Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Much like the arrival of warm weather here in Minnesota, the final week of the 2022 Legislative Session has snuck up on many of us. With the regular session’s constitutionally set last day landing on May 23rd, the House and Senate are working to negotiate a final set of bills to send to Governor Walz.
The dynamics in play this year can make it tricky to predict what will happen. Minnesota has a large budget surplus and plenty of needs, including infrastructure investments, drought relief, and public health. But it’s also an election year for the Governor and both legislative bodies have new district maps, which means that each lawmaker is feeling the pressure from their respective parties and constituents.
For Minnesota’s natural resources, health of our communities, and climate action, MEP is feeling cautiously optimistic at this stage, and our team is actively communicating with legislators to support bills that will move us forward, not backward. Here’s where things stand on our community’s key priorities:
MEP is impressed with provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the Agriculture and Housing Omnibus Bill this year. Both versions invest supplemental funding in a longtime MEP priority: the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative. Forever Green conducts vital research and development of environmentally-friendly crops that will be a game-changer for Minnesota’s water, soil, and economy. The bill also includes support for the economic development that needs to happen to keep scaling up Forever Green crops and related supply chains.
Both versions also contain provisions for supporting new farmers and processors, boosting soil healthy farming practices, and providing training. In many cases, these provisions will advance equity by especially benefiting people of color and immigrant farmers.
MEP’s key point of advocacy at this stage is asking that the Conference Committee negotiating this bill adopt the higher House-proposed funding levels; we sent a letter of support for our coalitional position earlier this week.
Energy and Climate
There’s a lot to like in the large Jobs, Energy, and Commerce Omnibus bill (SF 4091) as well, though once again, we find that the House bill is closer to MEP’s priorities. Both versions contain significant investments in solar energy on public infrastructure like schools. The House language also contains significant funding for solar on housing, electric vehicle charging stations around the state, weatherization for homes, equitable energy job training, and access to federal dollars for infrastructure. In most cases, we hope to see the House provisions adopted, as they advance the Minnesota Climate Action Plan released earlier this year.
On the other hand, we are concerned about Senate provisions in the bill that would be hazardous for Minnesota’s energy future and could threaten the health of our people. One provision lifts Minnesota’s moratorium on issuing a certificate of need for new nuclear generating plants. At this point, Minnesota and the nation have still not adequately addressed the issue of nuclear waste storage. This directly threatens the Prairie Island Indian Community due to the nuclear power plant – and its highly radioactive waste – already sitting in its community.
Another harmful provision would prevent cities, counties, and other local governments from adopting a ban on new natural gas and propane. Climate science tells us that we can’t afford to keep building new fossil fuel infrastructure like gas lines, no matter how much gas companies claim their product is “clean.” Zero-emission alternatives to gas exist and are effective in Minnesota’s climate, and communities should be able to ban new gas hookups if they choose.
MEP will be submitting a letter expressing the positions of our coalition and keeping in close contact regarding this legislation.
Environment and Natural Resources
The Environment and Natural Resources Bill is a true study in contrasts, with little overlap between the House and Senate versions.
The House language contains boosted funding for land conservation, prairie and forest restoration, composting, and healthy soils. It also prioritizes environmental justice with provisions that would make permitting decisions more responsive to the needs of communities disproportionately affected by pollution, which tend to be communities of color, Indigenous and low-income communities. It advances a key MEP priority of lead service line replacement so that no Minnesotan will have to worry about lead poisoning in their home water pipes. And it begins to create protections against lead for wildlife, requiring nontoxic hunting ammunition in certain areas and helping support safe disposal for lead tackle.
The Senate bill is far less friendly to the environment, proposing rollbacks to key protections for our people and natural resources, and several provisions are simply giveaways to polluting industries. One provision would essentially push state agencies to assume that all mining proposals should be permitted and force them to review and approve them on an accelerated timeline, running roughshod over public process. Another would create a new category of recycling for the chemical plastic industry and exempt it from existing rules. Still another would create new, specific rules for the sugar beet processing industry with the likely effect of making it less regulated.
Clean water is treated almost as an inconvenience in the Senate version. It would attack protections for calcareous fens – a rare and vulnerable wetland habitat – weaken the state’s definition of “sustainable” use of groundwater, and strip away the DNR’s ability to manage the state’s Public Waters Inventory, a vital tool to protect the state’s water resources.
These provisions and several others would have the effect of chilling public participation and oversight of environmental decisions, reducing the information that agencies may provide to the public, restricting who may petition for environmental review of a project by their county of residence, and preventing agencies from issuing guiding information on statues and rules.
We hope that the final environment bill will take Minnesota forward, not backward. MEP has developed a letter expressing the positions of our coalition and will be keeping in close contact regarding this legislation
Transportation and Capital Investment
At this stage, the House and Senate is negotiating a transportation package under its State Government Finance bill and has yet to pass bills necessary for a conference committee for capital investment, which will mainly concern bonding.
As the Star Tribune article below notes, the House transportation bill invests heavily in clean transportation, including buses, passenger rail, and electric vehicles. This would help Minnesota reduce our emissions and protect public health. The Senate bill mostly doubles down on highway expansions and interchanges while deliberately attacking light rail and bus rapid transit. MEP strongly supports investments in transit and will be communicating our priorities to the Conference Committee when one is established.
We also hope to see a capital investment bill that further boosts replacement of lead service lines in homes across Minnesota.
With only a few days of negotiations remaining, the Legislature faces an uphill task. As they enter their hardest week, we’re encouraged by the Minnesotans across the state asking them to put our people and planet first.
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