Promising legislative session ends with gridlock, a few bright spots

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership — @mattjdoll

The 2019 Minnesota Legislative Session saw some of the most ambitious legislation in  years for Minnesota’s environment, but unfortunately, the Legislature did not live up to its responsibility to Minnesotans to pass progress into law. With the signature of the final budget and policy bills by Governor Walz following the special session, the state passed victories for clean water and funding for our natural resources, but failed Minnesotans by taking little action to advance climate solutions, pollinator protections, and safeguards against pollution. Fortunately, most of the cuts and provisions that would have taken our natural resources backwards were successfully stopped.

Victories for clean agriculture and environmental projects

MEP and our allies advocated strongly this session for a boost in state investment to the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota, a critical program to bring conservation crops that protect water and land and provide income to farmers. The Legislature raised the funding by more than double from the last biennium to $4.3 million. While this is not the $10 million that would fully fund this program, it is a foundation to build on and will have a positive impact on Minnesota’s water resources.

As we reported earlier in the session, the Legislature came to an agreement on fixing last year’s raid on the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Though other raids were attempted on this and other dedicated funds, we’re glad to report that those raids did not pass through final negotiations and will not threaten the sustainability of these important sources of funding for environmental progress.

Promising progress stymied in the Senate

This session saw Minnesotans working to take leadership, as have several other states, on meeting our climate obligations. The Minnesota House passed a bill that would set a standard of 100% carbon-free electricity in the state by 2050 and provide support for energy efficiency and prioritizing renewables to get there. This was more ambitious than any previous energy legislation passed by either House in the Legislature, but the corresponding Senate bill was not even heard in that chamber.

The Senate blocked new funding for transit and electric vehicles around the state. It rejected the House moves towards bringing the percentage of Minnesota’s waters that meet health and safety standards from 60% to 100%. It failed to enact commonsense efforts to reverse the decline of pollinators – the Legislature failed even to pass a measure for pollinators that was approved by both chambers.

The Legislature took no new action to protect Minnesota from threats on the immediate horizon from sulfide mining or from the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, though promising bipartisan bills on mining pollution were introduced, and harmful legislation that would chill free speech and pipeline protests did not become law.

Minnesota is ready for progress – now our lawmakers need to fully understand it

We saw unprecedented energy at the Capitol – from both new legislators and their constituents – for ambitious action this session. Thousands of people participated in rallies and lobby days for clean energywater, and transportation throughout the five months, and thousands more took action by calling and emailing their lawmakers. That had an impact: it brought Minnesota’s communities and natural resources several victories and protected us from bills moving us backwards. And it built new relationships and a policy foundation at the Capitol on which we will build a brighter future.

But this year’s work isn’t over – for us, or for legislators. We urge Minnesotans to contact their legislators and keep up the pressure. Educate them on why we need 100% clean energy, and why we need it soon. Tell them about the wonderful potential of conservation crops. Let them know what clean transportation means to you. Make them understand that we have solutions to our greatest challenges – we need only the courage to act.

Check out additional legislative summaries from some of our member organizations:
Friends of the Mississippi River
Land Stewardship Project
Fresh Energy

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