Environment conferees meets through the week

The Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee met this week, beginning the process of reconciling differences between the Senate and House positions on a two-year budget for environment and natural resource agencies. The bills also include numerous policy differences which must be resolved.

The conference committee spent its first meetings reviewing a spreadsheet comparing the Senate, House, and governor’s proposed budgets. The governor’s budget requests an additional $58 million in direct appropriations for environment and natural resources agencies. His proposed gas tax generates about $15.8 million of the increase. The Senate’s budget cuts about $36 million in direct appropriation base funding with no gas tax funding, and the House’s budget provides an additional $82 million, along with new gas tax funds.

The conference committee heard from state agency heads, including Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen, Board of Water and Soil Director John Jaschke, and John Edmund of Explore Minnesota Tourism. Much of the testimony involved a variety of harms to public services that would occur if the Senate’s budget approach were enacted. Conferees also heard wide-ranging testimony from at least 40 individuals and groups, who voiced their issues and concerns with the bill.

The conference committee next begins the difficult work of comparing and adopting items into a final bill, finding agreed-upon compromise where possible. (SF 2314)