Environment Omnibus Budget Bill
Two-year funding is provided for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), Metropolitan Council Regional Parks, Minnesota Conservation Corps, Minnesota Zoo, Science Museum, and Minnesota Board of Tourism. The total for appropriations across all funds, including general fund spending, came to $1.66 billion for the biennium. Also included in the bill are the 2021 and 2022 appropriations from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), which include projects vetted and recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).
The original Senate target included a $15 million cut in general fund spending, but negotiations between the Senate, House, and Governor brought the committee’s target to an additional $30 million above base for the biennium. Ultimately, extra funding was added to that target to account for additional agreed upon items, such as the salary increases for conservation officers and associated retroactive payments. Included in the bill were the agencies’ requested operating adjustments, which will aid their important work protecting and maintaining Minnesota’s environment and natural resources.
This year’s budget bill also brought numerous policy changes, including some hard-fought priorities of the House DFL and the successful removal of many controversial Senate Republican priorities. (SF 20)
Notable items in SF 20 include:
Regulating and understanding PFAS
Known as a family of ‘forever chemicals,’ per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are an enormous family of manmade chemicals that are now pervasive polluters in our environment. They do not break down and can bioaccumulate in both humans and other living organisms. Included in this year’s budget is funding for identifying and understanding the sources of PFAS, as well as new restrictions around the inclusion of PFAS in food packaging that will go into effect by the year 2024. DFLers this year have been leading the push for funding to better understand PFAS pollution in our state, and the inclusion of these provisions signify a hard-fought DFL victory when Senate Republicans were reluctant to do little, if anything at all, to tackle this problem.
Statewide water quality and storage program
A proposal from Governor Walz and the Board of Soil and Water Resources, this new statewide program would allow BWSR to provide financial assistance to local governments aiming to protect their infrastructure, improve water quality and related public benefits, and mitigate climate change impacts. Though the governor and House had several provisions aiming to assist communities to combat the growing damage caused by climate-related weather phenomena, this program was the only provision to make it through negotiations with the Senate Republicans.
Carbon sequestration in Minnesota forests
Includes funding for increased tree planting in Minnesota forests and also requires the DNR to establish goals and practices for increasing carbon sequestration in public and private forests in the state; a report will be required to the Legislature in the year 2023. While considered by many DFLers to be the bare minimum the state needs to be doing to combat climate change, this additional funding will be important also as the state faces the impacts of Emerald Ash Borer to the state’s ash tree populations.
Agency policy provisions
The 2020 and 2021 policy changes requested by the DNR and MPCA were included. These changes are largely technical and noncontroversial in nature, requested by the agencies to assist them in their work. Among the provisions included are changes that would tighten restrictions on out-of-state water transfers from the Mt. Simon-Hinckley aquifer, which was an issue that arose after out-of-state companies applied for water-use permits to bulk export water from the state. Additional changes include legislative approval required for certain land sales and exchanges, an expansion of recycling and composting grant eligibility to include Tribal Nations, and changes to the Closed Landfill Investment Fund to aid in maintenance at certain closed landfills in the state.
Legacy Finance Omnibus Bill
The Legacy bill appropriates funding from the four ‘legacy’ funds that were established by the Legacy Constitutional Amendment approved by Minnesota voters in 2008. The four funds – the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Clean Water Fund, the Parks and Trails Fund, and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund – were established to provide ongoing support to projects across the state that protect and enhance water quality, provide access to the arts, preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage, and maintain our parks and trails.
This year’s bill appropriates $645.62 million; of that amount, $127.84 million is appropriated from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, $256.79 million is appropriated from the Clean Water Fund, $110.68 million is appropriated from the Parks and Trails Fund, and $149.75 million is appropriated from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
The bill largely maintains the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for the appropriations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. It includes a distribution ratio of 40:40:20 for parks and trails – 40% of the funding to the DNR for state parks and trails, 40% to the Metropolitan Council for metro parks and trails, and 20% to Greater Minnesota regional parks and trails. Similar to previous years’ bills, this year also includes a 47% distribution from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the long-term health of each fund is maintained by leaving a balance of at least 5% in each of the four funds. (SF 21)
Some of the projects that received funding in this year’s bill:
- Forever Green agricultural initiative ($4 million)
- Veterans Voices ($200,000)
- Appetite for Change ($150,000)
- TAP, supporting disability communities ($30,000)
- Minnesota Historical Society programs and grants ($33.1 million)
- Minnesota State Arts Board, including arts access and education ($70.38 million)
- Community identity and cultural heritage grants ($5 million)
- Children’s museums in St. Paul and statewide ($1.85 million)
- Indian Affairs Council, for preservation and education in Dakota and Ojibwe languages ($4 million)
2021 Environment legislation that passed
Dry cleaner environmental response account
Changes passed by the Legislature earlier in session would impact the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response and Reimbursement account, which is made up of fees paid by dry cleaner facilities and is used to reimburse dry cleaner owners and operators for the costs of cleaning up environmental contamination from dry cleaner facilities. While long-term modifications are still needed to ensure the financial stability of the fund, this year’s legislation will now give priority for reimbursements to dry cleaner owners, as the main contributors to the fund. The bill shifted some unused funding to help cover the costs already incurred by owners around the state, and it bans the use of perchloroethylene as a dry-cleaning solvent after Dec. 31, 2025; the solvent is classified as a likely carcinogen by the EPA and is known to cause damage to the kidney, liver, and immune systems. (SF 167)
2021 Environment legislation that did not pass
Environmental justice initiatives
Several proposals were offered this year that aimed at furthering environmental justice in the state. One such proposal statutorily defines an environmental justice community using US Census data, which includes lower income communities and communities with higher populations of people of color. Additional proposals sought more funding for enforcement staff to monitor air pollution from facilities in these areas as well as liaisons to these communities for targeted outreach and engagement during the permitting process, as well as changes to the PCA’s permitting process to give greater consideration to the community’s history of cumulative exposure to pollutants and any socioeconomic conditions that increase residents’ health risks to pollution exposure when issuing new or modified permits. (SF 1682, SF 186)
Climate Resiliency Grants
Communities throughout the state are increasingly unprepared for mega-rain events that are happening on an increasing basis due to our changing climate. When hit by these extreme events, aging and inadequate stormwater infrastructure is causing many local streets to flood, sewer systems to backup into homes and businesses, and wastewater treatment plants to release partially or fully treated sewage into lakes and rivers. Climate resiliency grants proposed by the House and governor would be available to counties, cities, townships, and Tribal Nations in the state to help pay for climate risk assessment, planning, and pre-design needed to develop bonding proposals for upgrading storm and wastewater infrastructure. (SF 1746)
Landfill Responsibility Act (LRA)
The LRA seeks to slow landfill expansion and lessen greenhouse gas emissions by expanding efforts to reuse items and divert waste out of landfills. This would be achieved by creating an obligation for landfills to decrease their impacts by funding waste prevention and reuse projects at a rate equal to 3% of their annual gross revenue from mixed and municipal solid waste disposal.
It would provide access to services such as: food donation, repair services, learning opportunities on meal-planning to avoid waste, and skill-building to be able to repair products. It also lessens dependence on landfills, which disproportionally affect environmental justice communities. Of the activities that can be funded, 40% of them would be required to directly service communities in environmental justice areas. (SF 1682)