Senate approves funding for environment, agriculture projects
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Last night, Senate lawmakers approved a $25 million boost in funding for environment, natural resources, and agriculture projects during the next biennium. The Omnibus Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture finance bill passed yesterday also starts addressing concerns surrounding silica sand mining in regions of southeastern Minnesota. In total, HF 976 appropriates more than $700 million for environment and natural resources and $81 million for agriculture.
Key investments made for the 2014-2015 Biennium include:
• Forest Management: $10.1 million
• Aquatic Invasive Species: $6.2 million
• Environmental Quality Board: $1 million
• New architectural paint stewardship program: $111,000
• Silica sand mining technical assistance and rulemaking: $1 million
“The bill has our industry and environment both in mind,” said Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), chair of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division. “Most of what we did in this bill was a pretty good compromise and I think people across Minnesota will be happy with the outcome.”
Two of the major differences between the original House and Senate plans were increasing water-usage fees and adding silica sand mining fees — proposals supported only by the House. The final legislation drops these increases. Additionally, the silica sand mining compromise does not prohibit activity. Rather, it sends a clear signal that if the industry wants to move into southeastern Minnesota, the areas within a mile of trout streams will be looked at closely. Of upmost importance was that new rules and regulations were specific to the southeast corner of the state.
For the state’s agriculture industry, the legislation appropriates more than $20 million to the Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI). “The AGRI Program is integral to strengthening our Agricultural economy and expanding interest in farming,” continued Sen. Dan Sparks. “Ensuring Minnesota’s continued lead in the agriculture industry depends on the investments we make in research and education today.”
The final version of the omnibus bill received bi-partisan support in the Senate. With both bodies’ approval, the legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.