Bonding session presents environmental opportunities

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

As the Minnesota Legislature begins its 2024 session, a shorter sequel to its extremely productive efforts last year is expected. As we’ve extensively covered, last year’s session was a watershed moment for Minnesotans, in which decades’ worth of ideas on climate action, clean water, and a healthy environment were finally passed into law.

This year’s session is not expected to be as ambitious, though MEP and allies will be pushing for long overdue policy ideas to pass. But it is considered a traditional “bonding” year, in which Legislative leaders hope to pass a capital investment bill, including issuing state bonds to finance infrastructure and other public projects.

That bonding can be a big boost for the environment, as it can be used for water systems, public lands, and other projects that benefit our natural resources.

Wait, didn’t we already pass a capital investment bill last year?

Yes, in 2023, the Legislature passed more than two and a half billion dollars in funding after significant negotiations between both parties in the House and Senate. Despite unified DFL control of the Legislature, bonding bills require 60% approval for passage. The Legislature was unable to reach agreement over a bonding package in 2022, so they played catch-up in 2023 after significant back-and-forth.

The 2023 bill included over $380 million for water and wastewater infrastructure, over $49 million for flood hazard mitigation, and $72 million for bus rapid transit projects in the Twin Cities area. It was a welcome boost to help overdue projects get off the ground.

That bill followed what was then a historic victory for clean water infrastructure in 2020’s bonding bill. MEP and allies including groups from the environment, labor, and municipal advocacy communities successfully pushed for over $300 million in water bonding in the Fix the Pipes campaign that year.

This year, Governor Walz and the majority leaders in the Legislature hope to keep investing in Minnesota’s infrastructure, and the Governor has released a list of his priorities for that effort.

What’s in the Governor’s proposal

Governor Walz has proposed a $982 billion slate of capital investments this year. Projects of interest to the environment include:

  • $1.5 million for the State Facility Renewable Energy and Storage Fund, which helps agencies reduce their energy consumption through renewable technologies.
  • $37 million for development and improvement of routes for bus rapid transit in the Twin Cities Metro.
  • $2.5 million for improvements and expansions for regional parks and trails in the Twin Cities Metro.
  • $100.5 million for the Department of Natural Rources, which includes $7 million for acquiring and improving public lands and $6 million for grants to reduce the impacts of flooding.
  • $12 million for the Pollution Control Agency: $10 million to protect vulnerable public water systems from PFAS and other contaminants, and $2 million to help monitor and reduce nitrate pollution.
  • $109 million to the Public Facilities Authority for various water projects, which can include drinking water pipes, wastewater treatment, and addressing emerging contaminants like PFAS.

What’s the verdict?

The Governor’s capital investment proposals would be positive steps, and we hope to see many of them passed into law. It’s likely that they will be hotly debated at the Capitol, and Legislators will introduce their own, competing proposals for funding.

But natural resources, climate action, and environmental justice make up only a fraction of this plan. Environment funding can’t be an afterthought – given the massive clean water challenges our state faces and the climate crisis we can literally see out our windows on this February day, we need to treat these issues as a much higher priority.

MEP’s allies at Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light and League of Women Voters Minnesota have developed a fact sheet on Bonding for Our Climate with plenty of good ideas for how to use this bill to protect our future. These include ways to leverage land, clean transportation, and renewable energy to help Minnesota meet our carbon reduction needs, while providing a higher quality of life for our residents.

As the session begins, MEP will be closely watching the Senate and House Capital Investment committees. We hope they’ll agree that without a healthy, well-supported environment, Minnesota can’t remain a healthy state.

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