May 17, 2015
We are writing to express our strong opposition to the provisions of the Ag and Environment Omnibus budget bill conference committee report (H.F. 846).
When we ask Minnesotans what they value most about our state, they talk about our lakes, rivers and streams, forests, prairies and wildlife. Minnesotans care deeply about our Great Outdoors.
In stark contrast, the conference committee report for H.F. 846 cuts general fund spending for the environment by $62 million (24%) while the state enjoys a large budget surplus. It undermines key policies that protect and restore our air, land, and water and provide for strong public engagement.
We ask you to oppose the Conference Committee report when it reaches the floor, and vote against final passage of the bill. The vote on this report is of utmost importance to the state’s environmental and conservation community.
The most offensive provisions include:
- Insignificant Buffer Policy: The buffer provisions in this bill actually delay enforcement of laws on the books, and do not represent a serious attempt to address this issue. Most of the state’s ditches and waterways will continue to have no buffer requirement and the extended timelines for complying with current law in no way respond to the current water quality crisis. Governor Dayton proposed meaningful policy to expand protective vegetative buffers along waterways to reduce agriculture runoff which is a leading cause of water pollution and why so many of lakes and rivers are not safe to swim or fish in and water not safe to drink.
- Abolishing the Citizens’ Board of the Pollution Control Agency: The Citizens’ Board was established in 1967 to ensure the PCA serves the public interest and to establish an open and transparent decision-making process. The Citizens’ Board has worked well and is a model we can be proud of. The Conferees adopted language to eliminate the Citizens’ Board altogether, which did not pass either the House of Senate.
- 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. This budget gimmick results in a more than 24% cut in general fund spending for the environmental. Even if some of the funds are eventually paid back as scheduled in the bill, the overall amount of clean up funds will fall far short of the amount needed for cleaning up leaks from our more than 100 landfills for which the state is responsible.
- 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: Recently, the legislature voted to allow deceptive advertising for “pollinator-friendly plants” that need only not kill bees on first contact. Plants contaminated short of that threshold can be labeled “pollinator-friendly.”
- Expensive Re-dos: The bill requires expensive cost analyses of existing and anticipated water quality standards that establish a false baseline for estimated capital and operating costs of complying with water quality standards without including economic and social costs associated with declines in water quality.
- 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. Nobody has been able to explain how or whether this would apply to PolyMet and other proposed mines.
- 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.
Lastly, although some previously adopted provisions that suspended current water quality standards were removed, the repetitive water quality studies that have been kept in the bill will have huge fiscal impacts, but are only minimally funded.
For these and other concerns that have been raised, we ask you to protect our water and our future resources by opposing the Conference Committee report for HF 846 and voting against final passage of the bill.
Thank you for defending the Legacy of our Great State.
Steve Morse, Executive Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Society of St. Paul
Clean Water Action
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Friends of the Mississippi River
Friends of the Parks & Trails of St. Paul &
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Izaak Walton League of America – Midwest Office
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
Mankato Area Environmentalists
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Food Association
Minnesota Land Trust
Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union
Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Renewing the Countryside
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Transit for Livable Communities
Voyageurs National Park Association