Huge victory for Minnesotans’ health: Walz signs lead service line bill

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Yesterday, May 16, MEP staff witnessed history as Governor Tim Walz signed HF 24, the lead service line replacement bill, putting cleaner drinking water within reach for many thousands of Minnesotans.

This newly-signed law, authored by Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Jen McEwen (DFL-Duluth), passed on a unanimous vote in the House and the vote of all but two Senators in the Senate. Using a combination of state and federal dollars this bill puts Minnesota on the path to replace all the state’s lead drinking water service lines, which currently deliver water to more than 100,000 homes, within ten years. With the combined funding sources, the state will have the capacity to launch this program with over $100 million per year for the next four years.

Examples of lead service line types

Drinking water pipes made of lead are a stubborn source of lead contamination, especially in older homes. Lead accumulates in the human body over time, and is particularly harmful to children’s developing brains and bodies. It can contribute to the dysfunction of vital organs and harm brain development, creating cascading impacts on community health and public safety.

There are ways for families who are aware that their water service supply pipe is made of lead to mitigate their risk, such as running a faucet for a few minutes each morning or filtering the water they drink and cook with. But the only long-term, surefire solution is to replace both the privately and publicly owned portions of the service line. This can cost $10,000 or more for a household, putting it out of reach for many low-income families. And that’s only if they know they have a lead pipe – many Minnesotans are unaware of the hidden danger.

HF 24 tackles the problem comprehensively, providing funds for communities to identify and map their lead service lines, notify residents, then replace the pipes at no cost to the homeowner. That means fewer health problems for families and safer communities overall – as Governor Walz told attendees at the bill signing, every dollar spent on lead service line replacement produces 3 to 4 dollars in community benefits.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter

A local version of this plan is already underway in Saint Paul, which has a large stock of older homes with lead lines. As Mayor Melvin Carter said at the bill signing, “In Saint Paul, we have delicious, clean water, but at the very end, it can be contaminated by lead as it enters your home.” In Saint Paul, lead line information is already mapped and publicly available and fully publicly-funded replacements are ongoing. The city’s experience helped inform the work done to craft an effective statewide bill.

MEP has worked to get this legislation enacted for several years. Our drinking water testing program in Duluth helped shine a spotlight on the problem of lead exposure. Two years ago we started work with allied organizations and legislators to craft the legislation to solve the problem over a ten year timeframe. During this session, we advocated for the bill at each committee stop with letters and testimony. And it’s with pride that we were there when it become law.

Rep. Sydney Jordan, HF 24’s author

The fact that this bill passed with such overwhelming support in both of the closely divided houses of the Legislature is a testament to the nature of the problem. Rep. Jordan put it this way: “Every single member of the House and almost every single member of the Senate agrees that lead is not safe.”

It’s also a testament to the broad coalition that fought for this legislation: environmental groups like MEP, and member organizations Clean Water Action and Friends of the Mississippi River, municipal groups like the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the League of Minnesota Cities, and labor unions. They know that lead line replacement isn’t just a win for health, but a win for jobs – an estimated 2,400 jobs annually over the next ten years.

In a session full of environmental wins, this bipartisan, massively popular one should stand as a bright example of smart policy, sound science, and community organizing coming together for a huge step forward. We echo the words of Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, who said, “Our ultimate goal, to make Minnesota the best place to raise a family, can’t be reached until we prevent harms to mothers and children from outdated infrastructure.”

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Legislature tackles transportation challenge

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

A couple months ago, in the midst of some of the worst winter road conditions Minnesota has seen in years, our MEP Insider focused on one of our major environmental challenges: how to fix our transportation system to generate less carbon, put more destinations in reach for those without personal vehicles, and make our roads safer for all who use them.

Transportation is Minnesota’s number one source of climate pollution and one of our largest causes of accidental deaths. Business as usual – where we build endless highway lanes and neglect other ways to get around – isn’t working for Minnesotans. State agencies recognize the need for a change, and building a cleaner, more equitable system is an integral part of the Climate Action Framework released by the Walz Administration. 

Today, we’re pleased to report that the Minnesota Legislature is on the verge of the biggest push in recent history towards cleaner, safer transportation. 

On Thursday, April 27, the Minnesota Senate passed its Transportation Omnibus Bill, following the House’s passage of its counterpart bill last week. The bills have key differences, necessitating a conference committee of Representatives and Senators to iron them out. But both versions are a huge step forward for how we get around in Minnesota. This effort will both reduce the carbon emissions of Minnesota’s transportation network and create a more equitable system for Minnesotans to get around. It will especially help residents of communities disproportionately affected by air pollution from highways.

The list of good ideas in the omnibus is much longer than what can be found here, but MEP has especially focused on the following provisions in our advocacy:

Keeping Twin Cities transit rolling

From an environmental and public safety standpoint, our biggest challenge with transportation is reducing vehicle miles traveled, or VMTs. Science and economics tells us that vehicle electrification will play a role in reducing emissions, and we’re glad to see that both versions of the bill include more than $13 million for electric vehicle infrastructure. But electrification won’t be enough if we don’t simultaneously give people options to reduce the miles that they drive.

According to MnDOT, Minnesota’s VMTs have increased almost twice as fast as population growth over the last three decades. The largest share of those VMTs happen in the Twin Cities Metro, particularly in the suburbs. While rural drivers tend to drive farther, there are a lot fewer of them. If we want to make a dent in VMTs, our biggest target should be Metro-area VMTs.

Thankfully, the Transportation Omnibus bills both put resources toward our most effective solution: making Twin Cities-area transit bigger, faster, more convenient, and more reliable. While they put some budget surplus dollars toward transit, the bills’ most notable contribution is introducing a seven county metro sales tax dedicated to transit operations, creating an ongoing source of funding. As Senate Transportation Chair Scott Dibble has said, there is no surplus for transportation: our transit system needs sustainable annual funding to pay drivers and fuel costs.

The tricky part of this omnibus is that the House and Senate bills didn’t set the sales tax at the same rate: the House tax is 0.75 percent, while the Senate rate is only 0.5%. MEP has written to the Legislature supporting the higher number to ensure that MetroTransit can expand bus and train service closer to the scale needed to address our needs. But the fact that the Legislature is poised to pass a sales tax for transit at all is a testament to tremendous organizing by environmental and economic justice organizations.

With this Metro sales tax, many Twin Cities residents will have a much easier time commuting without a car, especially as Bus Rapid Transit lines expand around the Metro. It will especially help low-income residents who lack access to a car or face the uncertainty of fluctuating gas prices.

Passenger rail

Today, the only practical, affordable way to get between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports – the state’s two largest urban areas – is I-35, whether by personal car or bus. As many of us can attest, I-35 can be slow going, especially in inclement weather or construction season, and it generates significant carbon emissions. But it didn’t used to be the only way.

Part of the reason Duluth grew rapidly in the late 1800s was the efforts of the railroad tycoon Jay Cooke to build the Northern Pacific Railway to Duluth. For nearly a century, Duluth was part of a robust passenger rail network, and it was easy to travel by train around Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the rest of the Midwest. But Minnesota defunded the train to Duluth nearly 40 years ago.

Today, a faster version of the Twin Cities-Duluth train is moving ahead. The Northern Lights Express project plans for a train that would make four round trips a day at 90 miles per hour between the two areas. Travel time will be comparable to car travel in optimal conditions and would beat it in bad weather and during rush hour. Rail is one of the most energy efficient ways to move large groups of people quickly, so the Northern Lights could help take a big chunk out of carbon emissions on the I-35 corridor.

Until this year, the Northern Lights was in limbo due to a lack of state support, but both versions of the Transportation Omnibus include funding for the project, which will be primarily supported with federal dollars.

The bill also features money to support expanded Amtrak service for the Empire Builder train between the Twin Cities and Chicago. More Amtrak service can help reduce both car trips and replace flying for many travelers.

Active Transportation

Full disclosure: I frequently commute by bicycle and usually enjoy it, apart from the time that I was lightly hit by a car at a busy intersection. I’m also a dad, and I’m a little worried that the streets near my home will be less than safe for my daughter once she’s old enough to walk and ride a bike of her own.

The Transportation budget looks out for folks like me, both in the Metro and around the state, by investing in active transportation. This funding supports sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, traffic signals, and all sorts of other local projects that make it easier to walk, bike, and roll to destinations. Safety is often cited as one of the biggest barriers that prevent people from getting around without a car, and it’s no wonder why – just look at a suburban shopping mall and ask yourself how you would safely walk or bike to it.

The funding will come in multiple buckets: $50 million for the Active Transportation program and over $20 million the Safe Routes to School program. The Active Transportation Program provides grants to communities, counties, and nonprofits to build projects like bike trails, crosswalks, crossing signals, and medians that make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians to get around. The Safe Routes to School program focuses specifically on these infrastructure investments near schools. Grants from both programs are available across the state.

Climate Action

Finally, the transportation budget will require agencies to start examining the impacts of their decisions on the climate. It requires MnDOT to assess the climate impact of highway projects (which are indeed big contributors to carbon emissions) and mitigate their climate impact. And the Metropolitan Council will have a climate action component in its long term comprehensive planning. Both of those policies will be particularly helpful for communities suffering from concentrated air pollution and the urban heat island effect, since they tend to be disproportionately affected by highway and road expansions.

The bill also sets up a working group among several state agencies to broadly examine the climate challenge of transportation fuel in the state and study the possibility of addressing it with a clean transportation standard. Like  the 100% carbon-free electricity standard set earlier this year, a clean transportation standard could create an offramp and benchmarks for eliminating net emissions from Minnesota’s vehicles by 2050. This study doesn’t mandate the standard itself, but would help gather input for it from scientists, companies, tribal communities, environmental advocates, and other interested Minnesotans.

And a bonus for pollinators

One additional victory in this omnibus is a small but positive change for pollinators and other wildlife species, the Highways for Habitat program. This program would help use sound ecological practices – like reducing mowing and pesticide use – to provide Minnesota species with safe habitat at the sides of our highways.

MEP will continue to weigh in on this bill as its conference committee begins their deliberations, and we hope to see the Senate adopt the House level for the sales tax for transit. But these bills’ passage is already a monumental victory for clean transportation in Minnesota. It sets up a foundation for a bright future where Minnesotans will be able to breathe easier, walk more safely, and get around more easily without a car.

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New environment budget is worthy of Earth Week

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

It may be mostly coincidental that the Minnesota Legislature passed many of its major budget bills relating to the environment on Earth Week. But this year, the workings of the Legislative calendar have aligned to give Minnesotans great news for Earth Day: the large “omnibus” bills moving at the Capitol are among the best we’ve seen in decades for our environment.

Those bills include the House Agriculture bill, the House Transportation bill, and the House and Senate versions of the Environment and Climate bill. MEP has weighed in with letters on all these bills, and each one is worthy of its own Insider column (and you can contact your lawmakers in support of the House Transportation bill using our action tool below). But in this Insider, we’d like to focus on the Environment and Climate bill, which contains many great ideas that MEP and allies have been working on for a long time and are finally poised to become law.

Protective policies

Among MEP’s top priorities this Legislative session is achieving new protections against PFAS, the class of “forever chemicals” notoriously invented in Minnesota, many of which contribute to cancers, pregnancy issues, and numerous other conditions. Environmental authorities like the EPA now widely recognize that PFAS is harmful in incredibly small amounts, and that it’s reaching far too many people through water, fish, and the consumer products we use.

MEP was proud to be part of a broad alliance of organizations and people advocating for PFAS restrictions this session, ranging from firefighters exposed to PFAS in firefighting foam to young people suffering from cancer due to PFAS in their school’s drinking water. We especially honor the testimony of Amara Strande, a 20-year-old from Woodbury who spent her last months fighting for PFAS bills at the Capitol before passing away from a rare PFAS-related cancer earlier this month.

Lined up on the opposite side of these issues was the chemical industry, which sent out of state lobbyists to muddy the waters on PFAS and claim that state regulations would go too far or would disrupt businesses. Apart from a few adjustments to the bills, the industry didn’t get their way. The House and Senate versions of this bill both include provisions to ban PFAS in firefighting foam in the near term and all non-essential uses of PFAS in the long term, and to require disclosure for products containing intentionally added PFAS to state agencies so that Minnesotans can be better informed. 

Another key MEP priority this session is the “cumulative impacts” policy. As we’ve written previously, this proposal would help protect environmental justice areas – communities with high concentrations of people of color or low income households – where residents’ health is overburdened by existing pollution. In these areas, issues like asthma and cardiovascular disease tend to be higher because polluting facilities have been pushed into Black and Brown communities, usually with no regard to local concerns.

The cumulative impacts policy helps provide legal recognition to what science tells us: pollution from many sources over time adds up to big problems. It would require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to take that pollution into account through careful health research when considering permits for major projects, such as industrial facilities. It also requires greater public engagement to make sure community voices are no longer excluded when permits move forward.

MEP has worked with environmental justice groups and our members to shine a spotlight on this existing pollution and demonstrate the need for this policy, which was carried forward as the Frontline Communities Protection act before inclusion in the omnibus bill. While the version of this policy in the existing bills isn’t as strong or as wide-reaching as we’d hoped, it will be a big step forward for many communities and a lifeline from Minnesotans suffering from nearby air pollution.

In addition to these environmental provisions, the climate side of the bill is also strong. The House version would align Minnesota’s greenhouse gas reductions goal with science-based targets from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, setting the goal of a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 in state law. It also updates commercial building codes to achieve greater energy savings and sets up a framework to model greenhouse gas impacts from projects under environmental review.

As strong as this bill is today, however, it’s missing an idea that MEP has actively fought for and hoped to see included: the restoration of the MPCA Community Board, formerly the Citizens’ Board. As we wrote in February, the MPCA Board was a powerful tool of inclusion and democracy in Minnesota’s environmental decisions, helping to ensure that Minnesotans had a voice when it came to permitting big projects.

The Board members, representing ordinary Minnesotans, had the power to hear from the public change agency decisions on permits if they determined it was in the community interest to do so. After the Board ordered an environmental impact study on a megadairy project, however, the Legislature abolished the Board at the end of a special session in 2015, bowing to industry interests who saw it as a threat to their business.

The return of the Board would provide a restored avenue for Minnesotans to demand more information on polluting projects like factory farms, sulfide mines, and pipelines, so restoring it became a priority for MEP and many of our members. But sadly, despite the restoration’s earlier inclusion in the House Environment Omnibus bill, it was removed last week due to objections from several Representatives in the DFL majority, and has not been included in the Senate version.

Investments in our future

In addition to policies that will make Minnesota cleaner and healthier, the Environment and Climate bill’s budget items will deliver big investments in climate action. It helps unleash a wide array of clean energy projects, including insulation for buildings, solar panels on schools and public buildings, and electrical grid upgrades. It even creates a Climate Innovation Finance Authority, a kind of “green bank” that would help leverage federal funds and invest in clean energy projects across the state. 

In addition to direct spending, the bill helps reward Minnesotans for making their own climate action investments by providing rebates for electric vehicles, new electric panels, and heat pumps, much like the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). To that end, it also unlocks additional IRA and Infrastructure law funds that match state dollars through the Minnesota State Competitiveness Fund.

Finally, the bill supports natural carbon solutions, like safeguarding our peatlands, pine forests, and soil health. There are many other worthy investments throughout the bill in our natural lands and waters, and Minnesotans will be reaping the benefits soon enough.

The House and Senate, in consultation with Governor Walz, still have to iron out the differences between these two budget bills. But for the first time in years, we are optimistic that this environment bill will be an enormous victory for Minnesotans and our natural environment.

But one final thought: while the omnibus bill represents perhaps the largest climate and environment investments by the state in history, they’re still only a tiny fraction of the overall state budget. While we recognize this legislation as a victory, Minnesota has plenty of room to grow its commitment to our lands, waters, climate and people. After all, we can’t do much of anything else successfully without a healthy environment to call home.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Legislature may set new climate standard for Minnesota

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota is an odd-weather state. Despite a reputation that’s been long-established by movies and TV, we’re not just a winter wonderland: we get wet springs, stormy summers, balmy Octobers, and everything in between. But perhaps we can all agree that it’s not normal for the Fahrenheit to hit the high 80s in mid-April.

Minnesota is a state where the weather is getting odder due to the advance of climate change, which is warming us faster than most parts of the U.S. It’s given many of us weather whiplash this month, but also contributed to a historically wet winter that ravaged our roads. If the world doesn’t reverse course on greenhouse gas emissions, we can expect even less predictability and harsh consequences on our communities, our farmland, and our natural spaces.

We can’t determine how other states and countries reduce their emissions, but Minnesota can lead the way on developing the technology, practices, and policies that get it done. We have the resources to do it: a powerhouse scientific community, a diverse and thriving economy, ample natural resources, and vast community knowledge. But in order to put them to work on climate action, we need the law to make it crystal clear that getting to zero emissions at the necessary speed is the goal.

Right now, our state is giving a “Minnesota goodbye” to fossil fuels, slowly reducing our reliance on coal and petroleum in some areas but letting it linger or expand in others, resulting in a too-slow decline in emissions. Electricity, for example, has gotten much cleaner in the past decade, while homes and industries have gotten more polluting. State agencies have set up helpful targets for emissions cuts, like those the Minnesota Climate Action Framework, but they don’t yet have a clear roadmap or the force of law, and could be reversed by a future governor.

That’s why MEP strongly supports the Next Generation Climate Act, a bill that is advancing through the Legislature this session and has a strong – but far from certain – chance of passing. 

Currently, the once-groundbreaking Next Generation Energy Act has required Minnesota to cut emissions by 80% – relative to 2005 levels – by 2050. The new bill would align Minnesota’s greenhouse emissions targets with those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050, the near-unanimous consensus level position supported by scientists worldwide. It would put the force of law behind efforts to reduce our most stubborn sources of carbon, like transportation and agriculture.

The Next Generation Energy Act, sponsored by House Climate Committee Chair Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka) is currently included in the massive House Environment, Natural Resources, Climate, and Energy Finance and Policy bill that will be heard on the House floor on Monday, April 17th. This package that includes many energy-related provisions will be further altered and negotiated in the remaining few weeks of the session. The Next Generation Energy Act is not, however, currently included in the Senate’s Omnibus bill. As the two major bills are passed and negotiated in conference committee, we can’t predict with certainty that the net-zero target will pass.

The most surefire way to pass this bill into law will be for the Senate to add it into their Omnibus bill, and that’s why MEP is focusing our efforts on asking Senators to support it. Both houses already made history earlier this session by passing Minnesota’s 100% carbon-free electricity standard. By going a step further and targeting all of our emissions – not just the low-hanging fruit – Minnesota can focus our full efforts on solving this crisis and saving our seasons for generations to come.

How you can help: Contact your Legislators and ask them to support the Next Generation Climate Act’s inclusion in the final Omnibus budget bills.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Minnesota ready to lead on PFAS

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesotans have a habit of changing history with our innovations. From open-heart surgery to supercomputers, from retractable seat belts to in-ear hearing aids, we’ve made a positive mark on the world. But it would be unfair to take all the credit for these big steps forward without recognizing that the invention of PFAS chemicals, one of the greatest environmental catastrophes of our lifetime, happened right here, too. It perhaps makes it fitting that Minnesota is now poised to lead the way to try to fix this mess.

Developed at 3M in the 1970s, the PFAS class of chemicals are useful for making products waterproof and easy to clean, among other uses. They don’t break down easily, and there’s no natural process that makes it happen – hence the use of the term “forever chemicals” to describe them.

The fact that PFAS doesn’t break down in the environment would be bad enough. But many of these chemicals contribute to a myriad of health conditions – cancer, vaccine resistance, high cholesterol – makes their rapid proliferation a worldwide tragedy. And those are just the effects we know of today.

No one on this planet chose to put PFAS in their bodies, but almost of us have it anyway. These chemicals have made their way into our bloodstream through water, fish, and consumer products. Some communities, like parts of the eastern Twin Cities Metro – home to an old 3M dumping site – have it worse than others, facing appalling rates of illnesses like childhood cancer.

Some of the worst offenders among PFAS chemicals – specifically PFOA and PFOS – have been largely phased out in most countries, leading to dramatic reductions in their prevalence in human bodies. But others continue to be used in numerous consumer products and in concentrated sources like firefighting foam. And we’re only just beginning to learn about the horrifying scope of PFAS usage in pesticides (as if one of the world’s worst environmental offenders couldn’t get worse!)

Taken together, the story of PFAS so far is a gloomy one. Humanity will be dealing with the health ramifications of these toxic substances for generations to come.

But in Minnesota, the birthplace of PFAS, we might be starting to turn things around.

The Minnesota response

The good news is that we have simple, effective tools for reducing the amount of PFAS in our bodies: halt their use, and make sure that our drinking water is protected. Those solutions are the basis for the package of PFAS legislation currently advancing at the Capitol, which MEP has identified as one of our key priorities to pass this session. Most are included in one or both of the Environment Omnibus Bills introduced in the House and Senate.

The solutions proposed in these bills have included:

  • Banning PFAS from firefighting foam except where required by federal law
  • Banning PFAS from childrens’ products
  • Requiring labeling of products that contain PFAS
  • Allowing Minnesotans exposed to toxic chemicals like PFAS to sue companies for their medical monitoring costs
  • Banning all non-essential uses of PFAS, and banning intentionally added PFAS in products by the early 2030s.
  • Requiring the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to set strict drinking water standards for PFAS levels. MEP and our allies sent a letter in favor of the water standards bill to Legislators last month.
  • Prohibiting the use of agricultural chemicals in Minnesota that have PFAS intentionally added into them. 

The Walz Administration has also proposed spending $46 million to monitor, reduce, and clean up these chemicals throughout the state, and has expressed support for the policy solutions moving in the Legislature. At a joint press conference with Representative Jeff Brand, author of the non-essential use ban, MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler said, “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Legislature on proposals that could accelerate essential pollution prevention measures and bring additional resources to work to avoid, manage, and clean up PFAS.”

These bills certainly haven’t gone unopposed. Lobbyists representing a wide array of chemical companies flew to Minnesota earlier in the session to argue that companies will be unfairly burdened by these proposals. They made arguments about the cost of compliance, the fact that not all PFAS chemicals have yet been identified as causing harm, and the challenges of having different chemical laws in different states. That last argument should be taken with an especially large grain of salt – the chemical industries aren’t exactly thrilled by the idea of nationwide regulation, either.

The chemical lobby stood in contrast, especially in comparison to students and parents from Tartan High School in Oakdale – ground zero for PFAS exposure. These community members shared their own stories with Legislators of how their loved ones’ lives have been devastated or cut short by PFAS-related cancers.

Legislators have modified some of their provisions, but they aren’t stepping backward on the PFAS package, nor should they. If signed into law, it would represent among the strongest actions ever taken in the United States to combat this health threat.

It’s encouraging to see the signs around the world that the use of PFAS substances is waning. 3M, which faces major lawsuits for its role in this crisis, has committed to phasing out their PFAS manufacturing entirely by 2025. The European Chemicals Agency has proposed phasing out PFAS across the entire European Union. Maine has passed a law that bans all intentional inclusion of PFAS in products by 2030.

Here in Minnesota, we’re working to start fixing the PFAS problem where it began. We owe it to ourselves, our kids, and the world to get it right.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

MEP goes to Washington for the Great Lakes

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From left: Steve Morse, Kris Eilers, LeAnn Littlewolf, Sen. Tina Smith, Breanna Ellison, Andrew Slade, Ben Penner

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota is a place where waters begin. With a few exceptions, just about all of our rivers start here and flow somewhere else. Snowmelt and rainfall in the Northwoods flow north to Hudson Bay, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east into Lake Superior, our nation’s greatest freshwater resource. So when it comes time to make sure lawmakers in our nation’s capital prioritize that precious resource, it’s only natural that the Minnesota Environmental Partnership shares in the work.

MEP Executive Director Steve Morse and Great Lakes Program Director Andrew Slade had the opportunity to do that work earlier this month when they attended Great Lakes Days in Washington, D.C. Joined by community advocates, they spoke with members of Congress and their staff about ways that the federal government can restore and reinvest in our Great Lakes and the communities who call it home.

Great Lakes Days (March 7-9) is a program of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition that brings voices from around the Great Lakes basin to share their priorities with policymakers. Like MEP on a regional scale, the Coalition (which counts Steve Morse as a member of its Board) is composed of dozens of organizations and works on a variety of issues ranging from invasive species to public health.

For our part, MEP uses Great Lakes Days as an opportunity to spotlight Minnesota voices – particularly from Duluth and the North Shore – which are not often heard in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. This year, we brought with us Kris Eilers and Breanna Ellison of the St. Louis River Alliance, LeeAnn LittleWolf of the American Indian Community Housing Organization, and Ben Penner, a farmer who grows the regenerative crop Kernza. Enjoying D.C.’s somewhat balmier weather, the team met with Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Congresswoman Angie Craig, and congressional staff for five of Minnesota’s other U.S. Representatives.

The Issues

Breanna Ellison meets with Rachel Hunter, staffer for Rep. Angie Craig (DFL, CD 2)

One of the HOW-Great Lakes Coalition’s greatest priorities – and greatest successes – is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a popular federal program that invests in improving and protecting this vital watershed. Going strong since 2009, the GLRI funds projects ranging from invasive species management to toxic waste cleanup to habitat restoration.

While other environmental efforts face partisan rancor in Washington, the GLRI generally enjoys broad bipartisan support, especially from members of Congress from around the lakeshores. We don’t take that support for granted, though – after all, the Trump Administration proposed cutting the GLRI by 90% in 2019. When Morse and Slade went to Washington, they made sure to highlight the GLRI’s successes in Lake Superior communities like Duluth, making the case for continued investment of $425 million in funding for the program in the next budget. We’re happy to report that Minnesota’s members of Congress showed plenty of enthusiasm for this bipartisan effort.

MEP also brought up another key issue we’ve worked on, especially Duluth: the quest to replace Minnesotans’ aging, poisonous lead drinking water service lines. Morse and Slade thanked lawmakers for passing the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which has made significant funds available for replacing these pipes. They also reported on the rapidly advancing efforts at the Minnesota Legislature to replace every lead service line in the state within the next ten years, funded in part by those federal dollars.

Naturally, MEP spoke with members and staff about one of our longtime areas of expertise: improving the way we farm and the crops we grow to help protect our water. The current, dominant system of growing corn and soybeans has caused great difficulties around the Great Lakes basin.

Fertilizer pollution, along with climate change, contributes to the massive algal blooms that emerge every year in Lake Erie. Closer to home, thousands of Minnesota homes, especially in the southern part of the state, have to deal with well water contaminated by nitrates from fertilizer. These problems are in separate watersheds, but they’re closely connected – as are the solutions.

That’s why MEP has a long term commitment to support the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative in both the Legislature and Congress. Forever Green is developing continuous living cover crops, like the aforementioned Kernza, that can revolutionize the way we use farmland. Some crops can replace corn, soybeans, and other annual crops, while others can be integrated into them, growing in the offseason. In either case, these CLC crops help keep fertilizer runoff from flowing downstream, but that’s not all: they also build healthier soil, provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, and help prepare for climate change. Critically, they’re also becoming commercially viable, meaning that farmers will benefit economically by adding these crops to their fields.

If we can further support this research and new supply chains (with some federal support), these crops can be a viable solution for many of the problems that plague, not just our MN lakes and rivers, but also our Great Lakes. And they have countless potential uses, including food, low-carbon biofuels, and even bioplastics.

Ben Penner (left) meets with John Altendorf, staffer for Rep. Brad Finstad (R, CD 1)

Our team, with the help of Ben Penner, made sure to impress the need for these Minnesota-grown solutions on our members of Congress, and at least one was wildly enthusiastic. Congresswoman Craig told us, “I love Kernza!” 

Just as important as our Congressional meetings, though, were the connections our team built with other Great Lakes community organizations. At one of the Coalition training sessions, MEP shared our video, Mercury in the St. Louis River, which we produced with Midstory and community partners to shine light on one of the biggest environmental justice issues on our end of the Great Lakes.

Today, the Great Lakes face an uncertain future, with climate change, agricultural pollution, PFAS, and invasive species all threatening this watery region we call home. But just as great as these challenges are the grassroots organizations from around the lakes working to protect them for generations to come.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Cumulative impacts bill advances at the Capitol

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

When you look from the 30,000 feet level, Minnesota is a very healthy place to live. At last count, we have roughly the third-highest life expectancy among the 50 states. Most of us breathe freely and easily – our air quality is in the top ten, and we have one of the nation’s lowest rates of asthma. For most of us, our drinking water is safe, our homes are appropriately distant from pollution, and we can expect to live a reasonably healthy life.

But all of those excellent rankings come with a big asterisk: an obscenely high variation in those outcomes between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color, and between the well-off and those in poverty. As with income, homeownership, educational attainment, and many other statistics, Minnesota has some of the worst racial and environmental health gaps in the nation. We’re living in the same state, but with vastly different experiences.

Take asthma: while the state as a whole has a low rate of the disease, Black and Indigenous Minnesotans are more likely to be diagnosed with it than white Minnesotans. For Black Minnesotans, rates of death from asthma were about 1.7 times higher than among whites from 2016-2020. Minnesota children who live in counties with high rates of childhood poverty are about twice as likely to be hospitalized for an asthma attack as those in average or more affluent counties.

Lead exposure is another classic example, one that MEP has written and worked on extensively. Whether from sources like paint, water pipes, or industrial facilities like Water Gremlin or the Federal Ammunition Plant, far too many people are still exposed to lead, and it doesn’t hit equally. Kids in areas of high childhood poverty are more than twice as likely to suffer from elevated blood lead levels than the state average, largely due to the environment they live in.

The numbers are similar for heart disease, cancer, and all manner of other conditions. These disparities constitute a tragedy, but it would be a mistake to characterize them as an accident. Rather, it’s a legacy of environmental racism and decisions that intentionally placed pollution in Black and Brown communities or caused Black and Brown communities to end up in polluted places. In most cases, companies and government agencies went ahead with these decisions without seeking input from those who would be most impacted – the people who lived there – treating their neighborhoods and communities as “sacrifice zones” for pollution.

Take a look at a demographic map of the Twin Cities, for example, and you’ll see that the most heavily-used stretches of interstate highways snake through areas of low-income and populations of color. These areas by and large have a high proportion of asphalt, low levels of tree cover, and various sources of industrial and transportation pollution. 

Redlining and other forms of segregation may now be prohibited by law, but their effects are still impacting Minnesotans today. Minnesota will never be a state where everyone can thrive until we both recognize the harm these decisions have caused and take the critical steps we need to fix them.

Protecting frontline communities

Environmental justice advocates and community leaders see stopping the problem from getting worse as a good place to start. New industrial or other projects shouldn’t be allowed to further threaten people’s health in communities that have already borne the brunt of pollution. That’s the logic behind cumulative impacts legislation, which seeks to take into consideration the impact of pollution that has occurred over time and from multiple sources when environmental agencies decide whether to permit those projects. 

In Minnesota, that bill takes the form of the Frontline Communities Protection Act (FCPA), introduced by North Minneapolis legislators Rep. Fue Lee and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion. The bill would create strong new protections for environmental justice communities – areas of relatively low income, high populations of color, or tribal land.

It would give the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency a mandate to conduct greater public engagement and require health impacts research and analysis of new projects in these communities. The MPCA would have the authority – and indeed, the requirement – to reject a project or place special conditions on its permit if it is deemed to threaten residents’ health. 

MEP and our partners in both our membership and in environmental justice communities support the bill as a first step to righting the wrongs of our past and present – to stop the bleeding of pollution into frontline communities. We’re optimistic that it will pass: on Tuesday, the Senate version of the FCPA was approved by the Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee and it now goes to the State and Local Government and Veterans Committee. The companion bill will get its first hearing in the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee this coming Tuesday, March 14. 

If it passes, the cumulative impacts bill will mark a historic moment and step forward: Minnesota not only recognizes the harms our systems have caused to frontline communities, but commits to halting and reversing them. The fact that we’ve gotten this far is a testament to the organizers from these communities who have worked tirelessly for their voices to be heard, and for environmentally just decisions to be made. Thanks to their efforts, we can look forward to a Minnesota where everyone – not just the privileged – can live in a healthy, breathable community.

How you can help: Stand in solidarity with our most overburdened communities and show decisionmakers that the FCPA is an essential bill to pass this session. You can show your support in two ways – by contacting your legislators, and/or by attending the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee hearing this Tuesday, March 14 at 3:00 PM in Room 10 at the State Office Building in St. Paul. Supporters will be wearing lavender and purple to show support for this vital legislation. Thank you for taking action to advance environmental justice in Minnesota!

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Legislature poised to let Minnesotans renew environmental trust fund

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

It may be favoritism to claim that Minnesota is one of the nations’ greatest “outdoor states,” but with respect to Colorado, Washington, and Maine, we’re definitely a contender for the top spot. From the Boundary Waters wilderness to the highly-ranked park systems in the Twin Cities, our public lands are a vital part of our culture. Just about all of us get outside in one way or another, whether it’s hiking, biking, camping, hunting, or fishing. And that means that just about all of us have benefited from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), a Minnesota idea that’s paid off many times over for our Great Outdoors.

The ENRTF was created in 1988 after a whopping 81% of Minnesotans voted for a constitutional amendment establishing the fund along with its source of income, the Minnesota Lottery. The idea behind its creation was to have a stable, long-term source of funding to invest in the air, waters, lands, and wildlife that define our state.

Since then, the ENRTF has put more than $700 million of Lottery and investment income into hundreds of environmental projects across the state. These dollars go through state agencies, local municipalities, universities, and organizations, supporting a wide variety of jobs in research, restoration, and recreation. It funds reforestation in the Northwoods and fish protection in the Driftless. It supports air pollution studies in the Twin Cities to solar panels on our western farms. The list goes on and on.

Minnesotans don’t need to play the lottery to benefit from this constitutional amendment, and it shows. In 1998, voters were asked to approve continued lottery funding for the ENRTF. In a year when Minnesotans split three ways on their choice for Governor (giving a 37% plurality to Jesse Ventura), they approved the ENRTF amendment in yet another landslide.

That amendment came with an expiration date, however. The Trust Fund is only guaranteed its share (currently 40%) of the Lottery funds by the state constitution until 2025. That means that a future Legislature could change where the lottery money goes, potentially siphoning it away to other projects and leaving our great outdoors with less than its due.

That’s why MEP and our allies hope that this year, the Legislature will put the ENRTF on the ballot once again, giving Minnesotans the chance to renew and enhance one of our best ideas.

Keeping the trust

Whenever we discuss the Trust Fund, it’s worth remembering the intent behind it: to be a special, additional source of funding for our natural resources in addition to normal government operations. Minnesotans put it in our constitution because our Great Outdoors is a priority to us. It goes above and beyond geography and political fault lines.

One story illustrates what can happen when that idea is challenged. At the tail end of the 2018 session, the Legislature passed a budget bill that would have taken around $164 million from the Trust Fund to pay off bonds for wastewater infrastructure. 

MEP isn’t opposed to water infrastructure bonding in general – we successfully lobbied for more than $300 billion of it in 2020. But that’s what ordinary, general obligation bonds are for. The ENRTF wasn’t built to fulfill government’s basic duties. These bonds were both more expensive than the bonds the state usually issues and funded from the wrong place. If they’d gone forward, those bonds would have drained the ENRTF, edged out numerous projects for our outdoor spaces, and put the long-term benefit of the Trust Fund in jeopardy.

The environmental community couldn’t let this raid stand. For the first time in our history, MEP participated in a multi-organization lawsuit against the state to halt the sale of these bonds, arguing that the raid betrayed the public trust. Fortunately, our efforts paid off, and the Legislature fixed their misguided action. The ENRTF was safe, and a harmful precedent was reversed.

Looking forward

Despite that brief conflict, the ENRTF remains largely uncontroversial, both a potent source of funding for our outdoors and a monument to bipartisan cooperation. But today, Minnesotans need to reauthorize it. In the process, we hope to make it stronger.

Senator Foung Hawj and Representative Athena Hollins have introduced a bill, SF 2404/HF 1900, that would put the constitutional amendment to voters once again on the 2024 general election ballot. This time, however, it would come with more funding – the share of lottery proceeds going to the ENRTF would rise from 40% to 50%, in addition to lottery prizes that aren’t claimed within a year that are currently deposited in the state’s general fund

The bill would also explicitly prevent the ENRTF from being used for paying for infrastructure bonds or for wastewater systems. Minnesota has plenty of financial resources to draw on for those kinds of needs without digging into money Minnesotans have set aside for our Great Outdoors.

MEP and our allies think the time is ripe for this bill to pass. This Legislature has shown willingness to pass pro-outdoors legislation, and the ENRTF is about as popular as they come. We’ll keep working at the Capitol to get this renewal on the ballot, and we look forward to getting out the vote for our land, air, water, and wildlife in 2024.

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Community oversight of MPCA should return this year

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Over the years, Minnesota has been home to some great people-powered ideas on how to protect a healthy environment for all. Voters created the lottery-funded Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment. In 2007, we passed the nation-leading Next Generation Energy Act, and this year the 100% carbon free electricity standard.

One of our best ideas was the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board, which was created at the same time as the agency itself in 1967. Established in a time of great public engagement in environmental issues (the first Earth Day would take place three years later), the Citizens’ Board was set up to include representation from ordinary Minnesotans in environmental decisions, such as approving permits for factory farms or overseeing projects under environmental review. It included Minnesotans from many walks of life and geographical areas to ensure different skills and values were represented.

The Board had the power to make final permitting decisions based on the work of the MPCA’s professional staff and Commissioner, who served as the Board’s chair. 

A blow to public oversight

In 2014, the Citizens’ Board ordered an environmental impact study on the massive Riverview dairy project, a proposed farm planned to hold 9,000 cattle in the western part of the state. This action went beyond the recommendations of the MPCA Commissioner and agency staff. The Board didn’t come to that decision lightly – many Minnesotans in the area expressed concerns about the dairy’s impacts.

The Board determined that the public deserved more information, though the study would likely cost Riverview time and money. In fact, the dairy company pulled out of the project rather than complete this review of how their project would affect their neighbors and the environment.

This independent decision making seemed to be too much for some businesses – and lawmakers sympathetic to their complaints. During the next legislative session, the Republican-controlled House put language to repeal the Citizens’ Board into a budget bill they sent to Governor Mark Dayton.

Minnesota Environmental Partnership and numerous allies opposed eliminating the Citizens’ Board and called on Governor Dayton to veto the bill if this provision was not removed. It wasn’t and he vetoed it. But after extensive negotiations in a special session, industry interests held strong on the repeal and Governor Dayton ultimately signed the budget bill to keep state government functioning, while vehemently objecting to the included language that caused the Board to be eliminated on July 1, 2015.

Since then, companies proposing controversial and high-profile projects have likely breathed a little easier knowing that the MPCA’s limited regulatory mandate isn’t subject to direct public oversight. 

That’s not to say that MPCA’s scientists don’t do quality, important work – their efforts are critical to protecting our public health and natural resources and ensuring that Minnesotans are informed. But the Citizens’ Board served as a pressure valve, allowing for the environmental and social impacts of a project to be more broadly examined.

The fact that the Citizens’ Board would not always fully agree with the MPCA Commissioner and staff, didn’t reflect badly on the agency, rather, it meant that Minnesotans had a public forum for taking a final, comprehensive look at controversial projects after scientific and legal questions were reviewed. 

It’s for these reasons that MEP has strongly supported restoring the original public oversight to the MPCA. Right now, we believe that goal is within reach.

A legislative fix to a legislative decision

For the past few weeks, MEP has been working with partners like the Land Stewardship Project to get a bill to reinstate the Board drafted and introduced. We’re pleased to report that this legislation is now being considered at the Capitol: Senator Foung Hawj (DFL-Saint Paul) has introduced SF 1937 and Representative Kristi Pursell (DFL-Northfield) has introduced the House companion bill HF 2076. Senator Hawj is chair of the Senate Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee and Rep. Pursell is Vice Chair of the House Agriculture Committee.

During our work to craft this bill, our coalition of environment, good government, and environmental justice groups has also considered ways to make the new version of the Board more representative of all Minnesotans and the issues we face. The simplest change we’ve recommended is naming the new body the MPCA Community Board, reflecting the fact that many residents of our state are non-citizens but are still directly impacted by the actions of the agency.

The bill includes requirements that the eight-member Community Board – appointed by the Governor – must reflect the diversity of the state in terms of race, gender, and geography. Specifically, it must include at least one enrolled member of a Tribal Nation; at least three members who live in environmental justice communities, at least one member who operates a small farm; and at least one member must be a member of a labor union.) The bill maintains the MPCA Commissioner as chair of the Board. 

Finally, as was previously in law, the bill includes requirements that the MPCA Commissioner notify the Board of activities that may be worth its examination, whether because of their broad environmental impacts or major public interest. And the agency must inform the public of Minnesotans’ rights to request for the Board to more closely examine a project.

The way forward

Like many good environmental ideas, we anticipate that the MPCA Community Board will face controversy in the Legislature. Some businesses will be none too interested in bringing the public back into major permitting decisions. They’ll claim that Minnesota’s environmental laws are already strong enough to protect our resources and public health – though our increasingly polluted lakes and rivers and increasingly warm climate might beg to differ.

We don’t think it should be controversial to include both sound science and the public voice when our state makes big environmental decisions. If a project is good for the state and won’t harm our land, air, and waters, we expect it will be readily approved by the Community Board in an open, public process. But when Minnesotans have credible, serious concerns, they will also  have the means to weigh in to protect our greater public good. As a result, the agency may find the will to use more of its discretionary power to protect our Great Outdoors, even when not expressly told to do so by law.  

If our government is truly by, for, and of the people, ordinary people must have a seat at the table. We deserve a central role in governing the protection and restoration of our state’s natural resources.

How you can help: Use this action tool from the Land Stewardship Project to contact your legislators in support of the bill.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Legislature tackling lead pipes issue this session

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

If you live in an older home in Minnesota, it’s not a bad idea to find out if the service line that brings drinking water into your house is made of lead. There are more than 100,000 such service lines in Minnesota, serving about one in every twenty-five homes in the state.

Having a lead service line isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a hassle and a hazard. I have one in my own home in St. Paul (where you can conveniently look up the material of your service line).  Our municipal water system also uses additives to water to help prevent pipe corrosion and form a protective film that contains the lead. I make a point to run my sink for a few minutes each morning and filter my drinking water.

Filters cost money, as does running the sink, but health problems due to lead are far more expensive: lead exposure can contribute to a wide variety of issues like infertility, pain, and dementia. Children are especially vulnerable as even low levels of lead exposure can harm a child’s mental development. Lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children’s developing nerves and brains.There are some treatments for lead poisoning, but they’re not surefire – an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

Sadly, it’s all too common for Minnesotans to be unaware the water they drink may be at risk from these aging pipes. To help shine a spotlight on this problem, MEP worked with 52 households in Duluth to get their water tested for lead, and to get them filters if needed. We found that two-thirds had detectable levels of lead, which set off alarm bells for us – there is no safe level of lead, after all. Ten homes had lead levels above the new EPA action level, an especially dangerous level. 

Meanwhile, many homes with lead service lines haven’t been recently tested, so we don’t know how corroded their pipes may be. That begs the disturbing question: how many lives have been permanently harmed by this invisible health threat?

How we got here

For a long time, lead pipes were all too common in housing construction- after all, lead’s easy to bend into shape and is reasonably sturdy. We know now, of course, that lead is poisonous, and that eventually, lead pipes tend to degrade and release lead into the water they carry.

Still, as with lead paint and lead gasoline (among the worst human-caused health threats in history), it took a frustratingly long time to phase these pipes out, with lead pipes still being allowed in U.S. building codes until the 1980s. And while these bans have gone a long way toward protecting people from lead, the 100,000 lead service lines in Minnesota, along with countless more across the nation, are still there.

These service lines can’t be fixed or retrofitted, only removed and replaced. Because service lines often consist of both a publicly- and privately-owned segment, that replacement can be both complicated and expensive. For an individual family, it means thousands of dollars, too much for many budgets. 

These service lines are often concentrated in low-income areas and communities of color, where resources to replace the pipes are in short supply. This cost barrier prevents countless families from protecting their health and reducing their lead exposure, which in turn leads to higher health costs and ripple effects on communities. In the long run, leaving these pipes alone costs more than replacing them.

How we move forward

In the past few years, there’s been an increased awareness of this problem and heightened energy behind fixing it at multiple levels of government. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 sent $15 billion for communities to replace these service lines. This includes approximately $200 million for Minnesota over the next 5 years. Roughly half of that amount comes in as grants or forgivable loans and the other half as low-interest loans. 

Communities are taking the federal government up on its offer. St. Paul Regional Water Services, which as mentioned makes its lead information widely available, has a ten-year plan to remove and replace all lead service lines in its area at no cost to the private property owners.

Right now, the Minnesota Legislature is working to take care of the rest, building on and accelerating on these federal and local efforts. The bill HF 24, authored by Representative Sydney Jordan, and its companion bill SF 30, authored by Senator Jen McEwen, would set up a statewide ten-year program for lead service line replacement at no cost to residents. It would start with an immediate inventory of all lead service lines in the state while moving swiftly into replacing these pipes.

MEP strongly supports this legislation  – and its previous iterations that we helped craft – because we believe all Minnesotans deserve clean, healthy water, from the lakes and rivers near their homes to the water flowing from their kitchen sink. If this bill passes, hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans will finally be able to breathe easier when they turn on their tap.

How you can help: Use our action system to contact your lawmakers in support of HF 24 and SF 30.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author