Environment wins in late-session sprint

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature had an unusually messy end to its 2024 session, working right up to the bill passing deadline of midnight on Sunday, May 19. But when the dust settled, it was clear to MEP and our member organizations that on issues relating to pollution, environmental justice, and climate action, our priorities came out ahead.

Packaging

One of MEP’s key priorities this session was passing the Packaging Waste and Cost Reduction Act, targeting the 40% of our garbage that comes from packaging. We’re thrilled that the Legislature passed a strong version of this act into law. It will require producers to pay a fee for packaging to incentivize compostable, reusable, or recyclable packaging, reducing costs for communities. It will ultimately lead to almost all packaging in Minnesota having one or more of those features by 2032.

Protecting communities

The Legislature passed key investments in monitoring for air quality issues in environmental justice areas this session. It also gave the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stronger powers to intervene in environmental emergencies, allowing it to halt a facility’s operations if it presents a major threat to environmental health.

Protecting waters

MEP is pleased that the Legislature is requiring Minnesota’s long-outdated Public Waters Inventory to be fully updated, a step that will help ensure numerous streams will be protected from agricultural pollution and alterations.

Legislation passed to take modest steps to improve water quality and address the nitrate crisis in southeastern Minnesota, which has left many families with contaminated water in dire need of assistance.

Planning

Though it looked uncertain going into the final week of session, the Legislature passed a bill to ensure that city comprehensive plans will be allowed to go forward without being subject to lawsuits under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) with only minimal impact on MERA as a whole. Protecting both MERA and the use of comprehensive plans to spur climate-friendly land use was a priority for MEP this session, and we’re pleased that the legislature was able to pass this policy.

Climate investments

While the 2024 session may not have broken as much ground on climate and clean energy spending as 2023, the Legislature passed grants for geothermal power, small solar systems, and community forest cover.

Farming

MEP supported several provisions to support emerging and sustainability-focused farmers this session as part of our longtime advocacy for a cleaner, greener food system in our major agricultural state. Among those that passed were support for farm to school healthy food programs, grants for beginning farmers, and investments in farming practices that build soil health and improve water quality.

Permitting

The permitting reforms the Legislature made this session are a mixed bag for MEP and our members. We appreciate the need to expedite clean energy projects like solar, wind, and battery storage in order to meet our climate needs, and the Legislature made key improvements to address these concerns.

However, we are concerned that changes to energy permitting go beyond supporting just clean energy. The final language also left open the possibility of polluting fossil fuels like natural gas to undergo a less rigorous permitting process and would allow applicants of certain projects to conduct their own environmental review. We are especially concerned about provisions that set unworkable deadlines for major projects, requiring that these state agencies defer to the desires of industry at the expense of human and environmental health. For example, a sulfide mine like Twin Metals would be heavily advantaged by a shortened timeline because gathering evidence of its risks – contrary to the industry’s interests – takes up crucial time for state agencies.

MEP will closely monitor the rollout of these changes by state agencies and strongly advocate for the public’s voice to be central in environmental permitting.

No bonding bill

Unfortunately, the Legislature was unable to come to an agreement on a capital investment bill – with funding for water infrastructure, public lands, and other projects relevant to the environment – before the session ended. Both houses nearly passed a bill late Sunday night, but the clock struck midnight, preventing further legislative action. The Legislature is not expected to reconvene for a special session.
 

MEP is pleased that, with few exceptions, we have now had two Legislative sessions in a row that made major advances on environmental justice and climate action, rather than major rollbacks or gridlock. We give much of the credit to Minnesotans who made their voices heard on environmental issues these last two sessions – it’s clear Legislators were listening to the clear majority of folks in our state who want clean water, a livable climate, and healthy communities.

Read more from our members:

Fresh Energy
Sierra Club North Star Chapter 
Land Stewardship Project
Move MN
Eureka Recycling

Check out our last few Insider columns here:

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