Minnesotans protecting our state’s future

Posted by

On Friday, December 7, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership held our annual meeting for member organizations, gathering together many of the groups around Minnesota that make up our coalition. We discussed the challenges we faced, but also the exciting efforts by hardworking people around the state to build a better future for ourselves and the generations that follow us. This week, we decided to highlight some of those inspiring efforts.

Minnesota groups are acting globally on climate change

This week, delegates from around the globe have been meeting in Katowice, Poland to share knowledge and cooperate on finding solutions to climate change. Minnesota’s environmental community has been well-represented, including by groups like Fresh Energy and Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. These Minnesotans are representing our efforts to the world, and bringing home knowledge and ideas. And Minnesota has fresh hope for our efforts: Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy announced that it would deliver 100% carbon free electricity to all customers by 2050, and reduce its overall carbon emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2030, a critical step in moving Minnesota (and the seven other states Xcel serves) toward meeting our climate goals.

Minnesotans are demanding review of projects that could harm their communities’ health

In southeastern Minnesota, communities are facing two large and potentially harmful feedlot proposals. The Catalpa swine feedlot in Newburg Township and the Daley Farms massive dairy expansion in Winona County would impact local air quality and threaten water quality, in part due to their position in lands uniquely vulnerable to pollution infiltrating the groundwater.

In large part due to the organizing efforts of the Land Stewardship Project, residents – including farmers – in both communities are coming together to demand that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency conduct stronger research on the impacts of these projects. Residents in each area are demanding that the MPCA conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the feedlots, putting them under greater scrutiny to ensure that the final decision would take community impacts into account.

Minnesotans are standing up against sulfide mining

Earlier this week, several groups including MEP members Minnesota Center for Environmental AdvocacyCenter for Biological DiversityFriends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and WaterLegacy filed an appeal against the DNR’s permits for the PolyMet sulfide mine proposal. They’re also challenging the DNR’s rules for this type of mining, arguing that they can’t effectively protect Minnesotans. For the Minnesotans living downstream from the PolyMet mine site in the St. Louis River Watershed, this appeal represents new hope that their water and land can be protected.

The problems Minnesotans face are enormous. But we know that our community is up to the challenge of meeting them.

Improved VIDA legislation passes in Congress, offers protections from invasive species in Great Lakes

Posted by

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, November 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a major piece of legislation, the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017, which was passed by the Senate earlier this month. The bill, now awaiting a Presidential signature, contains legislation called the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which changes how ballast water carried by ships in the Great Lakes is regulated.

MEP spoke out against previous versions of VIDA, a bill which deeply threatened the communities and ecosystems around the Great Lakes. But thanks to the efforts of Great Lakes defenders, the new VIDA was enormously improved and allows an opportunity to move forward on keeping our lakes healthy.

The previous bill was deeply threatening to the health of our lakes

Ballast water is carried by oceangoing ships as part of their ordinary operation, but if left untreated and dumped into our freshwater harbors, it can spread invasive species from around the world into our waters – in fact, it is the number one source of new invasive species – such as zebra mussels and bloody red shrimp – infiltrating the Great Lakes basin. Left unchecked, these new species carry the risk of major harm to our ecosystems and our economy, especially for lake-based cities like Duluth.

State and federal authorities have made efforts to regulate ballast water and prevent these infiltrations from occurring, partly using powers granted under the Clean Water Act. The previous VIDA legislation would have undone the significant progress we’ve made. It would have watered down these protections and made it difficult to build on them at the federal level. VIDA also aimed to prevent states from developing their own ballast water regulations in response to federal inaction.

The new VIDA isn’t perfect, but it offers hope for solutions

Thanks to the commitment of Great Lakes advocates and lawmakers, the new VIDA legislation that passed this month has been cleaned up significantly in the interest of compromise and taking reasonable action to protect the Great Lakes. Both Minnesota U.S. Senators Klobuchar and Smith were directly engaged in blocking the earlier harmful version and helping to develop a better compromise.

It still preempts states from setting their own ballast water protections, but it does give them the power to band together to develop a regional Great Lakes basin standard. In addition, the state standards will be valid until a new, region-wide standard for ballast water is fully implemented. And the legislation requires the EPA and the Coast Guard to work together with state authorities to determine measures to counter invasive species.

At the federal level, VIDA strengthens and solidifies existing protections that require ships to manage their ballast water safely, and specifically requires that the federal protections be as strong as or stronger than current EPA requirements. It includes $50 million in funding to monitor invasive species in the Great Lakes watershed and to research new methods to handle ballast water treatment, with grants for mitigation to be developed as well.

For the sixty million people and countless fish and wildlife that live around the Great Lakes, this new legislation is an important step in blocking harmful rollbacks of existing environmental protections. We thank the lawmakers who negotiated this bipartisan compromise to improve the original VIDA, and all the citizens from around the Great Lakes who made their voices heard and made a real difference.

New tool aims to bring accountability to rural electric co-ops

Posted by

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Earlier this week, grassroots rural organization CURE unveiled a new Rural Electric Cooperative Report Card that aims to bring better governance and transparency to Minnesota’s rural electric cooperatives. CURE (an MEP member organization based in Montevideo) evaluated all 44 of the state’s electric co-ops to determine whether they had made several basic categories of information available to their public on their website.

This information includes how their electricity is generated, how each co-op is managed, and how its Board elections are carried out. For the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who are owners and customers of these co-ops, this information is important for staying informed and holding their co-op accountable.

What CURE found was disappointing. As of October 29, only a handful of the co-ops made most of the basic information categories public online, and several websites had none of them at all. Only about two-thirds featured the co-op’s bylaws, and less than half offered an explanation of customer electric bills.

A problem for our clean energy future

From a clean energy and climate action standpoint, one category stands out starkly: not a single co-op’s website revealed its energy source mix. While other utilities have followed the trend of publicly breaking down how their power is generated by wind, solar, and fossil fuel sources, none of Minnesota’s rural electric co-ops shared this information on their websites. It’s understandably difficult for co-op members to push their co-op toward expanding renewable energy if they can’t find information on where their power comes from.

The lack of resources for co-op members to learn how co-op board elections are carried out presents an even greater obstacle. True democratic decision making, which co-ops profess to practice, is impossible if information on how to participate isn’t available to the people who might vote and run in elections to chart the co-op’s future decisions. And while Minnesota’s electric co-ops have made clean energy progress, it’s no less important that their member-owners have transparent opportunities to improve their co-ops.

The Report Card is an opportunity for a fresh start

We applaud our partners at CURE for their leadership on this push for accountability. The information they ask for co-ops to make publicly available is relatively simple, and should be made accessible to the average website visitor. The bottom of the report card web pagefeatures a digital petition and other ways for members to demand transparency – we encourage co-op members to take action. This is a powerful opportunity for rural Minnesotans use their rightful ownership of their electric providers for better governance and a brighter clean energy future.

Minnesotans make their voices heard

Posted by

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

From September 21st to November 6th, more than two and a half million Minnesotans cast a ballot for the 2018 general election, setting a record for total votes cast and reaching a turnout rate among eligible voters not seen in our state since 2002. Minnesotans elected forty new House members, five new Congressional Representatives, and numerous new local and state-level elected officials. Our state’s new elected leaders will have the responsibility of charting a new course for the land, water, and air that Minnesotans call home.

We thank all the Minnesotans who made their voice heard in this historic election, and especially those who took the time to encourage others to vote and join in our civic discussion. We know that the best outcomes for our environment are found when Minnesotans from all areas and walks of life participate.

A new class at the Capitol and new opportunities

For Minnesota’s environmental community, a new Legislature and a new Governor mean new opportunities to build partnerships to improve and protect our natural resources with good policy.

The new Legislature has an opportunity to reverse the previous session’s raid on the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, a raid which threatened the viability of this important fund and the trust of the voters who created it. Lawmakers can and should pass a bill to restore the money to the fund and pay for the projects the raid was intended to fund with traditional bonds. We’re encouraged to hear that a bill for this restoration has been drafted and is likely to be introduced early in 2019.

The Legislature can also build on Minnesota’s leadership on clean energy and climate action. MEP and our partners are hard at work on good policy and program ideas that can electrify Minnesota’s economy, increase our clean energy use, and continue to make our homes and cities more efficient.

Our lawmakers can work to bring clean water to every Minnesotan. In the land of 10,000 lakes, it’s deeply troubling that 40% of our waters don’t meet quality standards for human use, and that increasing numbers of Minnesotans struggle to access clean drinking water due to nitrate contamination. But we know that equitable, smart solutions are possible – and that by setting reasonable pollution standards and investing in new farming methods that clean our land and water, we can make tremendous progress on cleaning up our water.

This work belongs to us all

Minnesota is well-known for our high voter turnout, but other forms of civic participation are just as important. We ask that all Minnesotans do whatever they can to continue speaking up for the resources that nourish us. Writing letters to the editor, commenting on Minnesota agency rules and proposals, and speaking with your elected officials can all make powerful impacts on our environment.

We know Minnesotans love the air, land, water, and natural beauty of our state. Making sure our lawmakers remember it is a job best done by all of us.

Minnesotans stand up for right to thorough review of potential pollution

Posted by

photo credit: USDA

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, October 31, residents of Winona County won a key victory as a District Court Judge in Ramsey County ruled to allow an extended public comment period on the proposed massive expansion of the Daley Farms dairy feedlot.

Judge Jennifer Frisch halted the attempt by several major Minnesota agribusiness groups to end the extended comment period – though the groups have not ruled out continuing to pursue their lawsuit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA.)

The MPCA which was assisted in Wednesday’s legal hearing by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), had decided to extend the comment period from the required 30 days to provide more opportunity for residents to speak up.

Local community organizers, farmers, and advocacy groups, including the Land Stewardship Project, requested the extension to ensure that Winona County residents would have adequate time to make their concerns about the megafarm heard.

If allowed to go forward, the Daley Farms expansion would more than double the number of cows on the property, causing the county’s largest feedlot to greatly increase its impacts on local communities, land, water, and air. According to the Land Stewardship Project, this would include doubling its output of liquid manure and waste water to 46 million gallons a year, threatening the vulnerable groundwater relied on by surrounding communities. That’s why it’s so important that Winona County residents have adequate time to make their voices heard.

Good public review is critical to Minnesotans’ health

Scientific review conducted by public agencies like the MPCA is deeply important to protecting our communities from pollution. But it’s not the only component – that’s where public comment comes in.

Input from residents and citizen-scientists helps to ensure that Minnesotans’ values are taken into account. Scientific analysis can determine the likely impact of an activity on local air quality, for example, but public comment tells us how neighbors anticipate it will impact their lives – and whether they consider the impact acceptable. Environmentally sound and just decisions in Minnesota are only possible when Minnesotans can show up and speak up.

For any major project – a factory farm, a pipeline, a mine, or any other disruptive undertaking – Minnesotans must have the right and the adequate opportunity to be heard.

The most basic public comment of all

The 2018 election is three days away. We believe that our democracy, our communities, and our natural resources will be best defended if all eligible Minnesotans cast their ballots. Voting is the first step in making sure our policies protect us.

If you need information on how to cast a ballot or learn about the candidates, visit the voter resources section of our website.

Make your voice heard!

Two Minnesota cases examine “necessity defense” for climate protests

Posted by

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

During this month, two important cases of civil disobedience have been brought before courts in Minnesota with a highly unusual twist. Defendants in Bagley and Duluth have been charged with disruptive action in opposition to oil pipelines, and they’ve been allowed by judges to employ a rarely-used tactic: Minnesota’s necessity defense.

This defense requires the defendant to prove that their otherwise illegal action was needed to prevent greater harm – in other words, that they had no choice but to act. Their reasoning: the threat of climate change is imminent and dangerous enough to require extraordinary acts of protest.

The valve-turners in Clearwater County

The first case was heard in Bagley. Two years ago, the defendants, known as the “valve turners” temporarily shut the valves on two oil pipelines in Minnesota to protest the climate impacts of fossil fuels. At the same time, other valve turners carried out similar, coordinated action on pipelines in other states. 

The Minnesota valve turners reported their actions to Enbridge and were charged with causing property damage to a pipeline.

The valve turners’ defense didn’t dispute the facts of the accusation. Instead, they petitioned Judge Robert Tiffany to allow them to present a defense based on the need for taking action to fight climate change. Tiffany made the unusual decision to allow the necessity defense to be used to persuade the jury, but chose not allow defense attorneys to call outside climate experts to testify.

The question was rendered a moot point on October 9, when he dismissed the charges entirely, stating that the prosecution was unable to prove that the shutoff had actually harmed the pipeline.

The dismissal surprised people on both sides, but the case had already given the valve turners a platform to make their argument: that tackling climate change requires extraordinary action – including civil disobedience.

A similar case is being tried in Duluth

This week, a court in St. Louis County has been the scene of a related trial for civil disobedience on the grounds of climate action. In January, Scot Bol, Ernesto Burbank (a member of the Navajo tribe) and Michael Niemi, accompanied by several protestors, protested at a Wells Fargo bank branch. The three men locked themselves to the entrance of the bank in opposition Wells Fargo’s bankrolling of Enbridge pipeline projects.

The defendants successfully petitioned court referee John Schulte to let them employ the necessity defense in an attempt to persuade him to find them not guilty of misdemeanor trespassing.

The trial began earlier this week, and MEP’s Great Lakes Program Director, Andrew Slade, watched arguments from the trial. According to Slade, Schulte has commended the defendants for their passion for social justice, and agreed that climate change is absolutely worthy of action.

However, the referee has not yet concluded whether Minnesota’s necessity defense should legally absolve the defendants of guilt in this situation.

No matter the outcome, these cases are part of a major shift

As the impacts and evidence of climate change have continued to mount up, it’s clear that the politics and law around climate action are changing. The fact that climate change is already endangering Americans around the country is incontrovertible among the scientific community and those of us who live through it. And it’s also certain that continued fossil fuel consumption is worsening these effects.

The real question before Minnesota is not whether or not to address climate change, but how to do so – and how soon.

Fortunately, we know the way to a better future. Electrifying our transportation, increasing energy efficiency, and expanding wind and solar power are positive, economy-building steps to reduce our carbon footprint. And they’ll help us to end our addiction to fossil fuels and hazardous oil pipelines.

Regardless of the outcome of these cases, we know that the necessity for combating climate is real. And this is the moment for Minnesota to prove that we’re up to the challenge.

Less than three weeks remaining: A participation guide to the 2018 election

Posted by

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Tuesday, October 16, marked the three-week-out mark for the 2018 midterm election, and the last day for Minnesotans to register to vote prior to Election Day, November 6. The week marked another important election milestone: the number of voters requesting early ballots nearly tripled in comparison to the same time four years ago during the last midterm election.

This significant change builds on a proud tradition of high voter turnout in Minnesota. It’s worth noting, however, that in the 2014 midterms scarcely more than half of eligible Minnesotans cast a ballot. This greatly exceeded the turnout rate of 36.4% nationwide, but it was still our state’s lowest general election turnout rate since 1986, and it left plenty of room for improvement.

As a nonprofit organization and Minnesota’s largest coalition of environmental groups, MEP does not endorse candidates or participate in election campaigning. But we take pride in our state’s legacy of high voter participation, and we strongly in maintaining and expanding that legacy. We believe that creating a consensus on how best to steward Minnesota’s land, air, and water requires input from as many Minnesotans as possible – and voting is at the core of that effort.

That’s why we created our Voter Resources page

Since August, we’ve been listing information on how to register, how to cast a ballot, and how to get informed about the candidates on our Voter Resources web page. We encourage all interested Minnesotans to use it as suits them best, and here are some of the highlights and clarifying information:

Casting a ballot

  • We’ve included links to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s instructions on how to cast a ballot, including voting early and on Election Day. It’s worth noting that every Minnesota county election office offers early voting in person, and 16 Minnesota counties (representing more than half of Minnesota’s population) have other locations that are also open for early voting.
  • Minnesota is one of 17 states with Election Day registration, so if you aren’t registered to vote, you can do so on November 6 at your local polling place – just make sure to bring proof of residence. You must have lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days prior to November 6.

Getting informed

  • We’ve begun compiling nonpartisan voter guides to where the candidates stand on the issues, such as MPR News’ analysis of several candidates’ statements on climate change.
  • We’ve included links to videos of past candidate forums and information about upcoming candidate events. The League of Women Voters – Minnesota (an MEP member organization) hosts forums for many local candidates around the state – their calendar has the details.

Engaging with leaders

Voting is the most basic civic duty of citizens in Minnesota, but we know and appreciate that many Minnesotans go above and beyond this important step. Volunteering to assist in the election process and encouraging friends and neighbors to vote creates an even greater impact.

We also encourage Minnesotans to engage directly with candidates and elected officials. Candidates will only make our state’s natural resources and public health a priority if they hear questions and concerns about them from Minnesota voters. Most campaigns have plentiful opportunities for voters to contact candidates to raise these issues. For those who would like information to share with candidates, our recent articles on issues such as Great Lakes restorationclimate changetransportationnatural resources funding, and pollution in drinking water can be a helpful resource.

Like our beloved lands and lakes, the exercise of our right to vote is one of our state’s proudest qualities. Let’s continue to build on that legacy on November 6.

Neighbor to neighbor, living with the Great Lakes

Posted by

The Lakewalk, Duluth, after a torrential storm (Andrew Slade, 2018)

By Andrew Slade, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

First to go was the line of sandbags we’d put down in case the waves crested the dunes. The waves kept cutting away. Then it was an old line of wooden snowfence and metal posts we’d put in five or ten years ago. Then the waves took a little white pine tree I’d planted, with more hope than wisdom, about four years ago. All lost to the surf. Dressed in layers of rain and sand protection, I went out mid-day and pulled back the old used lawn furniture, away from the surf. When darkness fell, the gale warning was still in effect. One last white pine tree still stood in the dunes.

At least half a mile of roaring froth was headed directly at my house. The October storm had been building for a day out on Lake Superior. The stronger and longer the wind blew, the bigger the waves grew. While we watched helplessly, the churning waves bashed into the dunes between the waves and our house. They began, foot by foot, to eat away at the dune.

Most days I feel really lucky to live on the Lake Superior beach. In the heat of summer, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Since we moved in to our 100-year-old house on the beach in Duluth, my wife and I had been cautiously working with nature to rebuild the natural sand dunes that separated Lake Superior’s powerful waves and currents from our house and yard.

But Lake Superior is more powerful than any one person or any meager line of dunes. The dune that the breezes and shifting sands had built over 20 years, the waves took it away in 20 hours.

When morning came, the wind had stopped and the lake was amazingly calm. I could see from the window that last pine tree was still standing. We ventured out our gate. I gasped when I saw that about two-thirds of “our” dune was gone. That lone pine tree, once ten feet from the edge of the dune, was now precariously on the edge of the dune itself.

The last pine standing

I walked to work that morning along the Lake Superior beach. For about four city blocks, almost every yard had been impacted by the waves. Solid wooden fences were gone. Foot-thick timber walls had been ripped apart. Strands of driftwood curved into backyards where the waves had breached over the dunes and walls. A lone migrating sandpiper had somehow survived the waves and wind and was back on the shoreline, looking for nourishment before continuing on to South America.

Neighbors began talking to neighbors. Some who lost fencing were already re-building that afternoon. Some were just clearing the debris. An older couple in a house far too big for them was nowhere to be seen, their galvanized metal fence in disarray.

This was the biggest storm and the biggest waves any ever remembered, at least since the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. After a few years of above average rainfall, Lake Superior was nearly a foot higher than it “normally” is for October.

Our beach neighborhood is a complicated mix of resources, people and politics. Most of the houses are old, even older than our centenarian. The sand on the beach came from lake currents, from the glaciers, and from the St. Louis River. The only reason there is a beach is because of that complex of forces and resources. The water levels rise and fall, mostly due to weather trends but partly also due to the International Joint Commission’s work at the Sault Locks. City founders saw fit to keep the beach itself in public ownership, but the beach is disappearing.

This whole thing makes me think about government, about people working together, about what’s the best way to fix both individual and collective problems. With the beach disappearing, should it be individual action to save our own individual homes? Or should there be a broader, neighborhood-based, community response? And if it’s a community response, what’s the best level of government?

Is it the federal government? The piers that make up Duluth’s vital ship canal, built and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, block off the natural flow of sand and waves, so the four or five blocks in our neighborhood are, at least to my mind, dependent on the Army Corps of Engineers occasionally dumping loads of dredge spoils here, what they call “beach nourishment.” We could try complaining to the International Joint Commission or their International Lake Superior Board of Control, ask them to lower Lake Superior. But that would flood Lake Erie.

The Minnesota DNR could install a massive concrete breakwall along the beach, but that would destroy the beach itself.

What if we all just protected our own homes? My family worked thoughtfully over the decades to help nature rebuild the natural dune in front of our house, putting up snow fence and planting trees and beachgrass. Other neighbors dealt with the blowing sand by hiring a Bobcat every year or two and mowing the dunes down. Not to say “I told you so,” but those Bobcat users got far more water and waves into their yard.

One neighbor had installed concrete “jersey barriers” on their beach. During the October storm, these barriers channeled the surf away from their property and onto their neighbors’ property, increasing the neighbor’s damage. That’s definitely not the best way to fix the problem.

At our place, I’m going to tie up the lone pine tree so it doesn’t fall into the surf. I’m going to talk with my insurance agent about how best to protect my family and my assets. Next spring I’ll put out a new run of snow fencing to start rebuilding our dunes. And I’ll keep talking with my neighbors. If they want snow fencing up, I’ll show them how. If they set up a meeting with the mayor, the DNR, our county commissioner, I’ll join in and share my concerns.

As a human being, I act in my own interest. But as a neighborhood, we need to act in everyone’s interest. We like to think that we can control our world. The helplessness I felt in a Lake Superior storm reminds me that I cannot.

A reason for hope: Minnesotans’ role in confronting climate change

Posted by

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week’s United Nations report on climate change – estimating that the global community has roughly twelve years to cut emissions in half in order to avoid catastrophic warming – was jarring. The twelve-year deadline may seem a short window for the low-carbon revolution. But consider what has changed in the past twelve years, since 2006:

  • 3 billion more people have become connected to the Internet.
  • Over 4 billion more people have access to a cellular phone.
  • Polio was declared eradicated from all but two countries.
  • Global wind and solar energy capacity reached the milestone of a trillion watts installed.
  • The average cost of solar energy per megawatt-hour in the United States plummeted from more than $400 to only $50.

Closer to home, 2007 was the year Minnesota passed the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act, which spurred enormous clean energy development in our state. In the past twelve years, we’ve tripled the portion of our electricity generated by renewables – these sources now produce more than one-fifth of our electricity and counting. We’ve also made notable strides in energy efficiency, a field that has outpaced Minnesota’s economy overall in job creation three times over. The upshot is that we’re capable – in Minnesota and around the world – of creating the future we need to handle climate change.

A transition for Minnesotans, by Minnesotans

The healthy changes of the last twelve years could not have happened without the support of Minnesotans who showed up and spoke up. The actions we need for the next twelve will require just as much courage and dedication. We ask all Minnesotans to continue this important work. Contact your lawmakers and make sure to ask candidates for their plans for climate action before the election next month. Find an avenue to make your voice heard on climate change in whatever way suits you.

A brighter future for Minnesota, and the world, is entirely possible. Let’s start building it together.

An unprecedented raid and a betrayal of voters’ trust

Posted by

Why MEP and our allies chose to take a stand

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and eight partnering organizations served the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) with a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s raid on the constitutionally-dedicated Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund in order to pay for infrastructure projects.

This raid is unprecedented. If left unchallenged, it would set a dangerous precedent for more raids on this and other dedicated funds in the future.

In our 20-year history, MEP has never before joined or engaged in litigation to support our mission, and we don’t take to this decision lightly. But this action by the Legislature is an especially troubling case.

It violates our state’s constitution and the will of Minnesota voters, and is fiscally irresponsible. It jeopardizes the viability of the Environmental Trust Fund, and thereby threatens the important and necessary projects it supports to improve Minnesota’s natural resources and public health.

The Environmental Trust Fund is meant as a sustainable tool for improving our environment

Since it was created by voters via constitutional amendment in 1988, the Trust Fund has provided funding for projects to tackle Minnesota’s critical environmental issues. It’s contributed to habitat restoration, research on pollutants that make people sick, and advancements in our clean energy economy. (To learn more, see the full list of ENRTF-funded projects.) The Trust Fund receives its money from the state lottery and investments on that income, and is intended in the law to be a “long-term, consistent, and stable source of funding.” It stays that way by generally paying out cash in fiscally sustainable amounts.

The statute governing the fund, passed in the same legislation as its creation and reflecting the concerns of voters, does not permit it to be used for wastewater treatment or solid waste disposal. These are important and necessary projects. But they’re essential and basic government responsibilities that are traditionally funded with regular bonding.

The Legislature broke precedent and ignored these conditions

During the 2018 session, the Legislature arbitrarily limited itself to passing a set level of general obligation bonds (regular bonds). Instead of using these inexpensive bonds to pay for all wastewater treatment and landfill upgrades, the Legislature made use of a financially irresponsible gimmick. Not only did they decide that the Environmental Trust Fund would be used to make payments for $98 million worth of these types of projects, but they would do so via appropriation bonds – bonds that carry much higher interest rate than general obligation bonds.

The estimated cost increase from using these appropriation bonds instead: $35 million.

Essentially, the Legislature decided that they could avoid making the political choice to modestly raise the level of general obligation bonding to pay for these projects. Instead, they would create a false choice, pitting essential waste and water infrastructure against 20 years of new and promising environmental projects desired by the voters – who have consistently supported the Trust Fund.

And once the laws and values that govern the Trust Fund are successfully ignored, it sets an easily-used precedent for more raids that could leave the voter-created fund drained and non-viable.

A lack of respect for the public will

The Legislative process for passing this raid was seemingly designed to avoid public scrutiny. The raid was added to the omnibus bonding bill late in the day on the last day of the session, at a hearing where no public comment was taken.

Governor Mark Dayton signed the bonding bill, despite his disapproval of the raid, because it was bundled with other important projects. But he urged the next Legislature to fix the raid and protect the Trust fund.

Last month, MEP Executive Director Steve Morse testified to the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which oversees the fund’s disbursement, to ask them not to proceed with these projects. Their response was to suggest that if MEP and its allies believed the raid to be unconstitutional, we should simply sue the state.

We seek a long-term solution to protect the Trust Fund and upgrade our infrastructure

We’re allied on this lawsuit with these fellow members of Minnesota’s conservation community:

  • Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
  • Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance
  • Friends of the Mississippi River
  • Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
  • Clean Water Action
  • Fresh Energy
  • Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas
  • And Minnesota Native Plant Society

…because we know that Minnesotans value the long-term health of all our resources. We value our water, our air, our wildlife, and the health of our communities. We value responsible funding for our infrastructure. We value our Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

See further litigation coverage from: MPR NewsStar TribuneDuluth News TribuneMinnPostBluestem Prairie