House and Senate offer divergent paths on environment this session

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota’s 2019 Legislative Session is entering its final stages. With a May 20 deadline to pass its budget and policy bills through both houses for Governor Walz’s signature, the Legislature is poised to make deals and compromises that will shape Minnesota’s environment for years to come. The DFL-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate have each appointed members to Conference Committees that will negotiate the differences between their omnibus bills before sending them to the Governor.

Several key legislative priorities of the MEP community hang in the balance in these final two weeks, and while this article is not meant to be exhaustive, it covers some of the legislation that could greatly impact our natural resources and community health. We encourage Minnesotans represented by any of the mentioned Senators or Representativesto contact them to make sure they prioritize our future in these discussions.

Clean Water

Proactive clean water-related provisions have been included in several omnibus bills at the Capitol. The House Legacy Funding bill includes a goal of all Minnesota waters meeting basic health standards by 2040 – right now, only 60% do, so this goal would be a useful north star for statewide cleanup efforts. The Environmental and Natural Resources  Bill includes a new program that can help address growing chloride contamination from road salt in Minnesota’s waters. The Smart Salt program would offer training and incentives for professional snow removers to apply less harmful amounts of salt to driveways and paths, cutting down on this pollution.

The House also supports full two-year funding for the Forever Green Initiative, a UMN program working to bring profitable crops that clean up groundwater and sequester carbon to Minnesota farmland. The Senate has so far offered only a quarter of this funding.

Additionally, the Senate is attempting to pass new raids on the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, to the detriment of the fund’s financial sustainability and in defiance of the will of Minnesota voters (Read more about the new raid in our previous blog post.)

Clean Energy and Pipelines
Economic Development and Energy Conference Committee: Representatives Mahoney, Wagenius, Stephenson, Long, and Hassan; Senators Pratt, Dahms, Osmek, Housley, and Simonson

As we observed last weekend, the Minnesota House passed important legislation for 100% clean electricity by 2050, working along the lines of what Governor Walz had proposed in March. This legislation would begin moving Minnesota forward, and the omnibus bill that contains it includes funding for priorities like electric vehicle infrastructure and solar on schools.

The Senate counterpart does not contain 100% legislation, and has significantly fewer provisions for renewable investments, cutting and rolling back programs in several cases. It also includes a familiar threat: a provision to chill free speech by making it easier to charge Minnesotans with felonies for peaceful actions in protest of “critical infrastructure” – read: pipelines. This legislation was opposed by MEP and defeated in 2018 – it should not be included in the final omnibus bill.

Clean Transportation
Transportation Finance Conference Committee: Representatives Hornstein, Koegel, Tabke, Richardson, Torkelson; Senators TBA.

The House transportation bill has drawn headlines for its proposed 20 cent increase in the gas tax, but its provisions for clean transportation merit close attention. The bill would institute a half-cent sales tax in the seven Twin Cities-area counties (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, Washington) to raise $400 million over the next two years to support and improve the Metro area’s transit system, including upgrades to service and new rapid bus lines. It would also establish a state goal for promoting zero-emission electric vehicle use, a helpful tool for combatting our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate Bill proposes no new investment or funding sources for transit, and eliminates funding for new light rail routes. It also includes a surcharge on electric vehicle charging and increases the annual fee for electric vehicles.

Protecting Pollinators
Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee: Representatives Hansen, Persell, Fischer, Becker-Finn, and Nathan Nelson; Senators Ingebrigtsen, Ruud, Eichorn, Johnson, and Tomassoni.

MEP supports ambitious measures to protect and restore pollinators in Minnesota, and we’re encouraged by the fact that several have a strong chance of becoming law this session. We know that neonicotinoid pesticides are a leading cause of pollinator declines in our state, and both the Senate and House bills would ban their use on State Wildlife Management Areas – 1.29 million acres across the Minnesota. The House version would also fund grants for homeowners to replace traditional lawns with pollinator-friendly plants, offering pollinators safe havens to thrive in residential areas.

There are many more provisions throughout these and other bills, but the key point is this: Minnesota has a unique opportunity to move forward on creating a clean future this session, but we also run the risk of moving backward. We ask that all concerned Minnesotans watch closely in these final days of session, and contact your legislators to make sure they know how vital it is to make progress – not rollbacks – this session.

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