Here’s this week’s dispatch from the Capitol, by John Tuma:
The friction of the legislative process takes hold of environmental issues.
“Promises may get thee friends, but nonperformance will turn them into enemies.” Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac.
It is said that Benjamin Franklin and the rest of our Founding Fathers deliberately created the complicated bicameral legislature and the three separate branches of government to slow the process of lawmaking down in the hopes that difficult deliberations would produce the best outcomes. Therefore, the positive way to look at all difficulties faced by environmental issues this week is that their outcomes will only become better and stronger through this difficult struggle we call the legislative process. It is still very early in the session. Therefore, no one’s panicked by the difficulty MEP’s three Protect Minnesota’s Great Outdoors issues had this week and we will trust that early promise will not turn into nonperformance. Here’s a quick a litany of the struggles the Green team faced this week:
Clean Renewable Energy. There were indications that the clean renewable energy standard of 25% renewable energy by 2020 supported by the MEP organizations would move quickly in the Senate. The public was informed by the Senate that the bill would move out of the Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee on Thursday and be on its way to the floor this week. The Clean Energy Minnesota team is very confident that the votes exist in the committee to pass out a very strong bill. Unfortunately, Chair Yvonne Prettner-Solon (DFL-Duluth) feels uncomfortable moving the legislation without first getting greater buy in from other stakeholders such as the utilities and the chamber. Discussions between all the stakeholders continue and we are told to expect a vote by next Thursday in the Senate committee.
The House will start its hearings on actual bills next week after finishing the traditional first month of overview hearings while the many new legislative members are still trying to figure out where the coffeemakers and bathrooms are located. Despite the speed bumps in the road of the legislative session, there is still a lot of excitement around the energy issue. Adding to that excitement will be a first time ever hearing on the full floor of the House of Representatives on January 30 from 4 to 6 p.m.combining six legislative committees from both the bodies. This hearing will be on global warming issues with the testimony anchored by Arctic explorer Will Steger. Therefore, we are counting on a strong tailwind building to push these issues back on the fast-track over the next couple of weeks.
Dedicated Funding for Investing in Our Great Outdoors. The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee held hearings Wednesday on the five different bills seeking dedicated funding for conservation and Clean Water Legacy. The MEP bill, SF137, was authored by Senator Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul). The only thing clear from the discussion in the committee was that there was no clarity on how the Senate plans on handling this issue. Unfortunately, Franklin’s quote (above) about many promises and no action is most likely on this issue right now. In the Senate there are many promises along with ample ambiguity and in the House, as of now, there has been no real proposal introduced. We remain patient with the understanding that the new leadership needs to find its stride. Nonetheless, if no dedicated champions step forth to bring simplicity and focus to this issue, it will die under the weight of the deliberate system created by our Founding Fathers.
Clean Water Legacy. As indicated previously, the first major step for the Clean Water Legacy has always been the Governor’s budget. His budget came out this Monday and, unfortunately, it was a very weak step if not a stumble out of the blocks for investments in cleaning up our polluted lakes and rivers. The Governor only proposed $20 million a year in his budget for the Clean Water Legacy. This is woefully below the $100 million needed to clean up and test our lakes within the next 10 years. The $20 million focuses mostly on the testing and planning, but little on the cleanup. The Legislature will have a difficult challenge in finding the additional funding. The education and healthcare activists are also crying foul after the budget. There is a very little discretionary spending left in the budget. Therefore, the environmental community will have a hard time getting fed with the other big interests pushing themselves up to the very small table.
Legislative -Citizens Commission on Natural Resources (LCCMR). The new LCCMR package was rolled out this week. The $23 million package is contained in HF293 and authored by Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R- Ham Lake). Early indications are that it is a very balanced approach. Unfortunately, the legislation stalled in the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division over the issue of whether hunters had access to land acquired under the Forest Legacy part of the bill. The chief author desires to have the legislation move quickly so that the agencies and organizations receiving the grants can then move quickly enough to get most of the good conservation and environment initiatives on the ground starting this year. If the bill is delayed, most organizations will not be able to acquire the necessary resources and staff to successfully conduct a project. The Forest Legacy question should be an easy one for resolution and hopefully HF293, along with its companion in the Senate when it is introduced, can move quickly.