May 23, 2016 (Saint Paul, Minn) — As the 2016 Legislative Session adjourned late Sunday night, it’s clear that the outcomes of this Session will be marked by some steps forward, but also missed opportunities for Minnesota’s beloved Great Outdoors.
“When we ask our fellow Minnesotans what they value most about our state, they talk about our lakes, rivers, streams, forests, prairies, and wildlife,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. “Going into this Legislative Session, this Legislature was posed to make real progress for Minnesota. They took some action, but failed in other areas. Where there was a better process and more public daylight, good things happened for Minnesota. The Legislature passed a supplemental budget that includes investments in long term improvements for our water quality and growing a sustainable economy with broadband access.
“However, they failed to pass a bonding bill, meaning many communities are still left looking for help in repairing and modernizing their aging drinking water and waste water systems, and we lost out on an opportunity to leverage considerable federal dollars to clean up the St. Louis River as well as for secure conservation lands to conserve soil, eliminate erosion, and protect habitat and water quality in Minnesota’s farmland.”
Progress on clean water and sustainable development in Greater Minnesota
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is pleased that the Legislature passed a $1 million funding package for the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota, for research that will accelerate the development of a next generation of smart crops. The University research initiative is a multi-year effort that is developing perennial and cover crops that are high-efficiency and increase farm profitability and productivity while improving soil health, wildlife habitat, and water quality. The Legislature also passed the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program, which provides incentives to landowners to grow water-friendly perennial crops for use in advanced ethanol facilities and for livestock.
“These investments now are clear wins for one of Minnesota’s most precious resources – our water,” said Morse. “When we find excellent solutions for cleaning up our water, and it has strong backing and broad support from not only environmental advocates, but growers and producers as well, it just makes sense. We’re pleased to see these initiatives move forward.”
In addition, the Legislature included $35 million to increase Minnesota’s information infrastructure with 21st Century broadband technology. “This is an important step toward building a stronger, more diverse, resilient and sustainable economy, especially in Greater Minnesota,” said Morse.
Missed opportunities in bonding bill
However, the Legislature’s failure to pass a bonding bill was a clear disappointment on many fronts, including for our environment. Key provisions included in the bonding bill that was under debate but failed to pass include:
- Funding to help communities repair and modernize their aging drinking water and wastewater systems. A portion of these water infrastructure funds would be matched four times by federal grants.
- Funding for targeted conservation easements with willing farmland owners to conserve soil, eliminate erosion, and protect habitat and water quality. These Minnesota State RIM-Reserve funds would leverage at least two times more in a federal match as part of a five-year 100,000 acre Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
- Funding to remove polluted sediment from the St. Louis River in Northeastern Minnesota, one of the most endangered rivers in the U.S, and the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior and the entire Great Lakes system.
Still no agreement on transportation
Upon entering the Legislative Session, the House, Senate and Governor all agreed that fixing Minnesota’s ailing transportation system was a top priority, yet for another year, there appears to be no deal in sight.
“It’s unacceptable that lawmakers are leaving for another year without passing a comprehensive transportation funding bill,” said Morse. “Our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair, posing dangers to drivers and passengers daily. On top of that, transportation is the largest contributor of air pollution, and it only gets worse with traffic congestion. Minnesotans have waited too long for a long-term, multi-modal transportation investment, including Greater Minnesota transit, safer streets for bikes and pedestrians, and accessibility infrastructure so that all Minnesotans can get to work, home, school, and all the places they need to go.”
Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.