May 18, 2015, St. Paul, Minn – As the Minnesota Legislature prepares to adjourn later today, it’s clear that the outcomes of this Session will be marked by steps backward and missed opportunities for the precious Great Outdoors Minnesotans value dearly.
“When we ask 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 (MEP). “The Legislature had several opportunities to make transformative change for our waters, air, and land. Instead, they allowed political maneuvering and special interests to lead them in a direction that is disappointing for all Minnesotans.
One Step Forward and Three Steps Back on Water Quality
Governor Dayton has repeatedly stated that making improvements on water quality was one of his top priorities and one that he wants to leave as a legacy, including his landmark proposal for permanent vegetative buffers between agricultural lands and all rivers, streams and lakes in the state. While a deal on buffers was reached early Monday morning, MEP and its coalition of 70+ environmental and conservation organizations are disappointed that it falls far short of the Governor’s proposal. Instead, the bill is a modest step forward by creating enforcement of current laws and accelerating their implementation.
“No one should be under the impression that this buffer law will clean up our waters,” said Morse. “It is significantly weakened from the Governor’s proposal. While it will have a modest positive impact, the waters of Southwestern Minnesota will remain unswimable and undrinkable. We have a long way to go to making the transformative change that the Governor envisions.”
MEP is pleased that the Legislature passed a $1 million funding package for the Forever Green Program at the University of Minnesota for research that will accelerate development of economically viable perennial and cover crop options. The University research initiative is a multi-year effort that will develop the next generation of high-efficiency, smart cropping systems that increase farm profitability and productivity while improving soil health, wildlife habitat, and water quality.
However, the Legislature missed the mark on several key areas of the Agricultural and Environment Omnibus Budget Bill having final votes today, including:
- Abolishing the Citizens’ Board of the Pollution Control Agency: The Citizens’ Board has worked well and is a model we can be proud of. Eliminating it is simply bowing to special interests.
- Raiding Dedicated Environmental Funds: Even with $1 billion on the bottom line, this bill raids funds that are to prevent old landfills from contaminating our groundwater and surface water and clean up the pollution where it occurs.
- Breaks the Compromise Agreement on Biofuels: The signed agreement between energy, agriculture, and environment stakeholders would establish the next-generation biofuel industry in Minnesota. This bill violates that agreement, undercutting our ability to establish perennial crops for ethanol production and develop new beneficial agricultural systems to protect and restore our lakes, rivers and streams in some our most polluted watersheds in the heart of ag country.
- Provides Funding to Promote False Pollinator Labelling: The Legislature voted to allow deceptive advertising for “pollinator-friendly plants” that need only not kill bees upon first contact.
- Rolling Back Wild Rice Standards: This language defies the Federal Clean Water Act by limiting the PCA’s authority to enforce our state water quality standards.
Surprise Sulfide Mining Amendment: The bill exempts sulfide mining waste from solid waste rules. This amendment was never introduced as a bill or heard in any committee, and its future effect is unknown. Exempting as-of-yet unknown waste streams from potential sulfide mines is an unnecessary risk to water quality and public health.
- Red River Rules Suspension: Delays enforcement of updated nutrient pollution permits for wastewater treatment facilities in the Red River watershed until 2025, unless approved by the U.S. EPA, North Dakota Department Health, and EPA Regions 5 & 8.
- Polluter Amnesty: A polluter amnesty provision delays enforcement and waives penalties for regulated parties that self-report violations of environmental regulations. This provision needlessly strips the MPCA of its powers to hold polluters accountable for protecting our natural resources.
“Overall, the Ag and Environment Omnibus moves us in the wrong direction for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors, and it’s not what the people of Minnesota want,” said Morse. “Our coalition of 70 environmental and conservation nonprofits, representing over 450,000 Minnesotans urge the Governor to stand his ground for improving water quality and veto this bill.”
Legislators run out of gas on transportation bill
Upon entering the Legislative Session in January, the House, Senate and Governor all agreed that fixing Minnesota’s ailing transportation systems was a top priority, yet for another year in a row, there appears to be no deal in site.
“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.”
Clean energy goes nowhere
In its final hours tonight, Legislature is working to merge two vastly different energy policy bills. Gone are early priorities would have moved Minnesota’s growing clean energy economy forward, creating good jobs, including increasing the renewable energy standard to 40% and increasing the energy efficiency standard to 2%. The House plan now calls for rolling back much of the renewable energy policy and removing any flexibility Minnesota has to creating a plan to meet the federal EPA’s Clean Power Plan targets.
“The Governor has stated he wants to see Minnesota move toward a clean energy future,” said Morse. “The Legislature has already removed any hope of moving forward on that front, and the best we can hope for is that they don’t lead us backward.”
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.