.
Complicating matters: Different laws govern specific parcels of land within the Superior National Forest. One of those laws is the Weeks Act. The Weeks Act appears on the deeds of much of the land in the Superior National Forest and governs the use of that surface land. The Weeks Act allows mining but protects the surface lands from harm by requiring that they be restored within a short period of time after mining to their previous condition. A mining company can’t open-pit mine and preserve the surface lands.
An exchange only applies to surface lands; the mineral estate will be owned by the Federal government or the State of Minnesota in most cases. As such, the School Trust will not benefit from mining nor will it be able to utilize the surface lands after mining if it has been destroyed. If the lands are sold, the Weeks Act Protection disappears.
The legislation as written also appears to give mining companies an easy ride. Nolan says the language in the bill was an attempt to “obfuscate the need for business activities on those lands to pay the normal and required royalties and fees. “
For that and other reasons, Nolan wants an open conversation about the legislation. “There needs to be an effort where all the parties and all the stakeholders have an opportunity to look at it”, said Nolan. Some citizens assert that there have been a number of attempts to work out a deal, a swap, a trade, a compromise, but what has not been tried is an open, transparent plan under existing law federal law and afforded the full National Environmental Policy Act process due to such a proposal. It’s where the Government (ours) agencies tells us what they want to do in our name, we give them input on the plan and decide what to do incorporating what we, the people advise them.
Nolan says he plans to work with “Senator Franken and Senator Klobuchar and the Iron Range delegation – people like Tommy Rukavina and Governor Dayton,” to see if they can get a companion bill to HR 5544, a bill that “will get the required support and pass in the lame duck session.”
Speaking enthusiastically of his desire to see rail expansion, Nolan said he hopes to see the North Star Rail extend through and past Duluth to the Iron Range and the western section of the district. He envisions all major cities linked by rapid rail transit with local spokes going out from each. Nolan says research shows that rail travel saves energy and money when compared to expanding major airports. He while stressed that highway, air and rail are all important – he made it clear he hopes to increase the use of rail.
“I’ve never felt more prepared,” Nolan said about returning to Washington, saying he is energized and excited to get to work.