2022 Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund bill
Though it originally failed to garner enough support to pass its first committee in the Senate, the Legislature ultimately passed a bill to allocate funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) and sent the bill to Governor Walz for his signature. The final bill passed the Senate unanimously, but it was not without controversy.
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. The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) typically reviews projects and makes recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend the funds, but the commission failed to reach a consensus on a proposal in 2021 resulting in no recommendations being made to the Legislature for the 2022 legislative session.
In the absence of formal LCCMR recommendations, the Legislature can still move forward with making appropriations from the ENRTF. But instead of following the guidelines of the decades old LCCMR for vetting projects, Senate Republicans chose to circumvent historical practices by inserting their own projects into the spending bill. During its multiple committee stops, Senate DFLers raised concerns over such practices, citing the critical nature of vetting these projects to ensure they follow the constitutional guidelines of funding projects using the ENRTF.
The final bill approved by the Legislature appropriated $70.88 million from the Trust Fund for 78 projects and represented a significant compromise between the Senate and the House. (HF 3765)
2022 Outdoor Heritage Fund bill
This year’s bill to appropriate funds from the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) contained $159.049 million in spending on projects designed to “restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.” The Outdoor Heritage Fund is one of the four ‘Legacy’ funds established by constitutional amendment in 2007 by voter approval.
The annual OHF bill represents the culmination of work from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC), a 12-member council created by the Legislature in 2008 consisting of legislators and citizens appointed by the governor and by the House and Senate majority caucuses. The council is tasked with the responsibility of reviewing project proposals to ensure they are consistent with the direction of the Outdoor Heritage Fund established in the Constitution and in state law, and they provide annual funding recommendations to the Legislature from the OHF.
This year’s bill provides: $35.03 million for nine projects that impact prairies; $13.26 million for five projects that impact forests; $26.77 million for seven projects impacting wetlands; and $83.36 million for 22 projects impacting habitats.
Because of this year’s surplus, the Outdoor Heritage Fund also saw a positive outlook projected when the February 2022 budget forecast was released. As a result, additional funding from the OHF was approved by the Legislature for these critical projects. (HF 3438)
DID NOT PASS
Environment omnibus bill
Though the environment conference committee was able to wrap up their work in the final hour of the legislative session, the final agreement was not brought to the Senate floor for approval by the full body. As a result, this year’s work on policy changes and funding for environmental matters in the state was left unfinished.
The original bill passed by Senate Republicans was filled with highly controversial policy positions and invested a paltry $1.4 million in a new events promotion account. Rather than focusing on real issues our communities face with the increase in climate-related severe weather and excessive levels of air and water pollution, Republicans sought to weaken agencies’ ability to address these issues and instead add unnecessary bureaucratic layers to the state’s permitting process. Their original bill sought to roll back protections for the state’s air and water and included several policy provisions that would endanger the state’s precious natural ecosystems.
The agreement that came out of conference with the House removed the controversial provisions pushed by Senate Republicans, but a low budget target of $10 million meant the conferees had to be very strategic in how they made investments in this critical issue area. Ultimately, the conference committee included items such as various investments in replacing ash trees in the state impacted by Emerald Ash Borer, increased funding for parks and trails across the state, and some of the noncontroversial policy changes sought by the DNR and MPCA. There is funding for voluntary CWD testing of farmed and wild white-tailed deer using a new test that can be performed on live animals, investments in public water and fish hatchery infrastructure, and funding for grants to communities seeking to increase tourism in their region after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the governor calls the Legislature back for a special session, there will be an opportunity to pass the agreed-upon bill. (SF 4062)
Governor’s priorities not heard by Senate Republicans:
The governor’s proposal, which did not receive a hearing in the Republican Senate, would have made a once-in-a-generation investment in habitat conservation and restoration, protecting our state’s clean water, ensuring equitable access to state parks, and preparing our communities for climate change. While the negotiation process gave the administration a couple of hard-fought wins, the vast majority of Governor Walz’s proposed investments were left out of the final deal, including:
- $32 million for enhancing grasslands, wetlands, state park roads, and trails, planting native grasses, restoring streams, and culvert enhancements
- $79 million for grants to our communities for climate resiliency work for our storm and wastewater infrastructure, grants to store water on the land following climate-related rain events, and modernizing our fish hatcheries to withstand climate change
- $3 million for grants to communities to enhance water conservation efforts
- $25.6 million to help communities reduce pollution and increase efforts to recycle, including grants to communities for reducing PFAS contamination, grants and loans to increase waste prevention and recycling, technical assistance and grants for community wastewater treatment systems, and grants to small businesses for pollution prevention assistance
Environment Trust Fund extension through constitutional amendment
Though it received several committee hearings during this year’s session, the bipartisan bill to initiate the process to place a constitutional amendment on Minnesotans’ ballots in 2024 was never brought to the Senate floor for final approval. If the bill had passed, it would have allowed Minnesota voters to vote on whether to extend a current amendment that dedicates a portion of the state’s lottery sale proceeds to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF).
The ENRTF was first established following voter approval of a constitutional amendment in 1988. The Trust Fund holds assets that can be appropriated, “for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.” Since 1991, the ENRTF has provided over $700 million to more than 1,700 projects around the state.
Unlike the current language of the amendment, this year’s proposal also included some changes to clarify the intention of the Legislature for specific uses of the fund’s dollars and added an additional provision to establish a separate fund for public water infrastructure projects.
The bill earned unanimous support from DFLers and Republicans as it traveled through committee, and testifiers spoke to how cherished this funding is to the state of Minnesota, whose citizens are proud to protect and preserve the natural resources we all enjoy. Because it failed to pass, next year’s Legislature will need to take up this critical issue to ensure that the ENRTF continues to be funded past its current 2025 expiration date. (SF 4131)
Statewide clean water availability for the next 50 years
During the final days of the legislative session, Senate DFLers attempted to move critical legislation that would ensure Minnesota has a sustainable supply of clean water for the next 50 years. The motion, which would have required 41 votes to move forward, failed 34-33.
Especially in the face of a changing climate and excess pollution in our environment, now is the time to take proactive measures to ensure that future Minnesotans have access to clean water. In just 2019, a company attempted to pump water from a Minnesota aquifer to ship it out west, where droughts and wildfires have become commonplace occurrences. Water is one of Minnesota’s most precious resources, and we are fortunate, as the Land of 10,000+ Lakes, to have an abundant supply of water. But we should not take this for granted.
With the climate crisis causing increased extreme weather phenomena, including the droughts and wildfires we’ve been seeing, it’s critical that we make a plan now to protect this highly sought-after resource. (SF 3633)