You don’t need an advanced degree in political science to recognize that our current federal political system is not running at peak performance.
Combine the usual conflicts with a strange election year that sees every member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation on the ballot, and gridlock is the inevitable result.
So it might surprise you that there are companion bills being considered by Congress right now that would be so good for the people of Minnesota that they could potentially get every member of our congressional delegation to sign on.
The bills (S. 569/H.R. 502) would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bills have bipartisan authorship, cosponsorship and support. Locally, both of our U.S. senators are listed as cosponsors, along with Reps. Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Tim Walz.
Here is the case for why, even in an election year, Reps. Erik Paulsen, Jason Lewis, Tom Emmer and Collin Peterson should join their colleagues in supporting this effort.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created in 1964 to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage; and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. Funded with royalties from offshore oil and gas extraction, the fund does not cost the taxpayer a dime. It has helped us preserve places like the Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountain National Parks as well as smaller projects like parks and ball fields in every state. The LWCF is in need of congressional reauthorization if it is going to be able to continue its work. It expires Sept. 30, 2018.
Currently, there is one big project in line for LWCF funding that should be of special interest to the members of the Minnesota congressional delegation not yet on these bills.
Upon statehood, Minnesota was among dozens of states to receive from the federal government what are commonly known as school trust lands. These parcels of land are dedicated to generating funding for schools via timber harvest and iron ore royalties. When the the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) was created in the 1960s, some 80,000 acres of school trust lands were no longer available to generate revenue. The LWCF’s upcoming project list includes a land swap that would see the Forest Service get the school trust land inside the BWCA in exchange for more accessible public lands outside the boundaries of the wilderness. This would be a big shot in the arm for our K-12 schools and for those who enjoy our public lands.
But if the LWCF is not reauthorized, this project will not happen, and our school funding will suffer.
Minnesota’s congressional delegation has an opportunity to use an existing stream of money to preserve and protect public lands and increase resources available for education. Or, they can let the LWCF expire, and let the taxpayers make up the difference.
Even in a very contentious election year, the right thing to do here is easy to see.
Tom Landwehr is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Gene Merriam (2003-2007) and Mark Holsten (2007 to 2011) are former DNR commissioners.