2013 Legislative Session: Good Year for Minnesota’s Clean Energy & Clean Water, yet more work remains to be done

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The 2013 Minnesota Legislature took important steps forward to protect Minnesota’s future by passing clean energy and clean water legislation, but the state’s largest environmental coalition said there also were disappointments in transit funding and other issues.

Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), the statewide coalition of more than 75 organizations working for clean water, clean energy and protection of Minnesota’s Great Outdoors, praised the 2013 Minnesota Legislature for creating a new solar energy standard, and for passing legislation to address water pollution from agricultural run-off and other “nonpoint” sources.

“Legislators took a vital first step forward by establishing a solar energy standard that will help build our state’s clean energy future, produce new jobs, and greatly expand the use of solar energy in Minnesota,” said Steve Morse, executive director of Minnesota Environmental Partnership. The Omnibus Jobs and Economic Development legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature, includes a 1.5 percent solar energy standard that investor-owned utilities, like Xcel Energy, must meet by the year 2020, and sets a state goal of 10 percent solar energy by 2030.  However, Morse expressed dissatisfaction that cooperative and municipal electric companies were excluded from the standard, as were large timber, paper, and mining companies. “We made strong progress this year, but there is more work to be done to enhance our sustainable energy future and provide fair access to clean solar energy across the entire state.”

MEP also was pleased with the Minnesota Legislature’s action to pass the Clean Water Accountability Act, which addresses pollution caused by runoff – primarily from large agricultural operations that discharge sediments, fertilizers, pesticides, and fecal coliform bacteria into Minnesota’s rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands.  The Clean Water Accountability Act directs the state to clearly identify the sources of this pollution and to rank cleanup projects so that the projects that will have the biggest impact are funded first, and requires firm timelines and benchmarks for completing watershed clean-up plans.

In addition, Morse applauded the overall environmental budget and expanded groundwater monitoring legislation that was approved by the 2013 Legislature. Overall funding for state agencies that protect water quality, air quality, natural resources, human health, and provide recreational access to our Great Outdoors was increased for the first time in many years.

Transit Funding, Frac Sand Mining Regulation, Legacy Raids On “Disappointment List”

The lack of action on transit funding topped MEP’s disappointment list. “State elected officials missed a tremendous opportunity to bolster Minnesota’s future when they did not fund the build-out of the state’s transit system,” Morse said. “By not moving forward with more transportation options, we especially punish the elderly, people with disabilities and those on fixed incomes, and we continue to threaten air quality for all Minnesotans.”

The issue of frac sand mining in southeast Minnesota was one of the most visible environmental issues this year.  MEP was disappointed that legislation providing a comprehensive approach of putting strong state regulations in place before the industry could move forward in the region, was not adopted.  Ultimately, some frac sand mining provisions were adopted and will be helpful in protecting trout streams and other sensitive water resources if aggressively implemented and enforced by the Dayton administration.  Notable among those is the requirement for a DNR permit for frac sand mines within a mile of a trout stream in southeast Minnesota.

Finally, Morse expressed concern that legislators are increasingly tapping the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment funds for programs that have traditionally been funded by fees or from other funds.  “The Legacy funds are intended to take us beyond the status quo in protecting our Great Outdoors, not just let industries off the hook from fee increases.  Elected officials run the risk of ignoring the sentiment of 1.6 million Minnesotans who voted to approve this constitutional amendment.”

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