Environment and Natural Resources
Although a few bills were enacted last session, the vast majority of the committee’s policy and funding work was vetoed or didn’t pass, including a wide-ranging environmental policy bill, numerous spending initiatives, changes related to the wild rice water quality standard, buffer law implementation waivers, a chronic wasting disease task force, forest inventory improvements, and more.
What has happened in this issue area since last session? A number of commissions and task forces met through the interim and will bring recommendations to the Legislature for the 2019 session: the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the Clean Water Council, the Legislative Water Commission, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, the Wild Rice Task Force, and others.
What is expected to happen this session?
There likely will be many items left over from last year that can gain bipartisan approval, if they are not packaged as they were last session in a mega-omnibus bill. Much (but certainly not all) of last year’s unsuccessful Environment Policy and Finance Committee work is not particularly controversial and may find support in 2019. Proposals coming from the DFL-led House will be more progressive than bills we’ve seen in the past two years, and it is yet to be seen how these will play out.
Clean Water Initiatives
2019 clean water measures are likely to include research and technology to clean up contamination of water and habitat, and a more comprehensive clean water framework to address water pollution more efficiently.
The Legislative Water Commission has built consensus around several priorities, including:
- Preparing water policy for an uncertain future, guiding adaptation for changes throughout the state that will likely impact climate, landscapes, hydrology, and infrastructure.
- Ensuring adequate water infrastructure. The state’s water-related infrastructure is aging and presents threats to the state’s economy and public health. Several measures are recommended, including increasing Public Finance Authority General Obligation Bond appropriations on a continuing basis.
- Protecting streams, lakes, and groundwater. This includes proposals to keep water on the land, reduce erosion, improve soil and water quality, and increase groundwater recharge.
- Reducing the use of de-icing salt that impairs lakes, rivers, and groundwater. This involves expanding applicator training and limiting liability for applicators following training and certification.
- Ensuring sustainable drinking water. Various proposals protect vulnerable aquifers and make changes that support clean drinking water.
- Preserving and protecting Minnesota’s lakes. Measures include an agency program to oversee lake protection policy and plans, and an interagency working group to coordinate data collection and analysis.
LCCMR (lawsuit) traditional bonding
In 2018, the recommendations of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) for Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) spending were folded into the Capital Investment Bill, and the ENRTF was used to finance bonds for a $98 million package of infrastructure projects. Environmental groups have since filed a lawsuit to reverse the spending from the ENRTF. Legislation is likely that restores funds to the ENRTF by using traditional general obligation bonds for these projects. In the meantime, the LCCMR has selected 68 projects totaling $53.7 million to recommend to the 2019 Legislature for funding from the ENRTF next year, considered through its competitive, multi-stage evaluation process.
Chronic Wasting Disease
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease found in the cervid family: deer, moose, and elk. Until the 2018 deer hunting season there were 17 confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in Minnesota’s wild deer herd, concentrated within a 5-mile radius in southeastern Minnesota. The current total of 28 positive tests indicates the disease may be persistent and a potential threat to the state’s $1 billion deer hunting industry. Legislative discussions will likely focus on efforts to adequately control and contain the disease. Senator Klobuchar is calling for expanded federal CWD tracking, and universal standards for transporting deer across state lines.
Wild Rice Task Force
Following the 2018 legislative session, Governor Dayton established a wild rice task force and charged it with: 1) reviewing existing peer-reviewed scientific literature and wild rice conditions, and 2) recommending specific policy proposals and actions that can be taken by state government and the private sector to protect wild rice in Minnesota, while supporting continued economic development and job creation across Minnesota. These recommendations are due in December 2018.
Combating invasive species is one of the state’s most challenging environmental problems. Aquatic and terrestrial invasive species are a significant threat to the state’s lakes, rivers, parks, and other natural resources. Legislative discussions may include finding a permanent source of funding to prevent, contain, and remove invasive species.
Governor Dayton’s signature clean water law requiring buffers went into effect in November 2017. The compliance rate is high – over 95% on Minnesota’s public bodies of water. During the 2018 campaign, Governor-elect Walz said he would build on legislative amendments that gave farmers more flexibility with buffers, depending on the unique features of their land and water. He expressed openness to a tax rebate plan, as long as the funds are not sourced from the Legacy’s Clean Water Fund, as was proposed by some in 2018. That proposal, backed by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, offered farmers $50-per-acre tax credits for land use, but was not enacted.