The Legislative Citizens Committee on Minnesota Resources has resumed a full schedule and things have been busy as of late.
As the LCCMR has started working on setting priorities for 2008 RFPs, traveling to review data, and examining particular projects that they recommended for 2007 funding, the committee’s June 19th meeting ran the gamut from education to eradication (at least in the minds of some members).
With an agenda that included presentations on invasive species and biofuels, the day was capped off with a tenacious debate between DNR representatives and various committee members in a tenacious face-off regarding mining rights.
So let’s get to the drama: Some LCCMR members were visibly troubled by the DNR’s claim that some lands that fall within the Forest Legacy Act are open to the possibility of either surface or sub-surface mining. And let’s not forget that some of these lands fall under the $2 million in 2007 funding for the Forest Legacy Act from the LCCMR recommended funding to the Legislature.
As these committee meetings are wont to do, the initial discussion focused on the language surrounding the use of lands within the Forest Legacy Act. Sen. Ellen Anderson cited her interpretation of the state constitutional amendment’s language to mean that such action was prohibited under the act. The DNR’s own legal eagle was quick to reply that while it did not specify that in the language, it also didn’t deny the right to mine. And so it went. Talk about getting the committee’s dander up.
But the issue is a complicated, Byzantine path of rights, ownership, futures and constitutional laws.
For starters, easements managed by the DNR, or other land conservation groups, tend to be in perpetuity. Then, you’ve got the tax codes issues muddying the waters even further. Compound that with other state interests, such as the school fund and how it has largely reaped few benefits from mining on lands on which schools reside. (In essence, schools are granted the land they are on by the State. However, should the State, or another interest such as, let’s say the DNR, act in management of the land, and should they determine to mine that land, the monies derived from such mining do not necessarily end up in the credit column of the School Fund.) Additonally, the Feds do allow surface and sub-surface mining on land that receives federal Forest Legacy funding, but only on a “limited” basis, a definition that hasn’t been clearly defined. (Apparently, the state of Minnesota doesn’t have a clear interpretion of this either, according to the DNR’s legal representative, as the courts have never heard a case in which defnitive language on the topic has been derived.) And the final icing on the cake is that lands in the state have been mined since, well, Minnesota became a state.
It’s easy to see why the committee had issues. Rep. Jean Wagenius and committee member John Hunt both cited concern over whether it was “appropriate” to use LCCMR money for land that could be mined. Hunt cited the idea as a poor “investment,” stating that the notion of funding land for conservation, then tearing it up for mineral rights, only to be followed by more monies to return the land it to its (nearly) original state post-mining, seems like a circuitous manner in which to enable conservation and preservation. Committee members Jeff Boberg and Al Berner also spoke out. Boberg attempted to simplify the language in disupte by reminding the committee that minerals are, in essence, natural resources by nature. And Berner pointed out that part of the mission of the LCCMR’s goal is to look toward the preservation of renewable resources, and while forests are renewable, minerals are not.
On the other side of things, Rep. Tom Rukavina, a lifelong “Ranger,” was quick to point out all the assets mining has provided the state over the years – funding schools in northern Minnesota, providing valuable minerals for industrial and commercial consumer use and serving as an economic cornerstone to outlaying regions.
With all this, it’s no wonder the committee is still determining how they should handle the issue. Stay tuned: there’s sure to be more to follow on this issue.
Other topics of the day included an presentations on invasive species and biofuels. A field trip to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus let LCCMR members view where a quarantine facility for the study of invasive species is being expanded (the college boasts one of four such facilities in the country). Coupled with an informative, albeit rapid-fire presentation by IREE (Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment) director Dick Hemmingsen on biofuels, their place and impact on the environment and what it means economically to the state and the nation, the group received its share of environmental education.
There’s certainly a lot on the LCCMR’s plate to consider – whether it involves cantankerous issues like mining or scientific analysis of invasive species and the development of alternative energy — as the committee moves forward with one eye on the future and one on the past, it promises to be an interesting ride.