Blue Line extension blockage highlights transportation inequities in Minnesota

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, municipal elected officials from several northwestern Twin Cities suburbs – Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, and Robbinsdale – called on state and Metropolitan Council leaders to push harder for the construction of the Bottineau Blue Line project, which would extend Metro Transit’s light rail corridor to connect to these communities. The project has been in limbo for several years, largely due to stonewalling by the BNSF Railway company that does not wish to share its right-of-way with commuter rail. The elected officials ask the state and Met Council to push BNSF to negotiate, as they have done for other projects.

In their letter, the officials noted that these five cities are relatively diverse, and argued that the delays to the Bottineau project exemplify the systemic racism that has pervaded transit planning decisions in Minnesota (and the United States broadly) for years. The writers point out that  “diverse communities along this line have a higher number of people living in poverty and experiencing transportation barriers than other areas that will be served by light rail.” Indeed, the Southwest Green Line extension, a similar light rail project that will stretch from Minneapolis to more affluent and more white communities in Hennepin County, has been approved and is currently under construction.

The Blue Line extension’s position in planning purgatory highlights a broader issue of environmental injustice: transportation investments tend to benefit affluent, white, and fossil-fueled interests at the expense of communities of color and a healthy environment. This is part of the reason that low-income and diverse communities suffer higher levels of air pollution than the rest of Minnesota, and why transportation is our largest, most stubborn source of greenhouse gas emissions.

This structural inequity has shown itself time and again throughout the Twin Cities’ history. The Twin Cities streetcar system, which for a time was considered one of the best in the United States, was dismantled by corporate raiders in the early 1950s, and light rail did not return until a half-century later. This coincided with policy changes that encouraged an ideal of individuals commuting in their own cars, as well as white flight and redlining that contributed to inequality.

One of the most egregious examples – and darkest chapters in Twin Cities history – was the literal destruction in the 1950s and 60s of the majority-Black Rondo Neighborhood in St. Paul to make way for I-94. Rondo community groups’ voices were largely ignored by state highway planners, and one in eight Black residents of the city lost their homes to the freeway. Four years ago, MNDOT and the City of St. Paul formally apologized for the resulting devastation, but the lingering harms – economic, social, and environmental – are still being felt.

Inequities and a bias towards fossil fuels are baked into the way that Minnesota plans and funds public transit even today. This year’s bonding bill – which the Legislature failed to pass after a regular session and two special sessions – contained funds to invest in currently-planned transit infrastructure, though it had no money for planning new routes and projects. But the bonding bill shouldn’t be the go-to solution for transit anyway. The Legislature has consistently refused or failed to pass a comprehensive transportation bill that supports transit riders or invests in the future, leaving gaps for bonding to fill. Metro Transit raised its fares in 2017 for the first time in 9 years, largely because the legislature did not fund it adequately to stave off a budget deficit. Ultimately, it was transit riders and the Twin Cities economy that suffered.

More widespread examples exist. The elimination of trees in low-income neighborhoods to create wider, faster roads. Zoning restrictions that prevent even modest increases in housing density. Speed limits that endanger pedestrians. Time and again, decisions that disadvantage people who can’t or prefer not to drive a single-occupant motor vehicle have been made in Minnesota, and coincide with detrimental effects on our climate, our air, and our ecosystems.

There are solutions available to these injustices and to our climate crisis. While electric vehicles are part of the overall solution, they won’t do the job by themselves – it’s critical to give people alternatives to driving. Investing more funds, more consistently in public transit is a core tool, and one that policymakers should not shy from during the COVID-19 crisis given what we’ve learned about the relative safety of public transportation under the right precautions. 

State, city, and regional authorities need to build a foundation of trust with historically disadvantaged communities and listen receptively to their needs. Then they need to do the hard, necessary work of building equity in transportation.

Third time’s the charm? Legislature to reconvene Monday

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Governor Tim Walz has called the Legislature to return this Monday for another summer special session, after the previous special session from June 12-19 failed to bear fruit on critical issues. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted normal operations of the Legislature significantly, but strong bipartisan cooperation earlier this year has given way to gridlock over the past few months.

The needs of Minnesotans haven’t changed since business was last conducted at the Capitol. Criminal justice reform, a robust bonding bill, and the need to keep environmental programs and jobs afloat are all awaiting legislative solutions that fell through a few weeks ago.

Minnesotans deserve to feel safe in our neighborhoods, but aggressive, unchecked, militant policing has contributed to the inequitable dynamics that disproportionately harm people of color in our state. Many positive steps have been proposed in the Legislature toward reforming our justice system. The House of Representatives moved forward with a credible package of proposals to check police violence, but the Senate’s bills were not nearly as strong – and don’t support programs that would replace or supplement traditional policing models – and no agreement was reached. Making progress on these issues is a matter of justice, and of the state’s basic responsibility to protect residents’ lives.

The Legislature continues to negotiate a bonding bill, the outcome of which is critically important to Minnesota’s economy. Many of this year’s bonding proposals would be powerful boosts to safe and clean water, public transportation, and building a cleaner economy in Minnesota. But the longer that funding is delayed, the less likely it is that many of these projects will be completed this construction season, which means that many polluted waters will worsen as Minnesotans continue to struggle with unsafe water.

Lawmakers should also take up a bill to keep spending funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the lottery-funded resource that supports vital scientific studies and natural resources improvements in the state. If a bill isn’t passed, numerous jobs may be in jeopardy, as well as important research that should not be delayed at this time of drastic environmental change.

Will there be action?

While Governor Walz has called this special session, either house of the Legislature can adjourn it, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has signaled that he will only support a short special session. Hopefully, this special session will bear more fruit than the previous one, but fissures on criminal justice reform and the state’s COVID-19 may continue to make consensus difficult.

This gridlock is an important reminder that state lawmakers are ultimately hired, in even-numbered years, by the people of Minnesota to responsibly govern. This year’s elections include the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, in addition to the national-level elections for Congress and the Presidency. The partisan primary, in which contested races for party support will be decided, will conclude voting a month from now, on August 11th. The general election is less than four months away, on November 3.

We strongly encourage all eligible Minnesotans (and our friends in other states) to exercise their right to vote in every election. With COVID-19 presenting a health hazard to in-person voting, we recommend voting by mail as the safest way to do so. Minnesota has a proud tradition as one of the highest-turnout states in the nation, and we won’t make progress on the environmental and equity issues that define our lives if we don’t continue to build on that tradition.

With Senate stonewalling, special session ends with no agreement

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Early this morning, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned its weeklong special session after reaching no agreements on racial justice, police accountability, funding for environmental projects, COVID-19 responses, or any other outstanding major issue from the end of the regular session in May.

Though Governor Walz and leadership in the DFL-controlled House wished to continue negotiating on these bills, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that the Legislature needed a break before returning to the table, and his caucus voted to adjourn the special session. It’s not certain when the Legislature will return, but if Governor Walz extends his emergency powers in response to COVID-19 once again, another special session is inevitable later this summer.

It’s frustrating that the Legislature is pausing its work for Minnesotans during this critical time. Minnesota communities are in desperate need of economic relief, of equitable and effective public safety measures, and of solutions for our increasingly damaged environment.

The Senate resistance to listening to the Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) caucus’ policy proposals stymied much needed progress toward making our state safer and more equitable for Minnesotans of color. The failure to pass a bonding bill or an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund bill further delays vital environmental restoration and construction projects and may put others in jeopardy, costing jobs at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is at a record high of nearly 10%.

The longer this work is delayed, the more Minnesotans’ health and economic well-being will be impacted. And this is no time for half-measures: not on criminal justice reform, not on community rebuilding, not on jobs, not on water, not on transit, not on climate action.

We can’t control when the Legislature will return, or what they will agree and disagree on when they do. But MEP and our allies will continue lobbying lawmakers to get the job done, and we need Minnesotans to keep up the pressure. Our Action Alert page has several email forms that you can use to speak out on environmental issues; we also encourage you to use the form at the bottom of the page to find your lawmakers’ contact information and send them a personal message. Let them know that anything less than real progress forward is a surrender to a status quo that is actively taking Minnesota backward.

How the Legislature should make the most of the next week

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Yesterday, on June 12, the Minnesota Legislature reconvened for a Special Session, as they were legally required to do owing to laws concerning Governor Walz’s emergency declaration. The Republican-controlled Senate has indicated that they only plan to stay in session until next Friday, leaving less than a week remaining to work out legislation on police accountability, the continuing health and economic crisis, and bonding, as well as unfinished business.

This seems a very limited span of time to address the broad array of issues facing Minnesotans, but MEP and our partners are focusing our effort with the time we have. As we wrote last week, we’re especially concerned with legislation to create a racially just future for Minnesotans, and with the bonding bill, which is an opportunity to help support thriving, resilient, healthy communities, and do our part for climate action.

With a struggling economy that is squeezing state and local budgets, this year’s bonding bill is especially critical, and as Bradley Peterson of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities argues, the bill should be big. Borrowing funds inexpensively now will stave off economic hurt and environmental damage in the mid- and long-term.

What the bonding bill should do

This bill should first and foremost meet the most urgent needs of struggling communities. Amid the recent unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, a number of buildings were damaged in underserved communities. The bonding bill can provide funds to these communities to help residents reimagine and shape the rebuilding of their spaces in an equitable way. In this case, the state can help effect just changes without imposing top-down decisions on communities that have historically borne the brunt of racial injustice.

Also key to environmental justice is investing in public transit. Minnesotans deserve to have accessible, affordable, clean options for getting to jobs, school, and other places. And while concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have caused many people to avoid trains and buses, studies in other countries have found encouraging signs that taking transit may be no more dangerous than any other public activity, and safer than spending time in an office or restaurant. Minnesota should not be scaling back our investment in clean transportation – MEP is advocating for $75 million in bonding for bus rapid transit in the Metro Area and $10 million for transit infrastructure in greater Minnesota.

We’ve written previously about how bonding can help provide safe water infrastructure to thousands of Minnesotans; that’s why MEP and a number of aligned organizations publicly launched the Fix the Pipes alliance last month. There is broad, bipartisan support for using bonding to upgrade Minnesota’s water systems, though we encourage Minnesotans to contact their legislators on this issue. We’re asking for at least $300 million for water infrastructure in Minnesota, and requesting that powered facilities run on renewable energy to save communities money and cut emissions.

Finally, with Minnesota farms facing economic and environmental crises, we’re asking for $55 million for programs that help farmers and land managers conserve and protect land to help mitigate climate change. This is an opportunity to help Minnesota’s land use sector go from a carbon emitter to a carbon absorber, while strengthening our vital soil and water resources.

All of these bonding projects are not only investments in Minnesota’s “stuff,” they are also jobs programs. These dollars mean jobs for pipefitters, engineers, bus drivers, electricians, farmers, retailers, and more. They can help light our way out of the COVID-19 recession and emerge as a stronger, healthier, more equitable state on the other side. Over the next six days, we will keep working to make sure lawmakers see the necessity for these bold solutions.

Racial justice, bonding on the table in special session

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature is almost certain to reconvene for a special session starting by this Friday, June 12. 

Several major items of concern are likely to be considered that are of great importance to Minnesota’s environmental community. The Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus has put forward a series of proposals in response to the murder of George Floyd. The 2020 bonding bill is a top priority in both the House and the Senate, though the two parties are not unified on how large it should be or which projects it should fund. The Legislature may also continue negotiating its environmental omnibus bill and legislation to fund programs from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund.

What the POCI caucus wants to accomplish

The POCI caucus released its broad 2020 legislative priorities in February; these included policies on education, health and human services, criminal justice, housing, economic development, elections, and environmental justice. 

The newly released proposals focus specifically on police accountability and criminal justice reform. They would modify laws and procedures governing the investigation and prosecution of officer-involved deaths and wrongful actions, including automatically making the Attorney General primarily responsible for these prosecutions. They would make reforms to make policing data more transparent and police officers more accountable to the communities they serve. They would raise standards of conduct and training, and lift the state ban on local-residence requirements for officers. And it would invest in programs that support mental health and trauma relief.

These policies have broad support from House leadership, but their path in the Senate is uncertain at this time.

Why it’s so important for environmentalists

MEP’s vision pledges to “put people and planet first,” and that includes ending systemic violence against Minnesotans of color. We recognize that there can be no environmental justice as long as we continue to tolerate a justice system that is fundamentally unjust and devalues black lives through police brutality, segregation, and pollution. As of this moment, MEP’s member representatives have not formally voted to approve these policies, but many members have pledged to support them. We will be paying close attention to this legislation and considering how best to use our resources in support of racial justice.

How the bonding bill will look

Governor Walz and Minnesota’s legislative leaders largely agree that passing a bonding bill is a top priority, as it will help to rejuvenate our COVID-ravaged economy and fix aging infrastructure. There is disagreement on the scope of the bill, and what projects it will fund, however. It is likely that legislators will attempt to address rebuilding in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the wake of the fires that destroyed businesses in the last two weeks.

Why it’s so important for environmentalists

MEP and a number of our allies are members of the Fix the Pipes alliance, and we are asking the Legislature to pass a large bonding bill and dedicate at least $300 million in funds to fixing water infrastructure around Minnesota, benefiting human health and creating jobs. In addition, we hope to see projects that reduce our carbon footprint, lay the groundwork for cleaner transportation, and promote environmental justice in our communities. This is exactly the right time for bold investments in Minnesota’s future.

What you can do

Contact your lawmakers to ask them to prioritize racial justice, environmental improvements, and economic revitalization when they return for the special session. Let them know that this is no time for small ideas or delaying progress.

On George Floyd and justice: Where do we go from here?

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George Floyd was murdered. It’s an outrage and an injustice. But we need to do more than just make this declaration. He was murdered by the staff of a Minnesota city. By police that were hired, trained and retained under the laws of our land, empowered with our collective tax dollars. And this isn’t the first such event. Yet similar past incidents have not resulted in our laws, institutions and operations being reformed to prevent such reoccurrences. This needs to change.

We are complicit in George Floyd’s death. Collectively, we have allowed this failure of our society to continue; this failure to afford basic rights, equal protections and quality of life for all Minnesotan’s. It was less than a year ago that the Minnesota Environmental Partnership adopted a new vision statement to reflect our understanding that the health of our natural systems are inextricably linked to the well-being of the people who depend on them. We called for putting people and planet first to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for every Minnesotan. But we simply cannot attain this goal when whole communities of our state face structural bias and discrimination. We can and must do better. We look forward to not only standing with friends and allies to call out such injustices, but to move forward together to correct them.

The events of this last week have been gut wrenching for us all, as an organization and for our staff personally. Below are some personal reflections from MEP staff members as we all work to process what this means for us, our work, our communities and our state.

From Andrew Slade, Great Lakes Program Director:

Maybe in this time of darkness and destruction, I shouldn’t be thinking about nature and privilege. But I am. I live by Lake Superior, and the 70% of my body that is water came mostly out of that great lake. So please bear with me. To the family of George Floyd and my hometown St. Paul, all love.

When the lake is stormy, when the strong winds blow, physics and fate combine to throw wave after wave of lake power against the shores, sometimes wrecking walls, sometimes destroying homes, sometimes flooding the land. After the storm passes, society will rally to fix the damage it can. We will struggle a little more to understand what we cannot fix. And new treasures of wave-tossed beach glass glimmer on the beach. And the coastal wetlands, flooded during the storm, soak up the nutrients that high water brought. The mightiest cliffs, the most mysterious sea caves and even summer’s gorgeous beaches, are all carved by these storms.

It sucks to live in a world of storms. George Floyd should never have died, protestors should not have to riot. I can only hope that, if things do settle down, we can find some little bit of beauty, like that worn shard of beach glass, in the new world left behind by the storm. Just a little joy before the next storm comes.

From Stephan Witherspoon, Northeast Minnesota Organizer:

In addition to my position with MEP, I currently serve as president of the Duluth NAACP chapter. While I reflect on the horrors of this past week, I also want to look forward to how we can work together to drive the change we need to see. Here are five priorities that I developed earlier this year.

In these times, allies to people of color, this is what you can do to ignite that change: 

Get Involved: Whether it is NAACP or other like organizations, join and use your set of skills to forward the movement.

Invest in social change: If you really want to see a more equitable society, put your money where your mouth is. Invest in organizations and people who promote it.

Call out hate speech: If you hear family, friends, and or people use hate speech call it out and let them know that it is highly unacceptable anytime, anywhere.

Show up: Go to cultural events other than yours. Participate and get your family involved. 

Vote: In this election year, show up to the polls, take your ballot, and utilize your right to vote!!

The effects of our synergy today will create the blueprint for tomorrow!! Which side of history will you be on?

From Matt Doll, Operations Coordinator:

As a small drop in the ocean of grief and anguish in our community in the Twin Cities, I’ve had a lot of feelings over the past few days since the murder of George Floyd. Sadness. Confusion. Anger. Frustration. My heart goes out to George’s loved ones, and to all those who are venting their outrage over police violence against black folks that has gone unchecked for so long.

What I keep landing on is the same, dull ache of a feeling that has stuck hard with me since the murder of Philando Castile: I feel ashamed. I’m a resident of the Twin Cities who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. These two areas have some of the best quality-of-life indicators of any in the United States – if you’re white, as I am. For my black neighbors, they’re some of the most unequal places in the country. I have watched for years as white Minnesotans have sung the praises of a beautiful state that seems to do everything right except offer justice to people who don’t look like me, often blind to the reality that racism is equally – if not more – insidious here as it is anywhere else in America. It has taken the shape of redlining, of pollution, of the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, and of white Minnesotans using the police as our blunt instrument. My heart breaks due to George Floyd’s murder, and I hate to see us lie to ourselves by thinking of it as an aberration from our history.

Shame can be a useful tool, if it leads to action, rather than lazy, empty gestures of guilt. I’ve seen many calls for justice from Minnesota politicians in the last few days, but less apparent is what they’re committed to doing after the arrests of the murderers, after the trial, and after the verdict. I’m hoping – I’m demanding – that they listen to the protesters, and start acting on their demands: demilitarizing black neighborhoods, raising standards to hold police accountable, ending the violence against peaceful protestors, making Minnesota more equitable. I will continue to love the state of Minnesota, but I will not let go of my sense of shame for the place I call home until we confront the disease of racism at our core.

From Sara Wolff, Advocacy Director

With all of the heartache of these dark days, I find myself going to the recent words and thoughts of Brittany Packet Cunningham: there can be no justice for George Floyd. He should be alive. Everything else is accountability. 

If we want justice going forward, we have to be part of making it ourselves. 


Our state’s environment and conservation community is broad, strong and active, but we have a long way to go to reflect the diversity of people and priorities necessary to create the prosperous and sustainable future for all that we envision. MEP looks forward to working with friends and allies to move forward together.

Legislative session ends, but lawmakers’ work isn’t over

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

May 18 marked the final day of the Minnesota’s 2020 Legislative Session, but the third Monday of the month marked more of a pause than a conclusion to the Legislature’s work for the year – a comma, not a period. The Legislature plans to pick up its work where it left off in a special session starting June 12, and is continuing negotiations on what final bills will look like. This session will be legally required to convene if, as expected, Governor Walz extends the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency.

Ultimately, the House and Senate ran out of time to come together on most policy provisions relating to the environment before the end-of-session deadline, as COVID-19 issues understandably took most of their attention. They did pass the nation’s first-ever ban on using the harmful industrial chemical TCE. And they passed a Renewable Development Account spending bill with funding for four projects:

  • Extending Xcel’s Solar Rewards program that pays incentives for qualifying residential and commercial solar systems into 2024
  • Providing community transition grants to support economic development in communities with retiring coal plants 
  • Upgrading the Granite Falls Hydropower dam; and
  • Funding the Prairie Island Community Net Zero Project

But so far the legislature has missed taking meaningful action to jump start our economic recovery and transition to a green economy through a robust and strategic bonding bill. Nor has it passed the recommended $64 million worth of scientific environmental research, education and habitat projects funded out of the constitutionally-dedicated Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. 

We asked Minnesotans to speak up on key bills near the end of the session: on fixing our decaying water infrastructure and investing in public transitpassing a bill to keep Environment and Natural Resources projects alive, fixing the problematic Senate Environment Bill, and stopping the “Fossil Fuels Forever” bill masquerading as “Clean Energy First.” 

These contacts have made a difference. And all of these issues are still relevant. The next few weeks present a great opportunity to call and email lawmakers before they reconvene.

Environmental problems aren’t on hold during COVID-19 – our economy is still running on fossil fuels, our water infrastructure is still aging and making people sick, and the EPA is even letting polluters off the hook (see Star Tribune article below.) But responsibly using bonding and our lottery-funded Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to help invest in a cleaner Minnesota will make our state more resilient, more prosperous, and more sustainable. That’s what we’re working to get legislators to understand.

For a full breakdown of where legislation has temporarily landed, see our MEP End of Session Update, and check out other policy updates from the MEP organizations listed below:

Fresh Energy2020 Legislative Session Wraps Up: What happened?

Friends of the Mississippi River: 2020 legislative session ends with most bills “staying at home”

Land Stewardship Project: 2020 Legislative Session: What Happened & What’s Next

Move Minnesota: With Blocked Bonding Bill, Strengthened Support for Transit, Bicycling, and Walking are Key as Minnesota Legislature Moves Toward Special Session

End of Session Update 2020

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As my MEP colleague Matt Doll said, the end of this legislative session brought more of a comma than a period.  A few important things in the environment and conservation arena were accomplished, but much is left to do in anticipated special sessions coming this summer. 

Here’s where we stand at this point: 

·      Historic ban on TCE is signed by the Governor

·      Legislature finds unity in providing some supports for farmers

·      No agreement on bonding bill size or projects by Governor, Senate and House

·      Chances for ENRTF funding package are looking up

·      Environment bills from House and Senate have significant differences, negotiations will be key

·      Senate Leadership and House Republicans go to the mat to stop Clean Cars Rulemaking 

·      Fossil Fuels Forever bill a.k.a. “Clean Energy First” stalls in Senate Finance

·      Renewable Development Account bill will fund four projects for now

·      Energy Conservation Optimization Act passes House, but not Senate yet 

Big Win: A Ban on TCE is Signed by the Governor:

One significant win worth celebrating was the passage of the nation’s first ban on the toxic chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE. Communities affected by high levels of TCE exposure from Water Gremlin over the past 17 years strongly advocated for this ban, along with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Minnesota. Thank you for showing us that good progress can be made quickly when we work together for the right goals.

Nearly Unanimous Legislation Supporting Farmers: 

The multiple crises of insufficient access to health care, climate change, disrupted markets and the Covid-19 pandemic are compounding for farm families and communities. Several pieces of legislation to help lead by MEP member Land Stewardship Project passed with nearly unanimous support, including: 

·      Extending deadlines for farmer mediation to prevent foreclosure for 150 days or December 1 (whichever is later) – giving farmers time to plant and harvest, understand new market conditions and new government assistance programs, and respond to these new circumstances. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. 

·      Securing funds to help farmers restructure loans, and expand the capacity of smaller meat and poultry processing facilities and other food processors

Bonding: No Agreement Between House, Senate and Governor Yet 

General Obligation bonding is our state government’s method for paying for improvements to Minnesota infrastructure – from higher education buildings to farm land put aside for conservation purposes.  “Bonding” years typically happen during the second year of the biennium (the first year is often reserved for passing the state’s budget). 

Three different collections of projects, or bonding packages, have been put forward by the Governor the House, and the Senate.  Passing a bonding bill usually needs bi-partisan cooperation to meet the required threshold of 60% affirmative votes.  In the final days session, neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass their own bonding bill, much less agree with the other players. 

Thanks to all of you who have weighed in with legislators supporting a large bonding bill with significant investments in:

–       Transit

–       Land use that fights climate change

–       Water infrastructure for communities across the state. 

MEP will continue to advocate for these priorities and the significant jobs they will create as we head into an anticipated special session.  Join us by visiting this action alert, here.

ENRTF and Environment Bills in position for negotiations: 

The Minnesota Senate made a couple of plays earlier in the session that put both an environment bill and an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) bill at risk of even being considered by the Senate. But important progress was made.

1)   ENRTF Bill Introduced by Senate, Finally

Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen announced in April that the Senate did not intend to pass the $64 million ENRTF funding package for scientific research, habitat projects and more that comes from the ENRTF (created by proceeds that are constitutionally dedicated from the Minnesota Lottery).  Sen. Ingebrigtsen was holding out to include $1.5 million for a wastewater treatment facility project that is outside the parameters of the Fund’s intended purposes.

Your pressure asking Senators to pass the ENRTF funding made a difference! On Saturday, the package of ENRTF projects — without the $1.5 million for the wastewater facility — was added to the Senate’s environment bill, SF 4499 and passed by the Senate.  

The House also passed a combination ENRTF funding and environment policy bill on Saturday, HF 4554. Though the House bill is much different from the Senate’s, the bills are now likely being negotiated between legislative leaders and the Walz administration.  There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate bills take us. 

2)   Environment Bill brought to Senate floor, Finally: 

Word on the street had been that Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy chair Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen was so opposed to the Clean Cars Rulemaking underway by the MPCA right now that he would keep an environment bill from even being brought to the Senate floor unless he were assured that legislation to stop this rulemaking would be enacted (see more on this below). 

But the Senate did bring up its environment bill, SF 4499, on Saturday. A really big shout out to Senator Dibble and Senator Marty for doing a great job highlighting the harmful provisions in the Senate bill. You can see a detailed analysis of the provisions MEP supports and opposes in this letter here.  One important provision was left out of this summary: 

Section 71 of the Senate bill narrows the definition of what a “pipeline” is for the purpose of excluding pipelines associated with mining (that carry mineral slurry, for instance) from regulation. 

There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate environment bills take us. We will be sending more messaging on this soon.

Clean Cars Rulemaking: 

Opponents to the Clean Cars Rulemaking — begun by the PCA in the fall of 2019 to enable Minnesotans access to more electric vehicle model options on car showroom floors – are working to take away the PCA’s authority to regulate air emissions.  

An amendment to revoke PCA authority to engage in this rulemaking was offered by Representative Fabian. Fortunately the amendment failed on a vote, 55 – 59. 

However, this same language remains in the Senate’s version of the environment bill, SF 4499.

Renewable Development Account Funding Package

The legislature passed a Renewable Development Account spending bill with funding for four projects:

  • Extending Xcel’s Solar Rewards program that pays incentives for qualifying residential and commercial solar systems into 2024
  • Providing community transition grants to support economic development in communities with retiring coal plants
  • Upgrading the Granite Falls Hydropower dam; and
  • Funding the Prairie Island Community Net Zero Project

*****

We’ll work to keep you posted as we move through the special session(s) and summer. 

Our best to you,

Sara Wolff
Advocacy Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota Senate stonewalling may leave Environmental Trust Fund money on the table

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, we received troubling news about Minnesota’s work to restore and protect our natural spaces. State Representative Rick Hansen, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division, posted a letter from his Senate counterpart, Bill Ingebrigtsen, in which Senator Ingebrigtsen said that the Senate does not intend to pass a bill spending funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) this year. 

Senator Ingebrigtsen said that because the state would face a budget deficit next year, and because the LCCMR (the panel that recommends which projects to fund) did not come to a final agreement on the full package this year, ENRTF money should not be spent in 2020.

Essentially, this letter indicates that the Senate intends to leave money on the table during a recession, despite no need to do so, and leaving environmental programs out in the cold without reason. There is no pressing fiscal reason for refusing to pass a bill, and it will actively hurt workers who rely on the projects the ENRTF supports.

How the ENRTF helps the state

The ENRTF was created by voters via a constitutional amendment in 1988, and is funded by proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery and investment income. It doesn’t draw on taxpayer funds, and has been sustainable throughout its 30-year history. It provides money to environmental and conservation projects that improve natural resources and habitat, support research into sustainability, and protect Minnesota’s outdoor recreation economy. In doing so, it supports numerous jobs throughout the state and helps us fight climate change, invasive species, and pollution.

The ENRTF is not meant to plug budget holes or fund basic infrastructure projects. A bill passed in 2018 did just that in defiance of the intent of the constitutional amendment, and MEP and our allies sued the state to prevent it. This litigation effectively stopped the sale of these offending bonds and in 2019, the Legislature fixed this misuse of fundin. But it’s clear that controversy over the appropriate use of the ENRTF has not ended.

The consequences of inaction

Leaving Minnesotans’ $60 million in ENRTF money to be spent next year would not prevent job losses or help the state’s financial position, but it would create disruptions and uncertainty. The Trust Fund isn’t in any danger of being depleted, except by Legislative misuse. If these environmental projects are not funded this year, Minnesotans employed by it will soon be out of work, leaving them especially vulnerable in a struggling economy. 

Meanwhile, issues like zebra mussels, water pollution, and pollinator decline don’t stop worsening just because Minnesota isn’t addressing them. Environmental protection is not a marginal concern – it’s critical to keeping our state livable. Minnesota voters understood this when we approved the Trust Fund three times.

The Legislature should come to an agreement

In the midst of COVID-19, compounding ongoing environmental challenges, and a radically altered economy, it would be a failure of responsibility for the Legislature to not continue supporting ENRTF projects this year. We know that the two legislative bodies can come to an agreement that preserves the critical programs which both of them support.  We hope they find a way to pass funding for the many projects that have garnered broad overwhelming support from the LCCMR.