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What’s Going on in Congress?


I’m trying to find some information on what’s just happened in the halls of Congress. It affects those of us in Minnesota who love the wild North, but I suspect it may affect everyone in America.

In the last few days, the U.S. House passed a bill to expedite a land exchange in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This bill (H.R. 5544) was vague, failed to specify which lands might eventually be involved, waived public input, and seemed to be tangled up, bizarrely, with the FISA Reauthorization Act.

I happened upon this weirdness while looking at the Congressional Record for nine eleven.

The day before, a Florida tea party type on the Rules Committee, Rep. Richard Nugent, had introduced a resolution (it passed), ganging these two unrelated items together. As far as I can tell, his House resolution would both expedite the Minnesota land exchange and provide for extension of the FISA Amendment Act, which is expiring, for five more years, without discussion.

The resolution says “specified amendments” shall be considered as adopted. They aren’t actually specified anywhere as far as I can tell.

This resolution also dispenses with the reading of the bills, waives any points of order against consideration of their content and says: “In lieu of the amendment in the nature of a substitute consisting of the text of Rules Committee Print 112-30, modified by the amendment printed in part A of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution.”

Say what?!

Rep. Jared Polis is on record opposing these new rules, which he called a “restrictive process that limits debate and discussion.”

Why am I suspicious?

For starters, the land-exchange bill has a specious, misleading name.

It’s called the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act. Oh, yes, who’s against investing in education and jobs? Nobody. That’s not what it’s about at all, however. It doesn’t identify what specific Forest Service parcels could be sold by the federal government and acquired by Minnesota. When I checked with the forest service, they said the lands had not actually been identified as yet, but that the lands could be sold for mining, for example.

Nevertheless, this bill passed the House with flying colors.

It’s no secret that there’s pressure to permit sulfide mining in the neighborhood of Minnesota’s precious Boundary Waters. The track record for this type of mining is simply terrible. Acid mine drainage from coal mining is bad enough, but sulfide mining for heavy metals generates sulfuric acid as a byproduct. The process of extraction pollutes waters, kills aquatic life, leaves huge piles of waste rock and may contaminate the land of 10,000 lakes for centuries.

And then there’s a public transit security and local law enforcement support act in the mix (H.R. 3857), too. It requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to sustain “specialized operational teams used by local law enforcement under the Transit Security Grant Program, and for other purposes.” What’s that about?

I urge interested parties to take a look at the Congressional Record for this week. None of it seems transparent, but the intuitive feeling I got was of stuff being rammed through the House quickly, in secret.

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