Environment budget left in limbo, no progress in negotiations despite hearings

Though the Environment and Natural Resources conference committee met nine times – the House convening six hearings and the Senate three – in the final weeks of session, no progress was made towards working through the differences between the two versions of this year’s policy and budget omnibus bill. Senate Republicans maintained throughout that time that they couldn’t begin working on anything with a financial component to it, despite the many non-general fund financial components contained within the bill.

In the final meeting of the conference committee, which was convened by the House, the committee attempted to adopt the 2020 and 2021 funding recommendations for the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) made by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), but because no Senate members showed up to the hearing, a lack of quorum prevented the adoption of any provisions. This lack of attendance by the Senate Republican and Independent conferees was unfortunately a common occurrence – Senate members routinely either didn’t show up at all or left the hearing after only 10 minutes.

The global budget target for the committee was announced on the final day of the legislative session; the original target set by Senate Republicans was a decrease of $15 million under the base amount, which would have resulted in cuts across the board to crucial state agencies. The new target for the committee is $30 million, which is $45 million more than was proposed by Senate Republicans. Despite achieving consensus over the committee’s target, there was no indication as to whether or not Senate Republicans have decided to move on from their original threat to hold up funding unless the governor and House agree to halt the Clean Cars rulemaking that was recently permitted to move forward by an administrative law judge.

What is still left on the line to accomplish for Minnesotans this year? While the list is incredibly long, some of the top issues include:

  • Budgets for the following state agencies: Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Metropolitan Council (for metro area parks and trails), Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), Minnesota Zoo and the Science Museum, Minnesota Conservation Corps, and the Minnesota Board of Tourism
  • Funding for projects recommended by the LCCMR, including leftover work from 2020 and new projects recommended for 2021
  • Policy and financial provisions to help the state tackle the growing problem of PFAS pollution
  • Necessary, noncontroversial policy changes requested by state agencies to assist them in their work and critical resource management
  • Funding to address pollution in landfills, our air, our soil, and our waters, especially within areas of environmental justice concern
  • Grants to assist local communities in the establishment and implementation of climate adaptation and resiliency plans and forestry resources to aid in carbon sequestration
  • Funding to address aquatic invasive species and chronic wasting disease

The list is long, and Minnesotans cannot wait for some of the proposed projects to receive funding. If Senate Republicans continue to refuse to come to the table to talk through differences, Minnesotans will see the closure of state agencies tasked with managing our state parks and trails, recreational activities, and pollution mitigation among other things come July 1. The time to work is now. (SF 959)