Senate Republicans roll back environmental protections in this year’s Environmental Omnibus Bill

The Environment Policy Committee has heard and passed the policy provisions for the Senate Republicans’ 2021 Environmental Omnibus Bill. Like previous years, Republicans have opted to pursue controversial pieces of policy that strip our agencies of their authority to protect our natural resources and manage the state’s levels of pollution in our air, waters, and soils.

Among the most controversial provisions included in the bill is another attempt to strip MPCA of their authority to adopt more stringent vehicle emissions standards, standards that would open up the electric vehicle market in the state and give Minnesotans more options if they choose to purchase a fully electric or hybrid electric vehicle.

Additional provisions in the bill include one that would weaken the state’s standards for wastewater pollution, another that would hinder the state’s ability to ensure groundwater levels are sustainable in communities across the state, and a third would prohibit the state from enforcing best management practices to ensure our soil is kept healthy.

Senate DFLers on the committee offered several amendments to improve the bill’s language and make it a bipartisan piece of legislation, but each amendment was voted down by Republicans on a party-line vote. The bill was moved out of the Environment Policy Committee with notable DFL opposition, and is being sent to the Environment Finance Committee, where it is expected that Senate Republicans will tie crucial funding for state agencies to these controversial provisions – as they have done in years past.

Because the Legislature failed to pass bipartisan legislation in last year’s session due to the inclusion of controversial policy language, projects across the state are already in jeopardy of being unable to move forward, which means hundreds of jobs for Minnesotans are on the line, too. We know how important it is to Minnesotans that these projects are funded, so we will continue to fight for the passage of a clean bill. (SF 814)

Clean Cars rules continue to be topic of discussion in Republican Senate

It’s a new year, but Senate Republicans are still rehashing 2020 arguments. They have held several hearings about Governor Walz’s proposed Clean Cars rules, despite having held multiple hearings on the topic within the last year.

Proposed by the governor in September 2019, the initiative involves the state’s adoption of stronger low emission vehicle (LEV) standards and zero emission vehicle (ZEV) standards, following the lead of 14 other states and the District of Columbia. The proposal would require manufacturers to deliver more vehicles to the Minnesota market that produce lower greenhouse gas emissions and more vehicles with ultra-low or zero tailpipe emissions. Right now, less than half of the models available elsewhere in the country are available for purchase here in the state.

MPCA has been working to clarify some of the misinformation being circulated by some parties about the rules, including a claim recently published in an editorial by a Republican legislator that the new rule would block the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines by the year 2035 – a claim that is false. Additionally, under the proposed rules, no one would be required to give up their current vehicle, nor would they be required to submit to emissions inspections or purchase an electric vehicle, and Minnesotans would still be allowed to purchase a pick-up truck or other SUV if they choose to do so.

Senate Republicans argue the agency is wielding unilateral authority that shuts Minnesotans out of the process and circumvents the Legislature, despite the fact it was the Legislature that gave the agency the authority to engage in a rulemaking process in the first place. Additionally, the rulemaking process is years-long, which is equal to many legislative sessions; and when the public comment period for the proposed rules closed mid-March 2021, 10,000 Minnesotans had weighed in with their feedback – which goes above and beyond any level of engagement seen at the limited number of legislative hearings.

While they are once more including the provision in this year’s Senate Environment omnibus bill, Republicans are also moving a standalone bill to repeal MPCA’s authority to adopt the standards – in direct retaliation to the ongoing rulemaking process. If the provision became law, the state’s agency charged with regulating pollution would not be able to address one of the leading sources of air pollution – vehicle emissions.

Despite the overwhelming amount of testimony – both during committee and submitted in writing – against this proposal, Republicans on the committee voted to advance the bill to its next committee stop, with DFLers unanimously voting against the proposal.

The bill has advanced through several Senate committees, most recently the Finance Committee, and is awaiting final passage on the floor, where DFLers are prepared to defend the agency’s right to regulate air pollution and ensure all Minnesotans have clean air, regardless of their race, income, or zip code.

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DFLers push for Republicans to pass bill with critical funding for projects and jobs that would help the environment

The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) Bill contains funding for projects from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF). The ENRTF was established in 1988 through a constitutional amendment and holds assets generated by the Minnesota State Lottery for the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. Up to 5.5% of the value of the ENRTF by June 30, 2020, is available to be appropriated during this biennium, and projects in the bill were vetted and unanimously recommended by all 17 LCCMR members present.

Despite the universal approval of these projects during this biennium and in recent years, Senate Republicans have made a habit of using funding for LCCMR projects as a bargaining tool within their Environment Omnibus Bill rather than passing the provisions as standalone bills. Last year, necessary funding was held up in their attempts to strip the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency of their ability to adopt vehicle emissions standards, and the jobs tied to these projects were put on hold because of their partisan politics.

Advocates are urging the Senate to pass these bills this year without tying any controversial provisions to them, so that Minnesotans can get to work on projects designed to protect and enhance our state’s natural wonders. However, when asked by Senate DFLers during the bill’s hearing, the Republican chair of the Environment Finance Committee declined to pledge his commitment to passing this bill on its own and instead laid it over for possible inclusion in a broader Senate Environmental Omnibus Bill.

Senate DFLers will continue to advocate for the passage of this funding as individual bills rather than tying them to controversial provisions, because Minnesotans deserve to have access to this constitutionally dedicated fund and should not have to wait to get to work on these projects. (SF 690)