Environment & Natural Resources
The bill appropriates biennial funding for the Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Council – Regional Parks, MN Conservation Corps, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Zoo, Science Museum, and the MN Board of Tourism. The bill makes a 12.8% general fund reduction of $40 million, which is backfilled in many instances from other funds within this budget area. The largest general fund cut is $22 million for buffers; this bill shifts that cost to the Legacy Clean Water Fund. (H.F. 888)
Included in the bill:
- A five-year extension of the ban on open air swine basins
- Prohibition of local government plastic bag ordinances
- Language directing that Clean Air Act settlement funds be appropriated by the Legislature
- A propane bus and fueling station rebate program
- Elimination of a requirement that the MPCA conduct rulemaking on silica sand particulate emissions
- Changes that limit Governor Dayton’s buffer initiative
- Establishment of a non-binding water quality improvement goal: 25% improvement by 2025
- Wetland replacement provisions
- Changes to make-up of the Environmental Quality Board, expanding its representation to include a member from each congressional district
- Authorization of free annual state park permits for active military personnel, their dependents, recipients of a Purple Heart Medal, and veterans with any level of service-connected disability
- Various changes to Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permitting
- Two-year suspension of water quality standards that require upgrades or construction of wastewater treatment facilities
- Elimination of mandatory environmental review for certain feedlots that are not located in environmentally sensitive areas
- Authorization of scopes on muzzleloaders
- Allowing blaze pink in addition to blaze orange as legal clothing for hunter safety
- Authorization of two-line fishing for a $5 fee
- A prohibition on lead shot restrictions
The bill includes policy in a budget bill, weakening of buffer initiatives, and cuts state agency budgets without including the Governor’s proposal to raise DNR fees.
Senate DFL Caucus concerns:
Opponents have argued that proposals in this bill reduce or eliminate public input, put political considerations ahead of vetted science, slow down environmental permitting, and more. Some of the arguments critics have made include:
- The feedlot language paves the way for more and bigger feedlots, essentially doubling the size the largest feedlots can be before environmental review is required.
- New permitting requirements would have the opposite effect of their intent, actually slowing down permitting work and costing taxpayers.
- The two-year suspension of the phosphorous water quality standard and other water quality rules mean the MPCA would not be able to write permits for wastewater treatment plants during this time, and could leave cities exposed to third-party lawsuits.
- The bill exempts about 200,000 acres and 24,000 miles of watercourses from buffer requirements, lessening the law’s water quality and habitat benefits and failing to provide basic implementation funding to local governments.
- Reductions to the DNR’s budget would affect the quality of service in up to 34 state parks, including camping, sewer, water, and electricity. An estimated 200 fewer lakes would be stocked, and an area amounting to about 1/6th of the state would have no enforcement presence. Cuts to the water resources budget would mean less ability to combat aquatic invasive species.
- Less funding to the Board of Water and Soil Resources means less on-the-ground conservation work and landowner assistance.
- Requiring the DNR and MPCA to issue draft permits within 150 days without exceptions is a one-size-fits-all mandate that ignores the size, complexity and environmental risks of some projects that cannot be completed within this time period. Agencies already issue more than 90% of permits within statutory streamlining goals of 90 to 150 days.
- Prohibiting local governments from banning or placing fees on plastic bags erodes local control and overrides the political will of citizens.
Legacy Amendment bill
This bill appropriates a total of $529.3 million from the four funds established by the Legacy Amendment passed by the voters in 2008. $104.5 million goes to Outdoor Heritage Fund projects, $211.6 million to Clean Water Fund projects, $89.7 million to Parks and Trails Fund projects, and $123.3 million to Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund projects. (S.F. 566)
For Outdoor Heritage Fund spending, this bill maintains the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. For Parks and Trails Fund spending, the bill honors the 40:40:20 split, with 40% to state parks and trails, 40% to metropolitan area regional parks and trails, and 20% to Greater Minnesota regional parks and trails. For Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund spending, 47% is appropriated to go through the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Council system to benefit citizens in all 87 counties.
Senate DFL Caucus concerns:
Previous Legacy bills have mostly adhered to the Clean Water Council’s recommendations for spending from the Clean Water Fund. Under Republican leadership, this bill undermines the Clean Water Council’s recommendations by:
- Shifting funding for $22 million in grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) to help landowners comply with the state’s buffer law. When the buffer law was enacted in 2015, legislators agreed to fund the first two years of buffer work with Clean Water Fund money, but made a promise that future funding would come from the general fund. This bill breaks this promise and violates the spirit of the Legacy Amendment. The $22 million in SWCD funding means large cuts to clean water programs elsewhere in the bill.
- The bill de-funds programs that protect drinking water, cutting over $8 million in drinking and groundwater programs in spite of Clean Water Council recommendations for more funding to accommodate urgent drinking water and water supply protection needs.