Letter to Governor Dayton: Request for veto of Supplemental Budget Bill SF 3656

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May 22, 2018    

 

Dear Governor Dayton,

We, the undersigned organizations and the thousands of Minnesotans we represent, ask you to veto the Supplemental Budget Bill, SF 3656. The following provisions remain of concern:

Listed in order of appearance within each subject.

Energy Policy

Reducing Xcel Energy’s payment into the Renewable Development Account.

Section 1

This provision restructures the formula for determining how much Xcel Energy should annually pay into the Renewable Development Account, changing it from a fee for each cask of dry storage of spent nuclear fuel to a flat fee. The net result of this change is a compounding reduction of Xcel’s contributions into the RDA from approximately $26 million a year today to $20 million in 2022 and thereafter. The RDA is meant to fund research and development in renewable electric energy technologies, grid modernization (including storage) and projects that decrease demand for and increase efficiency of electricity use. In addition, this provision allows Xcel Energy to recover payments made into the RDA under this statute by charging a “rider” or extra fee to rate-payers.

 

Eliminating financing options for participating in community solar.

Section 6

This provision removes the word “financing” from the list of components a plan for community solar must include. Without this word, Xcel does not have to include reasonable financing options in their integrated resource plans, likely eliminating new residential or lower-income subscribers from participation in our most-successful-in-the-nation community solar programs.

 

Environment and Natural Resources

Transferring water from one water body to another without a permit.

Section 61      

This provision allows waters to be moved from one body to another or connected to each other without a permit. Some waters are polluted and have aquatic invasive species, others are pristine. Current law protects the state’s cleanest waters by requiring a permit for a water transfer between water bodies. Agencies should retain this authority in order to prevent transfers that harm Minnesota’s waters.

 

Degradation of Peer Review: Accepting conflicts of interest among peer review members.

Section 63

This section codifies the acceptance of conflicts of interest among peer review members, so long as they are disclosed. This is an unacceptable degradation of independent peer review, which is supposed to rely on unbiased science.

 

Giving industry 16 years to meet water quality standards.

Section 64      

This provision allows an industry that has already constructed or made improvements to a water treatment facility in order to meet water quality standards a 16-year pass for meeting any other water quality standards that may be developed. Similar language was passed by the legislature last year (and again this year) – though only for municipalities, not industry.

An Administrative Law Judge rejected the rulemaking that resulted from last year’s legislation because it was not in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. The provision returned this year adding the words “to the extent allowable under federal law,” and in this bill, also granting the 16-year holiday to industries as well. Water quality standards are developed to protect human health and the viability of our waters for important uses.   If new water quality standards are established, polluters should be required to meet those new standards through the permitting process.

 

Limiting the definition of pipeline to weaken regulatory authority.

Section 86

This provision did not receive any hearings, was not introduced as a bill and narrows the definition of pipelines to “a pipeline owned or operated by a condemning authority.” The provision could allow frac sand operations to avoid regulation for piping frac sand slurry.

 

Jeopardizing native species by delaying needed conversion back to pre-settlement condition of oak-Savannah, oak woodland or prairie.

Section 90      

This provision extends an unfortunate conversion moratorium put into law last year in Sand Dunes State Forest (SDSF) from two years to three years.

Sand Dunes State Forest is home to nearly 1/5 of all species identified as “Species in Greatest Conservation Need” by the State in the Minnesota Wildlife Action Plan. A few species are now believed to be extinct from the property due to prior lack of management for rare species. Converting a portion of the forest back to its pre-settlement condition is important to prevent further loss. In addition, the State and partnering organizations have already invested significant amounts of time and funding toward the restoration of SDSF. Extending the moratorium is financially irresponsible and jeopardizes previous investments by the State and conservation organizations.

 

Please veto SF 3656. Thank you for your consideration.

 

Steve Morse

Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Clean Water Action – Minnesota                                            
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)                             
Environment Minnesota                                                          
Freshwater Society                                                                 
Friends of the Mississippi River                                             
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas                                 
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division                           
Land Stewardship ProjectWomen’s Congress for Future Generation
Lower Phalen Creek Project
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
MN350
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
St. Croix River Association
Wilderness in the City

Letter to Governor Dayton: Raid of the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund

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May 24, 2018                                                                                               

 

Dear Governor Dayton,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write to urge a line-item veto for all projects in H.F. 4425 that are funded through appropriation bonds by raiding the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF).

Since 1963, approximately $900 million has been appropriated from the Fund to more than 2,000 projects that protect and enhance Minnesota’s environment and natural resources. Throughout its history, we have advocated to ensure that ENRTF funds are spent in ways that are both constitutionally and statutorily appropriate.

The state’s official debt capacity supports capital investments far in excess of the $825 million passed by the Legislature. We are disappointed that they chose instead to use the same unnecessary gimmick they rejected in 2009 when Governor Pawlenty proposed using the ENRTF to back appropriation bonds for the purchase of what is now Vermilion State Park. Much like in 2009, most of the funding from these proposed bonds is targeted to projects that are important priorities for which we have advocated. However, we cannot jeopardize the long term future and viability of the Trust Fund to backfill the diminished bonding bill the legislature chose to pass.

Bonding costs for all of these projects have traditionally been provided through general obligation bonds, and there is no precedent for using the ENRTF for this purpose. Moreover, the proceeds from the proposed bonds are targeted to some purposes that are expressly excluded from eligibility, including wastewater infrastructure and hazardous waste cleanup. H.F. 4425 contains sweeping changes to laws that have been in place since 1988 when voters first chose to dedicate these funds for very specific purposes that protect our Great Outdoors for future generations. This language was developed in the original legislation authored by Senator Roger Moe and Representative Willard Munger, and is now not only part of our state’s legacy, but also theirs.

The fiscal viability of this raid raises serious concerns. The interest costs alone on $98 million of appropriation bonds could be in excess of $60 million in additional costs to the ENRTF over the 20-year period. No fiscal note that outlines any of these costs or their impacts on the fund was ever provided for consideration. H.F. 4425 raids the fund until 2040, though the funds’ revenue source constitutionally expires on December 31, 2024.

Despite this dramatic and permanent change to the ENRTF, and despite its potentially far-reaching financial consequences, this proposal was not properly vetted by members of the public or the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). A provision that raided the ENRTF was first introduced in the Senate Finance Committee on May 14, and no public testimony was allowed during that hearing. Minnesotans expect and deserve an opportunity to voice our concerns and opinions about such a redirection of constitutionally-dedicated funds.

Attached is a letter to legislators outlining the strong objections of 39 organizations that we circulated as the bill moved closer to passage. Final passage of H.F. 4425 is not the end of our important conversation with our members, and with all Minnesotans, about the need to fully restore the ENRTF to its original purpose. A line-item veto of projects funded by the ENRTF is critical in holding the fund harmless from two decades of debt service and interest payments and to send a strong message to prevent similar raids in the future.  

We encourage you to respect the intent of Minnesota voters, reject this unprecedented and unnecessary tactic, and line-item veto the projects funded by raiding the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Sincerely,   

Steve Morse                                                                           

Minnesota Environmental Partnership           

Alliance for Sustainability     
Audubon Minnesota  
Clean Water Action – Minnesota                               
CURE (Clean Up our River Environment)    
Environment Minnesota                                 
Freshwater Society                                                                
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas                 
Friends of the Mississippi River                                            
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
Lower Phalen Creek Project
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Council of Parks and Trails
Minnesota Land Trust
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
St. Croix River Association
Wilderness in the City
Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Press Statement on the 2018 Legislative Session

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Sara Wolff, Advocacy Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
sara@mepartnership.org, 651-789-0653

Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Legislative Session Ends with Shattering of Public Trust

This legislative session fell far short of meeting Minnesotans’ expectations. At a time when our state needs to make progress on climate change, water quality, pollinator health and transit, this legislature was defined by rollbacks, raids and vetoes.

It saw attempts to roll back the authority of the Public Utilities Commission to regulate pipelines and nuclear facilities, the authority of the Pollution Control Agency to protect wild rice, and the authority of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to protect drinking water.

In a year with $3.3 billion worth of identified projects, and $3.5 billion of debt capacity to meet those needs, legislative leadership opted for a too-small bonding bill and raided the constitutionally-dedicated Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) to fund additional projects for which they did not want to pay.

When voters created the state lottery in 1988, it was, in part, so Minnesota could do more for our air, water, land, fish and wildlife, not as a replacement for funding of basic state services like sewers and landfills as the legislature has now directed. This raid of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was unveiled only at the 11th hour, with little committee review or public participation. It ignores the agreement, constitution and public trust that created this Trust Fund and changes the rules on the use of the Trust midstream. This action sets a terrible precedent, and puts the future existence of all constitutionally dedicated funds at risk.

Minnesotans deserve better, both in terms of legislative process and outcomes.

For more information on the raid of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, see this letter.

Letter to Legislators: Use of Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund Dollars

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RE: Use of Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund Dollars HF3352/SF2934

May 18, 2018

Dear Legislators,

On behalf of the 39 undersigned organizations, we urge you to oppose any version of the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) bill that attempts to spend Environment and Natural Resources Trust Funds (ENRTF) for bonding for wastewater infrastructure projects. The version of this bill passed by the Senate, SF2934, includes language which uses the ENRTF to fund the debt service for $47 million of appropriation bonds. Since 1963, approximately $900 million has been appropriated from the Fund to more than 2,000 projects that protect and enhance Minnesota’s environment and natural resources. Throughout its history, we have advocated to ensure that ENRTF funds are spent in ways that are both constitutionally and statutorily appropriate. Therefore, we again urge you to vote against a bill that includes this proposal that would misuse ENRTF dollars.

Per the language of the Senate version, the ENRTF would be used to pay the debt service on bonds for wastewater infrastructure in cities and towns with populations under 5,000. Bonding costs for such wastewater projects have traditionally been provided through the general fund, and there is no precedent for using the ENRTF for this purpose. In fact, the adopted Senate language includes a change to Minn. Stat. 116P.08 altering the allowable use of funds:

“Sect. 2 Subdivision 1 (a) (9): to pay principal and interest on special appropriation trust fund bonds issued pursuant to section 16A.969 and other law.”

The addition of this language puts this proposal in conflict with Minn. Stat. 116P.03 (a) which provides clear direction for the ENRTF and states:

“The trust fund may not be used as a substitute for traditional sources of funding environmental and natural resources activities.

When Minnesota voters overwhelmingly approved the current dedication of the state lottery proceeds twenty years ago, it was with the clear understanding that none of these funds would be used for wastewater treatment facilities. This is codified in Minn. Stat. 116P.08 Subd. 2:

“Money from the trust fund may not be spent for: …2) purposes of municipal water pollution control under the authority of chapters 115 and 116.”

The proceeds from the proposed bond authorization would be targeted to these very purposes that are expressly excluded from eligibility. Minnesota voters chose to dedicate these funds for very specific purposes of protecting our Great Outdoors for future generations and we urge you to oppose any proposal that would eliminate the protections and specific purposes of the fund. This debt service proposal would result in a violation of the trust of Minnesota voters.

The fiscal viability of this proposal raises serious concerns. The interest costs alone on $47 million of appropriation bonds could be in excess of $25 million in additional costs to the ENRTF over the 20-year period, yet this proposal has no fiscal note that outlines any of these costs or their impacts on the fund. This proposal would raid the fund until 2040, though the funds’ revenue source constitutionally expires on December 31, 2024.

Despite this dramatic and permanent change to the ENRTF and despite its potentially far-reaching financial consequences, this proposal has not been properly vetted by members of the public or the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Minnesotans expect and deserve an opportunity to voice their opinions about spending from constitutionally-dedicated funds.

Because the proposed House and Senate bonding bills are well under the state’s official debt capacity, the Legislature has other options for securing funding for these important state investments in wastewater infrastructure, instead of raids that divert precious resources away from their intended purposes. We encourage you to respect the intent of Minnesota voters and oppose misuse of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Sincerely,

Alliance for Sustainability
Anglers for Habitat
Audubon Minnesota
Cannon River Watershed Partnership
Clean Water Action – Minnesota
Conservation Minnesota
The Conservation Fund
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Environment Minnesota
Fish & Wildlife Legislative Alliance
Freshwater Society
Friends of MN Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Mississippi River
Great River Greening
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Lower Phalen Creek Project
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Deer Hunters Association
Minnesota Land Trust
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Minnesota Native Plant Society
MN350
Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance
Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota
Minnesota Waterfowl Association
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
The Nature Conservancy – Minnesota
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
Pheasants Forever
Trust for Public Land
Save our Sky Blue Waters
Wilderness in the City
St. Croix River Association
Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Letter to Senate on Legislation Blocking Groundwater Protection

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RE: Please Vote No on HF 4133 unless language that blocks adoption of Groundwater Protection Rules Not Approved by the Legislature is removed

To: Members of the Minnesota Senate

May 17, 2018                                                                                               

 

Dear Senator:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to oppose language that would impede the Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule – currently included in HF 4133 – and vote NO unless the provision is removed.  

Clean, safe drinking water should be accessible and affordable for everyone – regardless of geography, income or water source.

About 70% of Minnesotans get their drinking water from public or private wells. That is one of the reasons why the legislature approved the bipartisan 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, which gives the state authority to prevent contamination of our groundwater.

Nitrate contamination in drinking water is a growing public health issue

An extensive body of research shows that nitrate from nitrogen fertilizer can leach below the root zone and migrate into our groundwater. Despite farmers’ widespread adoption of efficient nitrogen fertilizer application practices, the problem is getting worse:

  • 537 public water supply wells across the state have elevated nitrate levels.
  • More than 50 communities in MN are facing significantly elevated nitrate levels.
  • Nearly 10% of MDA tested private wells in vulnerable areas exceed the Health Risk Limit (HRL), including some townships with 30-40% or more of private wells tested found to be unsafe to drink.

Because treating the well water or finding new drinking water sources can be prohibitively expensive for communities and individuals, preventing this contamination is vital to protecting public health.

The draft Groundwater Protection Rule was developed with public input

To address this growing nitrate problem, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) updated its Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) beginning in 2010, with assistance from stakeholders, advisors and more than 420 written comments from citizens over a five-year process. Based on the revised NFMP, the MDA released an informal draft Groundwater Protection Rule in 2017. The agency hosted 17 statewide listening sessions engaging over 1,500 individuals and reviewed over 820 public written comments.

Following extensive revisions, the MDA released a revised draft rule in March 2018, to be followed by additional stakeholder input and public participation prior to adoption.

The rule helps protect public health while maintaining farm productivity

Part 1 of the rule restricts nitrogen fertilizer application in the fall and on frozen soils on only the most vulnerable soils and wellhead protection areas in Minnesota.

  • Part 1 applies to only 12.6% of Minnesota’s farmland; areas where relatively few farm operators practice fall/frozen soil application today.
  • Fall/winter application of nitrogen on vulnerable soils is not recommended under University of Minnesota Best Management Practices.
  • Fall/frozen soil application in the wellhead areas of communities with already-elevated nitrate levels poses a significant risk to public health.

Part 2 of the rule applies only in community wellhead protection areas (Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAS)) – about 0.45% of Minnesota’s cropland. The rule promotes voluntary best management practice adoption, followed by common-sense regulatory requirements developed in consultation with a local advisory team – including area farmers – to reduce nitrate levels in these water supplies.

Protect our drinking water

Section 13 (d) in HF 4133 impedes the MDA’s ability to protect our groundwater by putting unnecessary delays and legislative hurdles into an already lengthy and comprehensive public process. This provision undercuts the authority and ability of our state agencies to protect our public health and well being.

Minnesotans have waited nearly 30 years for the state to act in the face of mounting evidence of nitrate pollution in our groundwater, one of our state’s most valuable long-term assets. We ask you to oppose these efforts to undercut the Groundwater Protection Act’s ability to protect public health and Minnesota’s drinking water and groundwater.

Please vote no on HF 4133 unless language that blocks groundwater protection rules not approved by the legislature is removed.

 

Steve Morse                                                                           

Minnesota Environmental Partnership                                                           

Alliance for Sustainability

Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota

Audubon Minnesota

Pollinator Friendly Alliance

Clean Water Action – Minnesota

Save Our Sky Blue Waters

CURE (Clean Up our River Environment)

Sierra Club – North Star Chapter

Environment Minnesota

St. Croix River Association

Freshwater Society

WaterLegacy              

Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas

Wilderness in the City

Friends of the Mississippi River

Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division

Land Stewardship Project

Lower Phalen Creek Project

MN Center for Environmental Advocacy

Minnesota Native Plant Society

Minnesota Trout Unlimited

Letter to the House: Please Vote NO on HF 4437 – A proposal for a constitutional amendment that restricts general fund dollars without solving our state’s transportation and transit needs

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To:  Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives

 

May 17, 2018                                                                                               

Dear Representative,

We, the undersigned, wish to express opposition to HF 4437, a bill that proposes a constitutional amendment to dedicate certain sales tax proceeds to the construction of roads and bridges. While Minnesota faces growing transportation and transit needs across the state, this proposed amendment would meet only a fraction of them while leaving a multitude of others behind in its wake.

We encourage the Minnesota Legislature to pass balanced, comprehensive transportation funding that increases long-term and statewide investment in all modes of transportation, including bus, rail, walking, roads and bridges – giving citizens of every age and geographic location choices for safe, efficient and economical travel.

We ask you to please vote NO on HF 4437.

Sincerely,

Steve Morse                                                                           

Minnesota Environmental Partnership           

 

Clean Water Action – Minnesota

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

League of Women Voters – Minnesota

Save Our Sky Blue Waters

Transit for Livable Communities & St. Paul Smart Trips

Insider: May 13, 2018

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Environmental Insider is brought to you by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Governor’s Veto of Wild Rice Bill Leaves Door Open for Solutions

On Wednesday, Governor Mark Dayton announced his veto of HF 3280, a bill that would have taken major steps backward from protecting wild rice and clean water in Minnesota. The bill was intended to prevent the Pollution Control Agency from enforcing a rule on sulfate pollution in wild rice waters, ignoring sound science, Minnesota’s clean water needs, and the health of our communities and our state grain.

Sulfates threaten wild rice and Minnesota waters

The health of wild rice serves as a natural early warning for water pollution and is fundamental to the culture and well-being of the Ojibwe bands in Minnesota. Unfortunately, it has been in severe decline for decades. Much of this decline is due to sulfates – chemical compounds that flow into our lakes and rivers from mining, heavy industry and municipal wastewater plants.

The science behind sulfate’s ecological effects is complex, but it clearly shows that rising sulfate pollution prevents wild rice from growing, disrupts critical aquatic ecosystems, and threatens human health by increasing the prevalence of mercury in the food chain, including game fish, eaten by anglers. (The Science Museum of Minnesota has published a useful article for those interested in the biochemistry of sulfates.)

 The data show that wild rice begins to decline as the concentration of sulfate rises. The key threshold for healthy growth is 10 parts per million – at that level of sulfates, the wild rice will not grow.

In 1973 Minnesota adopted a rule to keep wild rice waters at sulfate levels of under 10 parts per million – but that standard has largely gone unenforced. Under pressure to take action, the Pollution Control Agency recently attempted to develop a rule that would set a different sulfate standard for each body of water using a formula.

But an administrative law judge rejected that rule because it was both unworkable and less protective than the 1973 rule, and ordered the PCA to enforce the uniform standard.

The bill would have turned back the clock on science and water protection

HF 3280 was written to send the PCA back to the drawing board on the rule in order to prevent the agency from finding a sulfate solution. It would have nullified the 1973 rule and forced the PCA to ignore established studies – already conducted and paid for by Minnesota tax-payers – that offer a way forward on protecting wild rice. In so doing, it would have put Minnesota in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The driving force behind the legislation is the notion that using the wild rice rule to control sulfate pollution would be prohibitively expensive for Minnesota’s iron mining industry. But the bill’s head-in-the-sand approach of ignoring sound science would have taken our state backward on finding a lasting, workable solution.

The Governor’s veto is an opportunity to move forward

We thank Governor Dayton for his veto of this harmful bill, and we ask that he again reject this legislation if it appears tucked into one of the Legislature’s massive omnibus bills. The best way to balance the needs of communities, industry workers, and the health of our waters is not to shut down science, but to use the science as a starting point to fix the problem.

Minnesota should invest in researching technologies and practices that can create win-win solutions for wild rice protection. Our state should take the lead in innovation for ways to reduce water treatment costs for businesses and municipalities using the best science possible.

We are encouraged by the United Steelworkers’ call for all parties to “unravel these complex problems and move forward with a solution that allows everyone to prosper.” We look forward to conversations with all stakeholders on how best to protect Minnesota’s precious wild rice, the strength of our economy, and the health of our communities.


Office space available in MEP’s building!

Is your organization in the market for a convenient, comfortable office space in St. Paul? The office suite above MEP’s office at 546 Rice Street is available for lease! The approximately 2200 square ft. space is ideal for a small to midsize nonprofit organization, featuring a kitchen and break area and offstreet parking.

Located in the Capitol-Rice Street neighborhood, it is also within three blocks of the Capitol complex and across the street from the Women’s Building. It is also positioned along bus routes 3, 62, and 67, and a two-minute walk from the Green Line. And perhaps best of all, the new tenant would have good neighbors in MEP’s staff!

Please contact Matt Doll at matthew@mepartnership.org if interested.


Minnesotans Demand Clean Water at the Capitol

(From MEP Loon Commons Blog) — More than six hundred Minnesotans gathered on Wednesday, May 2 at the State Capitol with a critical demand for lawmakers: take action to protect Minnesota’s waters. Hundreds of attendees spoke out on their water concerns, but were united by the belief that the Legislature should work to strengthen – not roll back – Minnesota’s environmental protections. The day began at Christ Lutheran Church near the Capitol, where attendees had breakfast and learned about water issues facing Minnesota. Experts from groups including WaterLegacy, Land Stewardship Project, Friends of the Mississippi River, and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership presented policy briefings throughout the morning. The film Troubled Waters was screened in the sanctuary. Throughout the day, participants shared their concerns in over 140 meetings with legislators. Dozens of students and youth met with members of Governor Dayton’s administration to discuss their water and environmental priorities at the Capitol. >>Read More.


This grain fights climate change — and makes a tasty Minnesota beer

(From MPR News) — Kernza is a potentially revolutionary grain — a self-sustaining, climate change-fighting wheat that can boost soil and water health and keep carbon locked in the ground. But it’s also a pain to grow. It can be hard to process and even harder to convince farmers to plant it. While it’s found its way into artisan breads and other niche foods, Kernza could really use a high-demand consumer product to ignite the mainstream market and get farmers energized to grow it. Something like beer. >>Read More.


                

Enbridge, bands file exceptions to judge’s Line 3 recommendation

(From Duluth News Tribune) — Exceptions to an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline follow the existing route across Minnesota were filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Wednesday. Enbridge and several northern Minnesota bands, including the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, pushed back against the judge’s non-binding recommendation filed last month that called for the route to pass through two reservations — Leech Lake and Fond du Lac — instead of around them, as Enbridge had proposed. These exceptions are the last regulatory filings before the PUC is scheduled to vote June 21 on whether to approve the contentious oil pipeline. >>Read More.


Winona County ban on frac sand mining challenged at Court of Appeals

(From Star Tribune) — Attorneys for Winona County and a sand mining company clashed in court Thursday over the legality of Minnesota’s first countywide ban on frac sand mining. Saying the county’s two-year-old ban is unconstitutional and an illegal “taking” of a private property owner’s rights, attorney Christopher Dolan for Minnesota Sands argued before the state Court of Appeals that the ban should be overturned. >>Read More.


Help sustain MEP’s work. Donate today!

Do you appreciate our coverage of environmental and conservation issues? You can help sustain MEP’s work with a donation. Your support will help MEP continue educating decision-makers and Minnesotans throughout the state about important issues that impact clean water, clean air, and land conservation. Contributions also provide the financial backing we need to help organize the advocacy efforts of our 70 member organizations and take action through public organizing, media campaigns, lobbying, and research.

 


Weekly Environmental Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!  

1. What two chemical elements form sulfate?

2. The pH of a solution refers to its concentration of what type of ion?

3. What are the five most prevalent greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere?


Upcoming Environmental Events

MCEA Breakfast Open House, May 16
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, St. Paul

Good Energy: How solar can be a win for water, soil, farms, and pollinators, May 17
Town and Country Club, St. Paul
Hosted by Fresh Energy

Riverside Park Bird Hike, May 19
Riverside Park, St. Cloud
Hosted by Friends of the Mississippi River

Hands on Restoration Project, May 19
6601 Auto Club Rd, Bloomington
Hosted by Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Valley Chapter


Jobs and Volunteer Opportunities

Part-Time Administrative Associate | Wind on the Wires
Minnesota GreenCorps AmeriCorps Member | Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Executive Director | Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association
Data Manager | Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Office Manager | River’s Edge Academy
Warner Nature Center Director | Science Museum of Minnesota
Program Intern – Summer 2018 | Clean Water Action
Outreach and Engagement Coordinator | Fresh Energy
Business Manager | St. Croix River Association
Chief Financial Officer | Environmental Initiative
Communications Director | Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Stewardship Associate | Minnesota Land Trust
See all job postings

Trivia Answers: 1) Sulfur and oxygen. 2) Hydrogen ions. 3) Water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

 


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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

Letter opposing HF 3759 – Granting immediate approval for the construction of Line 3 Pipeline on Enbridge’s preferred route

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RE: Please Vote NO on HF 3759 – Terminating PUC process and granting immediate approval to construct Canadian Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline

To:  Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives

May 14, 2018                                                                                               

Dear Representative,

We, the undersigned, wish to express a deep concern about HF 3759, a bill to immediately authorize the construction and routing of the Canadian Enbridge Line 3. This measure would terminate all review and permitting processes at the Public Utilities Commission and give Enbridge full authority to build the pipeline immediately, on the company’s chosen route, without any substitute form of regulatory oversight.

Minnesotans have worked hard to ensure a fair and evidence-based process. So far, the review process has taken into consideration hundreds of hours of public testimony, tens of thousands of public comments, and the expert analysis of dozens of witnesses brought by Enbridge and intervening parties. This legislation would disregard proceedings put in place in statute and rule, the good faith participation of community members and groups with a wide variety of views, and ignore due process — solely to the benefit of one corporation. This bill is not in Minnesota’s tradition of good governance.

Moreover, HF 3759 would grant this approval without actually issuing the customary Certificate of Need and Route Permit, meaning that the State would be unable to impose conditions on those permits or revoke them in the future, even to avoid harm to Minnesota citizens. To circumvent this process would neglect the needs and concerns of communities, landowners, industries, and First Nations along the proposed route.

The Line 3 pipeline review process is almost complete as planned, with a Public Utilities Commission decision expected by June. Minnesota’s leaders must let it finish instead of preemptively granting extraordinary power to a foreign company and telling tens of thousands of Minnesotans that their time and investment in Minnesota’s review process has been ignored.

We ask you to please vote NO on HF 3759.

Sincerely,

Steve Morse                                                                           

Minnesota Environmental Partnership                                                           

Alliance for Sustainability     
Clean Water Action – Minnesota       
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Freshwater Society                            
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Mississippi River                                                                                
Honor the Earth
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
Lower Phalen Creek Project
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy     
Minnesota Land Trust
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
MN350           
Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota          
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Wilderness in the City
Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Letter to House regarding proposed rollback to Groundwater Protection Act

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RE: Please Vote No on HF 4133 unless language that blocks adoption of Groundwater Protection Rules Not Approved by the Legislature is removed  

To:   Members of the House of Representatives

May 14, 2018                                                                                               

Dear Representative:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to oppose language that would impede the Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule – currently included in HF 4133 – and vote NO unless the provision is removed.  

Clean, safe drinking water should be accessible and affordable for everyone – regardless of geography, income or water source.

About 70% of Minnesotans get their drinking water from public or private wells.  That is why the legislature approved the bipartisan 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, which gives the state authority to prevent contamination of our groundwater.

Nitrate contamination in drinking water is a growing public health issue

An extensive body of research shows that nitrate from nitrogen fertilizer can leach below the root zone and migrate into our groundwater. Despite farmers’ widespread adoption of efficient nitrogen fertilizer application practices, the problem is getting worse:

  • 537 public water supply wells across the state have elevated nitrate levels.
  • More than 50 communities in MN are facing significantly elevated nitrate levels.
  • Nearly 10% of MDA tested private wells in vulnerable areas exceed the Health Risk Limit (HRL), including some townships with 30-40% or more of private wells unsafe to drink.

Because treating the well water or finding new drinking water sources can be prohibitively expensive for communities and individuals, preventing this contamination is vital to protecting public health.

The draft Groundwater Protection Rule was developed with public input

To address this growing nitrate problem, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) updated its Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) beginning in 2010, with assistance from stakeholders, advisors and more than 420 written comments from citizens over a five-year process. Based on the revised NFMP, the MDA released an informal draft Groundwater Protection Rule in 2017. The agency hosted 17 statewide listening sessions engaging over 1,500 individuals and reviewed over 820 public written comments.

Following extensive revisions, the MDA released a revised draft rule in March 2018, to be followed by additional stakeholder input and public participation prior to adoption.

The rule helps protect public health while maintaining farm productivity

Part 1 of the rule restricts nitrogen fertilizer application in the fall and on frozen soils on only the most vulnerable soils and wellhead protection areas in Minnesota.

  • Part 1 applies to only 12.6% of Minnesota’s farmland; areas where relatively few farm operators practice fall/frozen soil application today.
  • Fall/winter application of nitrogen on vulnerable soils is not recommended under University of Minnesota Best Management Practices.
  • Fall/frozen soil application in the wellhead areas of communities with already-elevated nitrate levels poses a significant risk to public health.

Part 2 of the rule applies only in community wellhead protection areas (Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAS)) – about 0.45% of Minnesota’s cropland. The rule promotes voluntary best management practice adoption, followed by common-sense regulatory requirements developed in consultation with a local advisory team – including area farmers – to reduce nitrate levels in these water supplies.

Protect our drinking water

Section 13 (d) in HF 3719 impedes the MDA’s ability to protect our groundwater by putting unnecessary delays and legislative hurdles into an already lengthy and comprehensive public process. This provision undercuts the authority and ability of our state agencies to protect our public health and well being.

Minnesotans have waited nearly 30 years for the state to act in the face of mounting evidence of nitrate pollution in our groundwater, one of our state’s most valuable long-term assets. We ask you to oppose these efforts to undercut the Groundwater Protection Act’s ability to protect public health and Minnesota’s drinking water and groundwater.

  Please vote no on HF 4133 unless language that blocks groundwater protection rules not approved by the legislature is removed.

Steve Morse                                                                           

Minnesota Environmental Partnership                                                                                                                                                                                         

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Minnesota
Clean Water Action – Minnesota
CURE (Clean Up our River Environment)
Environment Minnesota
Freshwater Society
Friends of the Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
Lower Phalen Creek Project

MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
WaterLegacy
Wilderness in the City
Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Letter to Conference Committee on SF 3656 Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill

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To:       Conference Committee on SF 3656 Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill

            Senator and Committee Chair Rosen
            Senator Benson
            Senator Kiffmeyer                                                           
            Senator Limmer
            Senator Newman

            Representative and Committee Chair Knoblach       
            Representative Loon
            Representative Garofalo                                                 
            Representative Pelowski
            Representative Torkelson

 

May 10, 2018

Dear Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill Conferees,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations and their thousands of Minnesota members, we would like to thank you for your attention to our shared environment and the current and future generations who depend on it, as well as highlight a number of provisions in the SF 3656 Omnibus Bill that are of great concern for the environment and conservation communities.

Listed in order of appearance within each subject.

Agriculture Policy

Rolling-back Groundwater Protection Act Authority to protect drinking water unless the rule is approved by the legislature.

House:            Page R13         Lines 24.21 – 24.23

Senate:            Page R13         Lines 312.1 – 312.3

This section impedes the MDA’s ability to protect our groundwater by putting unnecessary delays and legislative hurdles into an already lengthy and comprehensive public process. This provision undercuts the authority and ability of our state agencies to protect our public health and well-being.

An extensive body of research shows that nitrate from nitrogen fertilizer can leach below the root zone and migrate into our groundwater. Despite farmers’ widespread adoption of efficient nitrogen fertilizer application practices, the problem is getting worse:

  • 537 public water supply wells across the state have elevated nitrate levels.
  • More than 50 communities in MN are facing significantly elevated nitrate levels.
  • Nearly 10% of MDA tested private wells in vulnerable areas exceed the Health Risk Limit (HRL), including some townships with 30-40% or more of private wells unsafe to drink.

Treating the well water or finding new drinking water sources can be prohibitively expensive for many rural communities and individuals and preventing this contamination is vital to protecting public health.                      

We ask that this provision be dropped from further consideration.

 

Energy Policy

Reducing Xcel Energy’s payment into the Renewable Development Account.

House:            Page R1 – R6              Lines 157.8 – 162.24

Senate:            Page R1 – R6              Lines 33.11 – 38.19

This provision restructures the formula for determining how much Xcel Energy should annually pay into the Renewable Development Account, changing it from a fee for each cask of dry storage of spent nuclear fuel to a flat fee. The net result of this change is a reduction of either at least $6 million (House language) or $10 million (Senate language) per year into the RDA, meant to fund research and development in renewable electric energy technologies, grid modernization (including storage) and projects that decrease demand for and increase efficiency of electricity use. In addition, this provision allows Xcel Energy to recover payments made into the RDA under this statute by charging a “rider” or extra fee to rate-payers.

We ask that this provision be dropped from further consideration.

 

Environment and Natural Resources

Backdating wetland replacement law in order to allow decisions the DNR made prior to 2009 regarding mining company wetland impacts to be legal – retroactively.

House:            None

Senate:            Page R 56        Lines 154.28 – 154.30

This section repeals requirements all other industries must follow on the location of replacement wetlands.

We ask that you accept the House position and not include this language.

 

Changing wetland replacement plans so that wetland banking credits are an acceptable mitigation measure for any natural resources damages.

House:            None

Senate:            Page R 56-57 Lines 155.23 – 155.28

This section makes “legal” the currently illegal wetland bank replacement plan proposed in the PolyMet draft permit, where they destroy outstanding natural resource value wetlands of several distinct types, and replace them with credits from a reclaimed sod farm in the Sax-Zim bank.

We ask that you accept the House position and not include this language.

 

Prohibiting DNR from imposing conditions or requiring testing when a landowner transfers his/her permit to a new owner, even where the old permitted amount is no longer sustainable.

House:            Page R57         Lines 66.20 – 66.26

Senate:            None

Groundwater is a public resource which landowners may make “reasonable use” of.  The amount that constitutes reasonable use is set by statute and amounts above this require a permit from DNR.  State law requires DNR to permit only amounts that are sustainable and which do not deplete the aquifer or negatively impact connected aquatic systems such as trout streams. Applications for DNR groundwater appropriation permits that allow pumping of huge volumes for irrigation have soared in the past 10 years and use is exceeding sustainability thresholds in some areas.

We ask that you accept the Senate position and not include this language.

 

Requiring DNR to pay for the installation of test wells if it denies approval of the groundwater appropriation permit.

House:            Page R57 – R58          Lines 66.27 – 66.29

Senate:            None

Today, state law requires water use permits for operations using more than 10,000 gallons per day or 1,000,000 gallons per year. The state may require a test well before a new water appropriation permit is granted to ensure that the proposed water use won’t compromise the aquifer or nearby wetlands. This provision would force the Department of Natural Resources to pay for the costs of any test well where an appropriation permit is denied. This ends up penalizing taxpayers and an already over-stressed DNR budget for the acquisition of data necessary for DNR to make their determination as to whether to grant a water appropriation permit or not.

We ask that you accept the Senate position and not include this language.

 

Requiring legislative approval for fees set by the Pollution Control Agency.

House:            Page R69         Lines 78.20 –78.21

Page R69-70   Lines 79.3–79.4

Page R72         Lines 81.26 –81.27

                        Page R73         Lines 82.6–82.7

                        Page R85         Lines 85 –91.30

Senate:            None

The PCA has not increased its fees since 1992. In 2017, MPCA fees fell $23.5 million short of covering program costs. Those program costs pay for the staff and resources to:

 

  • write permits
  • set discharge limits
  • evaluate variance requests
  • inspect facilities
  • monitor for compliance
  • enforce against non-compliance
  • provide training and licensure to industry professionals
  • certify laboratories

 

These shortfalls create delays in permitting, leave important tasks undone, and create uncertainty for permittees. This proposal would only make it more difficult to effectively and efficiently operate these programs. 

 

We ask that you accept the Senate position and not include this language.

 

Transferring water from one water body to another without a permit.

House:            Page R70         Lines 79.24 – 79.27

Senate:            Page R70         Lines 164.13 – 164.16

This provision allows waters to be moved from one body to another without a permit. Some waters are polluted and have aquatic invasive species, others are pristine. Current law protects the state’s cleanest waters by requiring a permit for a water transfer between water bodies. Agencies should retain this authority in order to prevent transfers that harm Minnesota’s waters.

We ask that this provision be dropped from further consideration.

 

Removing a requirement that temporary sugar beet waste ponds have liners to protect groundwater and surface water.

House:            None

Senate:            Page R 70        Lines 164.19- 164.25

 

We ask that you accept the House position and not include this language.

Accepting conflicts of interest among peer review members.

House:            None

Senate:            Page R72         Lines 165.30 – 165.32

This section codifies the acceptance of conflicts of interest among peer review members, so long as they are disclosed. This is an unacceptable degradation of independent peer review, which is supposed to rely on unbiased science.

We ask that you accept the House position and not include this language.

  

Giving industry 16 years to meet water quality standards.

House:            Page R72         Lines 81.15 – 81.21

Senate:            Page R72         Lines 166.15 – 166.21

This provision allows a municipality or an industry that has already constructed or made improvements to a water treatment facility in order to meet water quality standards a 16-year pass for meeting any other water quality standards that may be developed. Similar language was passed by the legislature last year – though only for municipalities.

An Administrative Law Judge rejected the rulemaking that resulted from last year’s legislation because it was not in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. The provision is back again this year, now granting the 16-year holiday to industries as well. Water quality standards are developed to protect human health and the viability of our waters for important uses.   If new water quality standards are established, polluters should be required to meet those new standards through the permitting process.

We ask that this provision be dropped from further consideration.

  

Undermining the state’s air quality program by introducing confusing language and requiring special documentation when Minnesota wants to be more protective than the federal standard.

House:            None

Senate:            Page R 84        Lines 175.7 – 175.10

We ask that you accept the House position and not include this language.

 

 Changing the definition of pipeline in the routing permit chapter to mean “a pipeline owned or operated by a condemning authority.

House:            None

Senate:            Page R 94        Lines 177.0 – 177.15

This provision did not receive any hearings, was not introduced as a bill and narrows the definition of pipelines for purposes of the pipeline siting laws for reasons that have not been explained.

We ask that you accept the House position and not include this language.

 

Jeopardizing native species by delaying needed conversion back to pre-settlement condition of oak-Savannah, oak woodland or prairie.

House:            R 106              Lines  104.2 – 104.3

Senate:            None

This provision extends an unfortunate conversion moratorium put into law last year in Sand Dunes State Forest (SDSF) from two years to six years.

Sand Dunes State Forest is home to nearly 1/5 of all species identified as “Species in Greatest Conservation Need” by the State in the Minnesota Wildlife Action Plan. A few species are now believed to be extinct from the property due to prior lack of management for rare species. Converting a portion of the forest back to its pre-settlement condition is important to prevent further loss. In addition, the State and partnering organizations have already invested significant amounts of time and funding toward the restoration of SDSF. Extending the moratorium is financially irresponsible and jeopardizes previous investments by the State and conservation organizations.

We ask that you accept the Senate position and not include this language.

 

Relieving enforcement of groundwater appropriation permit requirements.

House:            Page R108       Lines 106.8 – 106.32

Senate:            Page R108       Lines 187.14 – 188.7

This provision suspends an existing legal directive for sustainable groundwater management in the northeast metro. If passed into law, the bill would result in two branches of government (Judicial & Legislative) offering conflicting instructions for the Executive branch (the Department of Natural Resources), putting sustainable water management (and water levels in White Bear Lake) in peril.

We ask that this provision be dropped from further consideration.

  

Nullifying the water quality standard and science protective of wild rice.

House:            Page R117- 120          Lines 109.11 – 112.26

Senate:            Page R117 – 120         Lines 2.10 – 5.30

Wild rice is a sensitive grain and a “canary in the ecological coal mine.” For decades we have known that concentrated sulfate levels harm wild rice and the waters in which it grows. Today, we know even more about the complex relationship sulfate plays in the water and sediment — from diminishing aquatic diversity to releasing phosphorous and nitrogen that foster algae, and increasing the methylation of mercury that is toxic to fish and the humans who consume them.

Studies conducted by the University of Minnesota and paid for by Minnesota tax-payers with $1.5 million from the Clean Water Fund have confirmed that sulfate discharge both harms wild rice and increases mercury methylation.

This provision would nullify Minnesota’s existing water quality standard that limits sulfate pollution in wild rice waters. Two recent decisions by Minnesota’s Office of Administrative Hearings have confirmed that eliminating this water quality standard would fail to protect wild rice and would violate the federal Clean Water Act. The Governor has vetoed this provision when presented as a stand-alone bill . 

To pass this provision would not only be a failure to protect our wild rice and water for the natural resource that it is, but also a blatant disregard of the science that forms the foundation of our public health.

We ask that this provision be dropped from further consideration.

 

Public Safety

Increasing Penalties for trespass on certain infrastructure.

House:            Page R1 – R2              Lines 431.20  – 432.8

Senate:            None.

This provision is unnecessary and vague as Minnesota law already addresses criminal trespass of critical infrastructure, as well as criminal conspiracy and aiding and abetting. Minnesotans also shouldn’t be held liable for other people’s actions. The freedom to assemble is an absolute right; there should not be more severe punishment for assembly of a specific group or regarding a specific issue.

We ask that you accept the Senate  position and not include this language.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Steve Morse

Minnesota Environmental Partnership

 

Alliance for Sustainability

Clean Water Action – Minnesota

CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)

Environment Minnesota

Freshwater Society

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas

Friends of the Mississippi River

Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division

Land Stewardship Project

Lower Phalen Creek Project

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Minnesota Council of Parks and Trails

Minnesota Land Trust

Minnesota Native Plant Society

Minnesota Ornithologists Union

MN350

Pollinator Friendly Alliance

Save Our Sky Blue Waters

St. Croix River Association

WaterLegacy

Wilderness in the City

Women’s Congress for Future Generations