End of Session Update 2020

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As my MEP colleague Matt Doll said, the end of this legislative session brought more of a comma than a period.  A few important things in the environment and conservation arena were accomplished, but much is left to do in anticipated special sessions coming this summer. 

Here’s where we stand at this point: 

·      Historic ban on TCE is signed by the Governor

·      Legislature finds unity in providing some supports for farmers

·      No agreement on bonding bill size or projects by Governor, Senate and House

·      Chances for ENRTF funding package are looking up

·      Environment bills from House and Senate have significant differences, negotiations will be key

·      Senate Leadership and House Republicans go to the mat to stop Clean Cars Rulemaking 

·      Fossil Fuels Forever bill a.k.a. “Clean Energy First” stalls in Senate Finance

·      Renewable Development Account bill will fund four projects for now

·      Energy Conservation Optimization Act passes House, but not Senate yet 

Big Win: A Ban on TCE is Signed by the Governor:

One significant win worth celebrating was the passage of the nation’s first ban on the toxic chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE. Communities affected by high levels of TCE exposure from Water Gremlin over the past 17 years strongly advocated for this ban, along with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Minnesota. Thank you for showing us that good progress can be made quickly when we work together for the right goals.

Nearly Unanimous Legislation Supporting Farmers: 

The multiple crises of insufficient access to health care, climate change, disrupted markets and the Covid-19 pandemic are compounding for farm families and communities. Several pieces of legislation to help lead by MEP member Land Stewardship Project passed with nearly unanimous support, including: 

·      Extending deadlines for farmer mediation to prevent foreclosure for 150 days or December 1 (whichever is later) – giving farmers time to plant and harvest, understand new market conditions and new government assistance programs, and respond to these new circumstances. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. 

·      Securing funds to help farmers restructure loans, and expand the capacity of smaller meat and poultry processing facilities and other food processors

Bonding: No Agreement Between House, Senate and Governor Yet 

General Obligation bonding is our state government’s method for paying for improvements to Minnesota infrastructure – from higher education buildings to farm land put aside for conservation purposes.  “Bonding” years typically happen during the second year of the biennium (the first year is often reserved for passing the state’s budget). 

Three different collections of projects, or bonding packages, have been put forward by the Governor the House, and the Senate.  Passing a bonding bill usually needs bi-partisan cooperation to meet the required threshold of 60% affirmative votes.  In the final days session, neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass their own bonding bill, much less agree with the other players. 

Thanks to all of you who have weighed in with legislators supporting a large bonding bill with significant investments in:

–       Transit

–       Land use that fights climate change

–       Water infrastructure for communities across the state. 

MEP will continue to advocate for these priorities and the significant jobs they will create as we head into an anticipated special session.  Join us by visiting this action alert, here.

ENRTF and Environment Bills in position for negotiations: 

The Minnesota Senate made a couple of plays earlier in the session that put both an environment bill and an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) bill at risk of even being considered by the Senate. But important progress was made.

1)   ENRTF Bill Introduced by Senate, Finally

Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen announced in April that the Senate did not intend to pass the $64 million ENRTF funding package for scientific research, habitat projects and more that comes from the ENRTF (created by proceeds that are constitutionally dedicated from the Minnesota Lottery).  Sen. Ingebrigtsen was holding out to include $1.5 million for a wastewater treatment facility project that is outside the parameters of the Fund’s intended purposes.

Your pressure asking Senators to pass the ENRTF funding made a difference! On Saturday, the package of ENRTF projects — without the $1.5 million for the wastewater facility — was added to the Senate’s environment bill, SF 4499 and passed by the Senate.  

The House also passed a combination ENRTF funding and environment policy bill on Saturday, HF 4554. Though the House bill is much different from the Senate’s, the bills are now likely being negotiated between legislative leaders and the Walz administration.  There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate bills take us. 

2)   Environment Bill brought to Senate floor, Finally: 

Word on the street had been that Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy chair Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen was so opposed to the Clean Cars Rulemaking underway by the MPCA right now that he would keep an environment bill from even being brought to the Senate floor unless he were assured that legislation to stop this rulemaking would be enacted (see more on this below). 

But the Senate did bring up its environment bill, SF 4499, on Saturday. A really big shout out to Senator Dibble and Senator Marty for doing a great job highlighting the harmful provisions in the Senate bill. You can see a detailed analysis of the provisions MEP supports and opposes in this letter here.  One important provision was left out of this summary: 

Section 71 of the Senate bill narrows the definition of what a “pipeline” is for the purpose of excluding pipelines associated with mining (that carry mineral slurry, for instance) from regulation. 

There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate environment bills take us. We will be sending more messaging on this soon.

Clean Cars Rulemaking: 

Opponents to the Clean Cars Rulemaking — begun by the PCA in the fall of 2019 to enable Minnesotans access to more electric vehicle model options on car showroom floors – are working to take away the PCA’s authority to regulate air emissions.  

An amendment to revoke PCA authority to engage in this rulemaking was offered by Representative Fabian. Fortunately the amendment failed on a vote, 55 – 59. 

However, this same language remains in the Senate’s version of the environment bill, SF 4499.

Renewable Development Account Funding Package

The legislature passed a Renewable Development Account spending bill with funding for four projects:

  • Extending Xcel’s Solar Rewards program that pays incentives for qualifying residential and commercial solar systems into 2024
  • Providing community transition grants to support economic development in communities with retiring coal plants
  • Upgrading the Granite Falls Hydropower dam; and
  • Funding the Prairie Island Community Net Zero Project

*****

We’ll work to keep you posted as we move through the special session(s) and summer. 

Our best to you,

Sara Wolff
Advocacy Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

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