Let's review the Editorial Board's inaccuracies and try to surmise why it's falling in with rigid environmentalists.
To say that the editorial "Scrutiny needed on BWCA swap" (July 16) was filled with inaccuracies is being kind.
This issue isn't about "timber and mining interests" vs. "federal bureaucrats and nature preservationists." It's about finally getting the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to uphold our Constitution and put money generated off of our school trust lands into the Permanent School Fund endowment instead of into the DNR bureaucracy. And it's about the feds compensating us for locking up more than 120,000 acres of state land in the BWCA -- 93,000 acres of which is supposed to generate money for education but hasn't since the BWCA Wilderness Act of 1978.
When Minnesota became a state, we agreed to accept two sections of land in each township from the federal government for public education. As the Star Tribune Editorial Board correctly pointed out, most of those sections in the lower two-thirds of our state were sold and the proceeds were put into a permanent endowment, where the interest would be used in perpetuity to fund public schools.
That Permanent School Fund endowment is now valued at around $740 million, of which approximately 82 percent came from selling the kids' iron ore to U.S. Steel and other mining companies. In fact, this year U.S. Steel will put about $20 million into the corpus of the Permanent School Fund by mining the kids' iron ore at its Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron.
Now let's get to the inaccuracies. First, the editorial implied that the trade of the 93,000 acres of school lands in the BWCA would be for an "unspecified amount of land within the adjacent Superior National Forest." That's just not true. The bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton and passed on a bipartisan vote specifically states that most of this acreage would be from the unattached portion of the Superior National Forest that is not adjacent to the Boundary Waters.
That area, called the Mesabi Purchase, was created during the Great Depression. It hovers above the iron formation extending from Biwabik to Hibbing. It includes (perhaps a sign from above) 93,000 acres of federal land. That is interspersed with 93,000 acres of private land and about another 26,000 acres of state-owned land, much of which is already school trust land.
We need to point out here that of that 93,000 acres of private land, U.S. Steel owns approximately 23,000 acres at its Mountain Iron mine, and Arcelor Mittal owns about 4,000 acres at its Virginia mine, both of which are located in the Superior National Forest. The private timber industry owns another 10,000 acres in this unattached portion. And many of my friends who are third- and fourth-generation homesteaders own about 50,000 acres in this unattached portion of the Superior National Forest.
This is no wilderness, as implied in the editorial. It's been a working forest where mining and logging have occurred for more than a century.
Next, the editorial implied that this whole school trust issue was instigated by "timber and mining interests." That's absolutely false. I've been the one pushing this issue for more than 26 years, ever since I found out early in my career at the Legislature just how badly the DNR was abusing the schoolkids' trust fund. That Permanent School Fund endowment of $740 million that I previously mentioned could have been twice as large if the Legislature had kept tabs on the DNR.
The editorial's statement about numerous attempts at federal buyouts or swaps failing because of "feuds between development and environmental interests" is also inaccurate. Those attempts failed because federal and DNR bureaucrats and environmental groups would just as soon ignore the issue. Many in their top echelon don't like mining or logging, except when it comes to them in the form of a $50,000 extended-cab pickup or a beautiful log home made of virgin timber.
I also take issue with the newspaper's insistence that "environmental review procedures would be bypassed." How absurd has it gotten in the United States of America that we need an environmental review to trade federal land with trees on it for state land with trees on it? There's no net loss of public land; am I missing something here?
And the implication that the schoolchildren's benefit would be "paltry" is totally off the wall. The Minneapolis school district and Anoka-Hennepin school district received $1.2 million each last year from the earnings on this school trust endowment. St. Paul also got $1.2 million. And places like the South Washington County school district and Rochester school district got more than half a million dollars. This comes in every year -- in perpetuity, as they say.
Maybe that kind of money is "paltry" in the Star Tribune's metro-centric editorial room. But on the Iron Range it is still real money. By comparison, the Mountain Iron-Buhl school district (which includes the Minntac mine that will be putting more than $20 million into the school trust endowment this year) will get only $16,600 for schoolkids. This totally negates the implication that somehow our economy will benefit over this land exchange when in fact metro school districts and others all around the state will get millions of dollars more than will Iron Range schools.
Now let's talk about those benefits to those "international mining companies" that the editorial claims this is all about. Again, the Editorial Board is just plain wrong. Readers must understand what was omitted from the editorial -- that there are four taconite mines already operating in the Superior National Forest. And after 130 years of us Rangers mining in the Superior National Forest, near the BWCA, you folks still want to come to our "pristine area," where we've taken 3 billion tons of iron ore out of the earth so you could have houses, roads, cars, etc. The fact of the matter is that this has nothing to do with copper-nickel mining; that's a separate issue.
As a member of the Farmer-Labor wing of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, I asked U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to support this bipartisan effort. It's a no-brainer. It seems that the only people who don't want this to happen are hard-headed environmentalists who really don't want any mining or logging at all, and I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the Star Tribune Editorial Board is joining them.
Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, is a member of the Minnesota House.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.