News Watch: June 6

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Conservation, Energy, Mining, Parks & Trails, Pollution, Sustainable Development, Transportation, Waste & Reycling, Water, Wildlife & Fish, Loon Commons

Agriculture & Food
Duluth News Tribune: Learning sustainability and getting noticed
Inforum: AgweekTV: Genotyping center
Inforum: Understanding behavior is increasingly important to farming

Climate Change
LTE, Star Tribune: Climate change: While we’re waiting for solutions, it must start with us

Conservation
MPR: Douglas Brinkley, ‘Rightful Heritage: FDR and the Land of America’

Energy
Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota Power announces bigger rebates for rooftop solar
Midwest Energy News: At a Minneapolis grain silo, a new approach to capture waste heat
Midwest Energy News: Critics: Minnesota utility’s solar plan pushes out competitors featuring MEP member group Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
Midwest Energy News: Wind and solar could meet nearly all Midwest energy needs by 2050, researcher says
The Guardian: Renewable energy smashes global records in 2015, report shows

Mining
Timberjay: Mining regulation? Legislature shows a lack of will

Parks & Trails
Duluth News Tribune: Underwater sensor may detect deadly rip currents

Pollution
Alexandria Echo Press: A burning problem
Pioneer Press: After Lake Superior freighter runs aground, a plan to refloat it

Sustainable Development
Brainerd Dispatch: Biz Buzz: Cyclenomics working in Crosby

Transportation
Duluth News Tribune: DTA bringing back popular routes
Politics in MN:Capitol Report: Dayton, GOP mix it up over bonding, taxes, transportation

Waste & Recycling
Alexandria Echo Press: Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management honored in partnership featuring MEP member organization Environmental Initiative
Mankato Free Press: Mankato food composting getting cheaper, more convenient

Water
Star Tribune: Political feud disrupts Minnesota outdoors and environment commission
Mother Jones: Small-Town America Has a Serious Drinking-Water Problem
Wisconsin Public Radio: US, Canada Agree To Reduce Some Chemicals In Great Lakes

Wildlife & Fish
Duluth News Tribune: Dayton signs bill to fund Minnesota elk study
MPR: Beleaguered moose population may warrant endangered species protection
Star Tribune: Hundreds of west metro fish may have been killed by disease
Star Tribune: The curse of carp

News Watch: June 1

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Conservation, Energy, Invasive Species, Mining, Parks & Trails, Pollution, Sustainable Development, Transportation, Waste & Reycling, Water, Wildlife & Fish, Loon Commons

Agriculture & Food
Bemidji Pioneer: MASTER GARDENERS: Too ‘mulch’ of a good thing
Public News Service: Report Makes Strong Case for Less Antibiotic Use in Agriculture

Editorial, Star Tribune: Environmentalists, agriculture industry team up on Minnesota water quality

Climate Change
MinnPost: Climate change adding toxins to crops, as livestock trends create diseases
MPR: Researchers work to make milk greener
Northlands News Center: Minneosta’s warmer weather has attracted more ticks
Star Tribune: Changing climate will reduce corn production, University of Minnesota study predicts

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Local view: Federal legislation urgently needed to price carbon to reflect its true costs
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Responsible discussion needed on climate change

Conservation
Brainerd Dispatch: Environmental protection grants available
Inforum: ND firm wins U.S. top court ruling over wetlands permits

Energy
Duluth News Tribune: Solar garden support: Devil in the details
Inforum: Cass County Electric breaks ground for largest solar array in North Dakota
West Central Tribune: Solar sprouting in Southwest Minnesota

Invasive Species
Bemidji Pioneer: ENVIRONMENT: Record number of inspectors hired to curb invasive species

Mining
Inforum: Sierra Club sues to block Bakken pipeline
MPR: Expired mineral leases latest flashpoint over mining near Boundary Waters

Parks & Trails
Echo Press: Dayton vetoes bill that included funding for Andes Tower Hills

Pollution
Bemidji Pioneer: EPA tightening rules for 3M-made pollutants

Sustainable Development
Inforum: Concordia students envision cleaner energy future for F-M
Star Tribune: Prekindergarten, rural broadband, racial equity all get boost in spending bill signed by Dayton

Transportation
Bemidji Pioneer: Light rail project a heavyweight state issue: Controversy over southwest Twin Cities proposal doomed spending on public works, transportation projects statewide
Star Tribune: Dayton seeks spending for U, buildings and transit in special session
Star Tribune: LRT beats the automobile for getting from airport to downtown Minneapolis 
Star Tribune: Minneapolis adopts ‘complete streets’ policy

Waste & Recycling
International Falls Journal: Waste in recycle trailer poses safety risk, threatens program

Water
MPR: Land O’Lakes, Minnesota partner on water quality initiative

Wildlife & Fish
Bemidji Pioneer: Keeping an eye on the eagles: Hike at state park draws a crowd
Brainerd Dispatch: Wild animal rehab focus of Chautauqua program
MPR: Can planting more milkweed save monarch butterflies? It’s complicated
Star Tribune: Hundreds of dead fish wash ashore in Lake Independence
Star Tribune: Review: ‘If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems,’ edited by James Lenfestey
West Central Tribune: DNR wants more voices at table in setting deer management goals

 

MEP and members urge agreement on bonding

Posted by

Minnesota Environmental Partnership and our member groups delivered the following letter to Governor Dayton and Legislative leaders calling for the Legislature to reach an agreement with the Governor on a bonding package that includes the full $210 million in funding for key priorities for our Great Outdoors.

Read the full text of the letter below:

The 2016 Legislature adjourned with some very important business left unfinished. High among these is passage of a precedent setting package of bonding initiatives proposed by Governor Dayton to protect and restore the water across Minnesota.

The undersigned organizations call on the Legislature to reach agreement with the Governor on a bonding package that includes the full $210 million funding for these priorities for our state and for the Governor to then call the Legislature back into a Special Session to pass them. These are all key bonding priorities for the environment and conservation community. They include three line items under the Public Facilities Authority, the RIM Reserve Conservation Easements/CREP Match under the Board of Water & Soil Resources, and the St. Louis River Area of Concern Clean-Up under the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Each of these key investments will pay long-lasting dividends for the people of our state and most will leverage addition Federal funds.

All of these initiatives received some funding in the bonding proposals that were considered by the Legislature. We urge that these priorities be funded at the levels recommended by the Governor in a Special Session.

Public Facilities Authority
Water Infrastructure: $25 million. These funds help local governments repair and modernize their aging wastewater and drinking water systems through essential clean water and drinking water projects. These projects serve the needs of residents and businesses, alike. State funds trigger Federal grants and support affordable, low-interest loans.

Wastewater Infrastructure Fund (WIF): $80 million. The Water Infrastructure Funding Program increases aid to communities rehabilitating aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure systems. Grant funding is based on the average household income of residents and is designed to keep clean water affordable for Minnesotans.

Point Source Implementation Grants: $62 million. The Point Source Implementation Grant Program helps lift the burden off local communities’ wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Upgrading wastewater treatment plants is a tried and true method of improving water quality and making progress on water quality restoration and protection goals.

Board of Water and Soil Resources
Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve Conservation Easements for Federal CREP match: $30 million. The Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve program helps willing Minnesota farmland owners to conserve soil, eliminate erosion, protect habitat, and improve water quality. It also helps cover the cost of installing and maintaining buffers where required under the buffer law passed in 2015 and amended in 2016. State bonding at $30 million for RIM will leverage another $60 million in Federal dollars, and is part of a five year 100,000-acre clean water effort.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
St. Louis River AOC Clean Up: $12.7 million. This project will clean up contaminated sediment and industrial waste at ten locations at the St. Louis River Estuary and the Duluth harbor and bay. The House and Senate’s shared contribution equals 35 percent of the total project cost, and will be matched by 65 percent Federal funding.
We thank you for all of your hard work this session, and ask your support for the above priorities.

Sincerely,
Steve Morse, Executive Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis
Audubon Society of St. Paul
Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability
Clean Water Fund/Action Alliance
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Environment Minnesota
Fresh Energy
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Friends of The Mississippi River
Friends of the Parks & Trails of St. Paul & Ramsey County
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Kids for Saving Earth
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota
Mankato Area Environmentalists
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Food Association
Minnesota Forestry Association
Minnesota Land Trust
Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group
Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
MN350
National Parks Conservation Association
Renewing the Countryside
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Save Lake Superior Association
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Transit for Livable Communities
The Trust for Public Land
Voyageurs National Park Association
WaterLegacy

 

News Watch: May 26

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Energy, Mining, Parks & Trails, Pollinators, Transportation, Waste & Recyling, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Climate Change
NPR: Rising seas push too much salt into the Florida Everglades (In MPR)
Spokesman Recorder: Minnesota keeps moving forward on Clean Power Plan featuring MEP member groups Sierra Club and MPIRG

Commentary, Osakis Review: COMMENTARY: Clean Power Plan will penalize Minnesota in diversifying energy portfolio

Energy
Echo Press: City buildings will be more energy efficient
Mankato Free Press: Info sessions planned on solar garden subscriptions
Midwest Energy News: Minnesota firm has a new approach to clean energy financing
Reuters: BRIEF-Xcel Energy says expects wind to make up 24 pct of electricity supply by 2020
Star Tribune: Super solar plan for Arden Hills moves forward

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Minnesota Power should focus more on clean energy

Mining
Duluth News Tribune: Antofagasta lobbies Minnesota delegation in DC featuring MEP member group Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness
Fox 21: Northland couple more than halfway through year in Boundary Waters
Star Tribune: McCollum, others meet with Twin Metals over BWCA
Timberjay: Bill to block sulfate enforcement approved featuring MEP and member group WaterLegacy

LTE, MinnPost: NorthMet mine should be allowed to proceed

Parks & Trails
MinnPost: Minneapolis edges St. Paul for title of nation’s best park system featuring MEP member group The Trust for Public Land
MPR: We’re No. 1! And 2: Mpls. edges out St. Paul for nation’s best park system featuring MEP member group The Trust for Public Land
Pioneer Press: Minneapolis and St. Paul have the best parks in the country featuring MEP member group The Trust for Public Land

Pollinators
MPR: Prairie gardening: Tips and tricks

Transportation
Duluth News Tribune: Dayton has doubts on transportation funding
MinnPost: How a transportation deal didn’t get done at the Legislature
MPR: Dayton: Transportation doubtful in special session
Politics in MN: Southwest LRT stakeholders in limbo
Star Tribune: Without state funding, Southwest light rail’s future in doubt
Star Tribune: North Side greenway proposal at last gets a road test on Irving Avenue

Commentary, Star Tribune: Here’s the win-win solution to Southwest light rail

Waste & Recycling
MPR: St. Paul seems ready to overhaul trash hauling; survey suggests support
MPR: St. Paul looks at consolidating garbage collection
Pioneer Press: St. Paul residents’ Top 5 trash troubles
Star Tribune: Community weighs in on organized trash collection in St. Paul

LTE, Bemidji Pioneer: LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let’s ban or tax the use of plastic bags

Water
AP: Land O’Lakes, Minnesota partner on water quality initiative (In MPR)
Austin Daily Herald: Adopt-A-River bigger than ever for Cedar River; CRWD still seeking waterways volunteers
MPR: In battle to keep lead from water, St. Paul digs deep
MPR: MPR News Special Report: Minnesota’s water quality problem
MPR: USDA: Minnesota in top 5 for conservation easements
MPR: Dogs as sentinels: Blue-green algae brings toxic mystery to Minn. waters
Post Bulletin: MPCA seeks comments on Cannon River cleanup plans
Star Tribune: Land O’Lakes gives boost to Minnesota water quality effort featuring MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Commentary, Austin Daily Herald: Legislative support needed for water quality project plan

Wildlife & Fish
Star Tribune: National Eagle Center’s most prominent feathered resident dies

News Watch: May 23

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Climate Change, Energy, Oil & Pipelines, Pollution, Transportation, Waste & Reycling, Water, Wildlife & Fish

 
Climate Change
 
Commentary, Brainerd Dispatch: Guest Opinion: Legislating climate
 
Energy
 
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Pollution
 
Transportation
 
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
 
 
Wildlife & Fish

News Watch: May 19

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Biofuels, Climate Change, Energy, Invasive Species, Leg & Agency, Oil & Pipelines, Transportation, Water

Agriculture & Food
NPR: Top scientists say GMOs are safe, but they don’t always deliver on promises (In MPR)
Star Tribune: St. Paul’s Frogtown Farm springs into its second year
Star Tribune: National Research Council: GMO foods cause no more health problems than others

Biofuels
Bloomberg News: Biofuel advocates angered by EPA’s quota plans (In Star Tribune)

Climate Change
Chicago Tribune: Protesters seek switch to renewable energy sources featuring MEP member group MN350
CBC News: ‘Sea change’ voyage looks at climate change on Lake Superior
MPR: Special event: The impact of climate change on public health
NWI: UPDATE: 40 arrested during climate change protest featuring MEP member group MN350

Commentary, Mankato Free Press: My View: Global warming is death by corporation

Energy
Midwest Energy News: Report: Engaging members key for co-ops to meet energy challengesfeaturing MEP member group Institute for Local Self Reliance

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: In response: Minnesota must continue on path to clean, renewable energy cowritten by MEP member groups MPIRG and Sierra Club

Invasive Species
MPR: Mississippi River carp barrier plan snagged by U internal dispute

Leg & Agency
Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota budget talks expand from transportation
MinnPost: With time running out, here’s what the Legislature could get done — and what it won’t — on bonding, transportation and taxes
MPR: Dayton takes aim at GOP transportation plan, optimistic on tax, bonding bills
MPR: With 4 days left to work, lawmakers can’t agree on big issues
Star Tribune: At Capitol, House finally releases public works plan but talks on transportation stall
Star Tribune: Minnesota House GOP pitches $947 million for public works projects

Oil & Pipelines
Duluth News Tribune: Lawsuit wants Enbridge pipeline in Michigan shut down
Duluth News Tribune: Department of Commerce to retain position as lead agency in Sandpiper, Line 3 environmental review

Transportation
MinnPost: Raising Minnesota’s license tab fees could be a key component of any transportation deal. Here’s how it would work — and who would pay
MinnPost: Dayton presents two options to break impasse over transportation funding
MPR: Minneapolis group cheers ruling in Southwest light rail lawsuit
MPR: Minnesota House considers transportation
MPR: What happens if there’s no transportation deal?
MPR: House GOP makes new transportation offer
Pioneer Press: Minnesota’s transportation funding debate: What you need to know
Pioneer Press: Mark Dayton’s transportation proposals hit roadblocks
Pioneer Press: Can you go from Amtrak to bike in St. Paul? Intern on U.S. trip finding out
Public News Service: MN mayors pushing for more bike, walking path funding
Star Tribune: Language Line comes to MVTA
Star Tribune: Suit: Southwest light-rail project too noisy for 1,000 residents in Hopkins, Minnetonka
Star Tribune: Judge orders Met Council to hand over Southwest light-rail documents
Star Tribune: Gov. Mark Dayton relents on gas tax; House GOP still says no
Star Tribune: Minnesota House Republicans offer their own road plan, includes $100 million in car tab fees

Commentary, Star Tribune: Counterpoint: Small businesses, in fact, are not on board with Southwest light rail
LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (May 19): The Legislature and transportation funding
LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (May 18): Xcel Energy, transportation budget

Water
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Great Lakes group backs Waukesha lake water diversion (InDuluth News Tribune)
MinnPost: With Minnesota abstaining, Waukesha’s bid for Great Lakes water moves ahead
MinnPost: Favorable review of Waukesha’s bid for Great Lakes water nears completion
MPR: DNR has concerns with $2B Red River flood diversion project
MPR: Random acts of conservation: Water quality depends on farmers’ willingness, not regulation featuring MEP and member organization Environmental Working Group
MPR: Should farmers or city pay to clean the water? Iowa may decide
MPR: Great Lakes group approves Waukesha’s water request
MPR: On water issues in Minnesota featuring MEP
MPR: Northern Minn.’s St. Louis River comes back to life, but it’s still not in the clear featuring MEP member group The Nature Conservancy
Star Tribune: DNR has concerns over flood diversion
Star Tribune: St. Paul officials, environmentalists clash over restrictions along the Mississippi River featuring MEP member group Friends of the Mississippi River

Commentary, Star Tribune: Waukesha water diversion: Take all the time needed to weigh revised plan
Editorial, Duluth News Tribune: Our view: Does Waukesha have a choice?

Legislative Session Wrap-Up: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Posted by

Minnesota State Capitol Cr- Minnesota Historical Society
The Minnesota Legislature adjourned ahead of its constitutional deadline, and now as happened last year, everyone needs to sort out what just happened. A Supplemental Appropriations Bill was passed to the Governor, including some wins for the environment. However, neither a bonding bill nor a transportation package passed. There are rumors flying that we may go into special session yet again this year to address bonding and transportation, among other issues.

This session, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership focused on these five collaborative priorities of the environmental and conservation community:

  • Restore the MPCA Citizens Board
  • Funding for the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative
  • Completing the Minnesota Perennial Biofuels Program (Working Lands Watershed Restoration)
  • Comprehensive, long term transportation funding
  • Broadband for All

For a mid-session look at MEP’s legislative initiatives this session, see this blog post. 

Overall, this session was a mixed bag for the environment. We had some wins, some losses, and some head-scratchers this year.

The Good: 

The Supplemental Appropriations Bill contained some good provisions for our Great Outdoors, including funding for some of our key issues. The supplemental appropriations bill provides mid-course adjustments to the state’s two year budget.  Highlights include:

$1 million allocated for the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative

This initiative is a critical strategy for protecting our water quality. The Forever Green Initiative is working to develop perennial and cover crops that will protect our soil and prevent runoff of nutrients and pesticides during the most pollution vulnerable times of year: spring and fall.

This program is not only a win for water quality, but also for farmers. Researchers are working on exciting new ways to bring these crops to market. The Forever Green Initiative not only improves water quality, but it could mean more profitable options for farmers in the future.

Funding for Development of the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program

This program provides incentives to landowners to grow water-friendly  perennial crops for use by livestock and in advanced ethanol production facilities in areas targeted for protection by water clean-up plans. Much like the Forever Green crops, the clean crops covered by this program will help create new markets for farmers, but also produce other benefits by protecting our water and creating more habitat for diverse wildlife.

$35 million funded for Border-to-Border Broadband Initiative

Expanding broadband will connect communities across Minnesota, and encourages strong and diverse economic development. This is particularly critical in Greater Minnesota, where broadband can open new paths to needed employment, education opportunities and diverse economic growth.

While $35 million is a good start toward updating the information infrastructure, it is not enough.  More needs to be done to ramp up this important gateway to economic viability.

The Bad: 

No bonding bill passed this session

A bonding bill is, like the supplemental appropriations bill, about financing public projects. In this case, the funding used comes from state-issued bonds. You can think of it as a loan that the state gets from those citizens that purchase bonds, and the government pays the citizens back over time with interest. 

There are many reasons why the failure to pass a bonding bill is a failure for Minnesota. Here are the consequences for Minnesota’s environment:

  • Lack of funding to update water infrastructure and projects, especially in rural areas;
  • No funding to leverage federal funds for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to set aside pollution vulnerable farm land to protect our water; and
  • No funding to match federal dollars to continue the clean up the St. Louis River – one of the most endangered rivers in the nation.

No transportation package passed

All of the state political leaders had made this one of their top priorities.  We and others called for passage of a comprehensive transportation package that included all modes of transportation. However, the House and Senate couldn’t agree on what this should look like. The Senate transportation proposal was comprehensive and included funding for multiple modes of transportation, including transit, bike and pedestrians.  But agreement proved elusive and they were unable to reach a compromise with the House. The clock ran out on another session with no comprehensive transportation package.

This means:

  • No new funds to fix crumbling roads and bridges;
  • No expansion of transit systems, either in the Metro area or Greater Minnesota; and
  • No new funds for bike and pedestrian.

If legislators were able to reach a comprehensive agreement on transportation, the Governor could call a special session. The modest transportation provisions that were included in the failed end-of-session Bonding bill fell far short of what is needed to move our state forward.

MPCA Citizens’ Board was not reinstated.

Repealed in the dead of the night in 2015, the bill to reinstate the Citizens’ Board cleared two Senate Committees, but a similar bill in the House was not given a hearing.

The Ugly:

Compared to the notorious 2015 session, there were fewer attempts to undermine Minnesota’s environmental policy foundation. But the notable exception to this is the passage of the US Steel Keetac sulfate loophole bill.

The Keetac loophole is in direct violation of the Clean Water Act and Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require states to enforce water quality standards. This new law exempts the US Steel Keetac plant from meeting limits in its wastewater discharge permits that are based on Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard. This legislation chips away at this bedrock of Minnesota’s – and America’s – environmental policy, and puts the water quality of our streams and lakes at risk.

**

Overall, the session was a mixed bag for the environment. We had some important successes, but the failure to pass a bonding bill or a transportation package stalled critical progress. We may be heading for a special session to get this important business done. But that will be up to Governor Dayton and the willingness of legislators to compromise now, when they have been unable to do so for months and years on some of these key issues.  

Legislative Session brings progress, disappointments for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors

Posted by

May 23, 2016 (Saint Paul, Minn) — As the 2016 Legislative Session adjourned late Sunday night, it’s clear that the outcomes of this Session will be marked by some steps forward, but also missed opportunities for Minnesota’s beloved Great Outdoors.

“When we ask our fellow Minnesotans what they value most about our state, they talk about our lakes, rivers, streams, forests, prairies, and wildlife,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. “Going into this Legislative Session, this Legislature was posed to make real progress for Minnesota. They took some action, but failed in other areas. Where there was a better process and more public daylight, good things happened for Minnesota. The Legislature passed a supplemental budget that includes investments in long term improvements for our water quality and growing a sustainable economy with broadband access.

“However, they failed to pass a bonding bill, meaning many communities are still left looking for help in repairing and modernizing their aging drinking water and waste water systems, and we lost out on an opportunity to leverage considerable federal dollars to clean up the St. Louis River as well as for secure conservation lands to conserve soil, eliminate erosion, and protect habitat and water quality in Minnesota’s farmland.”

Progress on clean water and sustainable development in Greater Minnesota

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is pleased that the Legislature passed a $1 million funding package for the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota, for research that will accelerate the development of a next generation of smart crops. The University research initiative is a multi-year effort that is developing perennial and cover crops that are high-efficiency and increase farm profitability and productivity while improving soil health, wildlife habitat, and water quality. The Legislature also passed the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program, which provides incentives to landowners to grow water-friendly perennial crops for use in advanced ethanol facilities and for livestock.

“These investments now are clear wins for one of Minnesota’s most precious resources – our water,” said Morse. “When we find excellent solutions for cleaning up our water, and it has strong backing and broad support from not only environmental advocates, but growers and producers as well, it just makes sense. We’re pleased to see these initiatives move forward.”

In addition, the Legislature included $35 million to increase Minnesota’s information infrastructure with 21st Century broadband technology. “This is an important step toward building a stronger, more diverse, resilient and sustainable economy, especially in Greater Minnesota,” said Morse.

Missed opportunities in bonding bill

However, the Legislature’s failure to pass a bonding bill was a clear disappointment on many fronts, including for our environment. Key provisions included in the bonding bill that was under debate but failed to pass include:

  • Funding to help communities repair and modernize their aging drinking water and wastewater systems. A portion of these water infrastructure funds would be matched four times by federal grants.
  • Funding for targeted conservation easements with willing farmland owners to conserve soil, eliminate erosion, and protect habitat and water quality. These Minnesota State RIM-Reserve funds would leverage at least two times more in a federal match as part of a five-year 100,000 acre Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
  • Funding to remove polluted sediment from the St. Louis River in Northeastern Minnesota, one of the most endangered rivers in the U.S, and the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior and the entire Great Lakes system.

Still no agreement on transportation

Upon entering the Legislative Session, the House, Senate and Governor all agreed that fixing Minnesota’s ailing transportation system was a top priority, yet for another year, there appears to be no deal in sight.

“It’s unacceptable that lawmakers are leaving for another year without passing a comprehensive transportation funding bill,” said Morse. “Our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair, posing dangers to drivers and passengers daily. On top of that, transportation is the largest contributor of air pollution, and it only gets worse with traffic congestion. Minnesotans have waited too long for a long-term, multi-modal transportation investment, including Greater Minnesota transit, safer streets for bikes and pedestrians, and accessibility infrastructure so that all Minnesotans can get to work, home, school, and all the places they need to go.”

###

Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.

News Watch: May 16

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Conservation, Energy, Pollution, Transportation, Waste & Recycling, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Agriculture & Food
Star Tribune: Hybrid hazelnuts are growing a Midwest presence

Climate Change
MPR: The Weather Lab with Paul Huttner: Wildfire science and climate refugees

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Dark money is behind letter denying climate change

Conservation
Star Tribune: Forest in Washington County targeted for conservation protection featuring MEP member group Minnestoa Food Association

Energy
Midwest Energy News: Proposal seeks to speed approvals for Minnesota solar projects featuring MEP member groups Fresh Energy and Environmental Law and Policy Center
Midwest Energy News: Minnesota utility helps small communities reach out on energy
WCCO: Mound View High School flips switch on new solar panels

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Cartoon misrepresented benefits of solar power

Pollution
MinnPost: U.S. air pollution better than the global average — but the bar is low

Transportation
Fox 9: Gov. Dayton’s 2 proposals to pay for roads, bridges and transit
MinnPost: Amid legislative standstill over transportation, Dayton steps into new role: dealmaker
MPR: Feds release final environmental review of Southwest light rail
MPR: Dayton makes two offers on transportation funding
MPR: Transportation funding key to getting deal at the Capitol
MPR: House GOP delivers gas tax ultimatum
Pioneer Press: Met Council changes could make or break Minnesota transportation deal
Pioneer Press: Mark Dayton to devise own transportation plan to break impasse
Star Tribune: The Drive: It’s Minneapolis Bike Week
Star Tribune: Southwest light-rail report outlines noise, visual impact in Chain of Lakes corridor
Star Tribune: Transit planners regrouping on Gold Line busway after taking hits
Star Tribune: Gov. Dayton unveils two $6-billion options for transportation funding

Commentary, Star Tribune: Gas tax? User fee? The name could make all the difference
Editorial, Duluth News Tribune: Our View: Getting antsy for a transportation bill
Editorial, Star Tribune: Keep the Twin Cities rolling with a transit build-out

Waste & Recycling
Star Tribune: Hennepin County studies waste habits to turn more trash into treasure

Water
MPR: Trouble in the water: Can Minnesota stop polluting its lakes, rivers?
MPR: American RadioWorks documentary: Thirsty Planet
MPR: German ship owner charged with covering up pollution in Great Lakes

Wildlife & Fish
Duluth News Tribune: Catastrophic bat disease found in Douglas, Iron counties
MPR: On Pelican Lake, a search for muskies, data and understanding
Star Tribune: DNR researchers want to count squirrels. But they’ll have to catch them first

MEP and members urge consideration on key priorities and concerns at legislature

Posted by

Minnesota Environmental Partnership and our member groups delivered the following letter to Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Conferees calling their attention to the priorities and concerns of the environmental and conservation community of Minnesota.

Dear Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Conferees:

As the Conference Committee convenes to consider differences in the House and Senate versions of the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.F. 2749 and S.F. 2356), the undersigned organizations call your attention to the following priorities and concerns of the environmental and conservation community of Minnesota. These issues are key to protecting Minnesota’s Great Outdoors through effective environmental review, local control of zoning, and forward-looking energy policies providing us clean water, healthy air, and abundant wildlife for future generations.

SUPPORT Senate Position: University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative (Senate Article 3, Sec. 2: lines 57.14 – 57.27).
The Forever Green research and outreach is needed to accelerate development of economically viable perennial and cover crops that enhance water quality, soil health and habitat while providing expanded profitable cropping options for producers.

Language: $1,000,000 the second year is for grants to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota to fund the Forever Green Agriculture Initiative and to protect the state’s natural resources […] available until June 30th, 2018.

SUPPORT Senate Position: $85 million for border-to-border broadband grants in FY 2016 and FY 2017 (Senate Article 5, Sec. 2: lines 102.24 – 103.3).
Expanding broadband internet access in rural Minnesota is a critical initiative for economic development. The House position of $15 million in FY 2017 and $25 million in FY 2018 would delay critical investments and is insufficient to meet the need. Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of applications to the border-to-border broadband grant program have gone unfilled over the last two rounds of applications.

Language: Sec. 2. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Border-To-Border Broadband Development Program. (a) $85,000,000 in fiscal year 2017 […] is a onetime appropriation.

SUPPORT Senate Position: Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program (Senate Article 7, Secs. 2, 3, 4 & 19: lines 165.27-165.30; 166.25-166.28; 167.1-168.11; and 177.18-178.14).
Establishes the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program to provide incentives to landowners to grow perennial crops for use in biomass processing facilities and for livestock. The program will select two pilot watersheds with access to viable proposed biomass facilities. Priority will be given to agricultural lands in those watersheds that implement watershed clean-up plans. The funding provides development of an in-depth feasibility study and detailed program plan to implement the program, including maximizing the use of federal funds.

Appropriation Language (165.27-165.30; 166.25-166.28): $115,000 the second year is for the working lands program feasibility study and program plan. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2018.
and
$479,000 the second year is for the working lands program feasibility study and program plan. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2018.

Policy Language (167.1-168.11; and 177.18-178.14):
Sec. 4. [103F.519] WORKING LANDS WATERSHED RESTORATION PROGRAM.
Subdivision 1. Definitions. (a) For purposes of this section, […] proposed biomass processing facility.
and
Sec. 19. FEASIBILITY STUDY AND PROGRAM PLAN; WORKING LANDS WATERSHED RESTORATION PROGRAM.
(a) The Board of Water and Soil Resources shall develop a detailed plan to implement Minnesota Statutes, section […] and to the Clean Water Council.

OPPOSE House Position: Weakening community zoning rights (House Article 10, Sec. 65: lines 198.11 – 199.4).
Current law is working and should not be changed. This language weakens the interim ordinance emergency power that allows cities to quickly put a temporary freeze on specified types of proposed development, giving the community time to study the issue, review their existing authority and, if necessary, create the appropriate zoning ordinances. This right is essential when the community is caught off-guard by potentially harmful proposals not anticipated by existing zoning ordinances. The language unnecessarily delays cities from enacting an interim ordinance that “prohibit activities relating to housing.”

Language: (c) If a proposed interim ordinance by a statutory or home rule charter city purports to regulate, restrict, or prohibit activities relating to housing, a public hearing must be held following a ten-day notice […] section is effective for interim ordinances proposed on or after August 1, 2016.

OPPOSE Senate Position: DNR Pineland Sands aquifer study that undermines established environmental review practices (Senate Article 4, Sec. 2: lines 82.14 – 82.17) R.D. Offut has proposed expansion of chemically-intensive potato production in the Pineland Sands aquifer (Cass, Hubbard, and Wadena counties), an aquifer which is highly vulnerable to contamination and already stressed by high rates of clearcutting and irrigation. This study allows that expansion to move forward before impacts are fully assessed, rather than following standard environmental review procedures. The memorandum of understanding between the DNR and Offut fundamentally undermines environmental review, a well-established public process that studies impacts before permitting in order to consider mitigation.

Senate Language: $1,000,000 the second year is for an impact study of irrigation on the Pineland Sands aquifer. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2019.

OPPOSE House Position: Micro-managing of lakes to use as storm water ponds (House Article 2, Sec. 35: lines 51.2-51.15).
This provision mandates the water level of Big Lake, replacing science and established public water laws with politics by having the Legislature determine the lake level. Micromanaging DNR by dictating permit requirements sets a terrible precedent for our natural lakes. Farmers favor a lower level in order to crop closer to the lake and the watershed district wants to use the lake as a stormwater pond for the City of Herman. The DNR opposes the language in the House bill, and no Senate companion was even introduced.

Language:
Sec. 35. WATER LEVEL CONTROL PERMIT FOR BIG LAKE; GRANT COUNTY.
Notwithstanding Minnesota Statutes, sections 103G.407 and 103G.408, the commissioner of natural resources must issue a permit to the Bois de Sioux Watershed District […] domain.

OPPOSE House Position: Phase out the Renewable Development Fund (House Article 16, Sec. 4: lines 134.6 to 134.16).
Section 4 phases out the Renewable Development Fund (RDF). The House language places cap on the cumulative amount of annual transfer payments that Xcel makes to the RDF for each cask of high-level nuclear waste. This transfer payment requirement was part of a long-term agreement with the Prairie Island Indian Community, Xcel Energy, and other stakeholders. Any change should be done in partnership with all of the original stakeholders. The RDF pays for research and development of clean energy projects that drive our energy system forward.

Language: Subd. 1a. Payment termination. (a) The commissioner shall track the cumulative transfers made to the account each year since 1999 for each dry cask containing spent fuel that is stored at an independent spent-fuel storage facility at Prairie […] ceased operation.

OPPOSE House Position: Expanding and restructuring the Public Utilities Commission (House Article 16, Secs. 5 & 6: lines 134.18 to 135.21).
House language would increase the number of PUC members from 5 to 9 and appoint them from compound districts. Major changes should not be made without full public hearings.

Language: The Public Utilities Commission shall consist of five nine members, eight of whom shall each represent one of the state’s congressional districts, and one member appointed at large. At the time of appointment, each member, except for the at-large appointee, must reside in the congressional district the member is to represent […] following final enactment.

OPPOSE House Position: Regulating Community Solar Garden contracts at the PUC (House Article 16, Sec. 7: lines 137.1 to 137.26).
Community solar allows anyone with a utility bill to invest in local energy that supports solar businesses right here in Minnesota. The PUC doesn’t have the expertise or capacity to analyze individual customer contracts – this would simply add red tape for consumers and businesses. This section will potentially derail hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Minnesota—much of this investment in greater Minnesota.

Language: (9) certify that the utility and the owner of a solar garden will submit copies of all marketing and promotional material and sample contracts to the commission, and that the materials will be updated periodically; […] on or after that date.

OPPOSE House Position: Exempting the energy used for Pipelines from the Conservation Improvement Program (House Article 16, Secs. 8 & 9: lines 137.27 to 142.3). Minnesota’s Conservation Improvement Program helps cut waste from our energy system, saving consumers, businesses, and utilities money. The implementation of that program involves dozens of utilities, program implementers, and independent nonprofits who specialize in energy savings.

OPPOSE House Position: Exempting Municipal and Cooperative utilities from the 1.5 percent Energy Efficiency savings goal (House Article 16, Sec. 10: lines 142.4 to 142.29). The goal currently in place has served our state well by driving the success of utility programs to meet and exceed a specific benchmark. Instead of exempting them, continue the discussion with the municipal and cooperative utilities of how to improve and expand the CIP program.

OPPOSE House Position: Exempting interstate pipelines, including future proposals and those currently under review, from the Certificate of Need permitting process at the Public Utilities Commission (House Article 16, Sec. 11: lines 143.24 – 144.20). The Certificate of Need process facilitates input from all stakeholders, including local governments and the public, and provides an important early vetting process for projects that could eventually involve the use of eminent domain authority. The process evaluates such factors as forecasted demand for the energy, alternative proposals to meet demand and considerations of the consequences to the public of building the pipeline. This language offers no alternative process for Minnesota to determine the need for an interstate pipeline.

Language:
; or
(8) an interstate pipeline traversing Minnesota whose termini lie outside the state. […] date of this section.

OPPOSE House Position: Prohibiting solar development on sites where 3 or more acres of trees would be cut down (House Article 16, Sec. 13: lines 144.31 to 145.5). This amendment is makes growing solar businesses jump through a hoop that not a single other industry is forced to jump through.

Language:
Sec. 13. [216E.023] PROHIBITION; SITING SOLAR SYSTEM; TREE CUTTING. No state or local site permit may be issued for a solar energy generating system that would contribute to meeting the requirements of section […] following final enactment.

OPPOSE House Position: Prohibiting use of state funds for implementing the Clean Power Plan (House Article 16, Sec. 18: lines 146.21 to 146.31). Minnesota has a history of passing common sense, bipartisan energy policy. These policies have put the state in a strong position to meet the Clean Power Plan goals. With more than 54,000 clean energy jobs already in Minnesota, the Clean Power Plan gives us the opportunity to continue moving that job growth forward.

Language:
Sec. 18. PROHIBITION ON EXPENDITURE OF STATE FUNDS; CLEAN POWER PLAN. No state agency shall expend state funds to develop a state plan as required by the federal Clean Power Plan unless and until a final decision in the case of West Virginia, et. al., v. United States Environmental Protection Agency […] amendments made to the plan.

Thank you for your commitment to protecting our Great Outdoors and giving these issues your full consideration. If you have questions or would like further information, please contact Matt Norton at mattnorton@mepartnership.org or 651-290-0154.

Sincerely,
Steve Morse, Executive Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis
Audubon Society of St. Paul
Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability
Clean Water Fund/Action Alliance
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Environment Minnesota
Fresh Energy
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota
Mankato Area Environmentalists
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Food Association
Minnesota Forestry Association
Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group
Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
Friends of The Mississippi River
Friends of The Parks & Trails of St. Paul & Ramsey County
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Izaak Walton League of America – Minn. Division
Kids for Saving Earth
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
MN350
Renewing the Countryside
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Save Lake Superior Association
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Transit for Livable Communities
Voyageurs National Park Association
WaterLegacy