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Facing his first reelection contest, freshman Republican Chip Cravaack staged a political coup on Wednesday, shepherding through the U.S. House a Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) land swap that he says will bring jobs to the long-struggling north woods of Minnesota.
Over the objections of most House Democrats and many environmentalists, Cravaack’s bill would trade 86,000 acres of Minnesota school trust lands inside the BWCA to the federal government in return for surrounding lands now controlled by the Forest Service in the Superior National Forest.
Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are working on a similar bill in the U.S. Senate, though the fate of that legislation is unclear.
Despite concerns raised in the House by Minnesota Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty MCollum, Cravaack maintains that his bill maintains federal air and water standards, upholds the Endangered Species Act, and generates some $26 million for education through mining and logging royalties.
The largely party-line 225 to 189 House vote is likely to ramp up pressure on Senate Democrats to write in greater safeguards to satisfy environmentalists, who worry about sulfide mining and other industrial uses near the BWCA. Spokespersons for Franken and Klobuchar declined to say Thursday what tweaks they are considering.