Environment, Energy and Agriculture

Water

Clean water is widely supported by Minnesotans and it cannot be taken for granted.  Currently 40% of the state’s waters are listed as impaired or polluted. Aquatic invasive species have infested more than 550 lakes statewide. Initial testing shows that 60% of the wells in Central Minnesota may not provide safe drinking water.

  • Buffers. Republicans will likely attempt to weaken measures that were put into place to improve water quality by establishing perennial vegetation along waterways and ditches. These buffer strips are one of the most effective ways to improve water quality.
    • In 2015, the DFL Senate supported legislation to designate tens of thousands of acres for new water quality buffer strips across the state.
    • In 2016, the DFL Senate supported clarifications and adjustments to buffer rules to ease implementation and financial support to help landowners comply with buffer rules.
  • Groundwater. Republicans may attempt to undermine the state’s program to regulate groundwater. Groundwater is vital to Minnesota’s prosperity, but it is at risk of overuse and contamination in several parts of the state.
    • Under DFL leadership, Minnesota has made excellent progress in ensuring that use of groundwater is sustainable and does not harm ecosystems, water quality, or the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
  • Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. Republicans may attempt to roll back Minnesota’s Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program.
    • Passed in 2013 under DFL leadership, this voluntary program is an opportunity for farmers and agricultural landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect water. Those who use approved farm management practices are certified and given regulatory certainty for ten years. In 2015, the program expanded from four pilot areas, allowing farmers to participate statewide.
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Rules. Republicans may call for such proposals as requiring cost-benefit analyses of the impact of new or amended water quality regulations, and requiring independent peer review of regulations that impose costs.
    • These proposals were part of the controversial environmental bill that was vetoed in 2015 (H.F. 846), and that strongly divided urban and suburban legislators from those representing Greater Minnesota.

Environmental Permitting

Republicans will propose measures to further shorten the timeline and reduce the cost of environmental permitting.

  • In 2014, legislation passed with strong bipartisan support to streamline environmental agency regulation and permitting. Changes included new tiered environmental permitting goals (90 days and 150 days), flexibility in voluntary expedited permitting, and a simpler administrative penalty order process.
    • Long, unnecessary delays cost businesses time and money. Since passage of the 2014 legislation, 99% of priority permits and 94% of all permits are being issued within 150 days.
    • Further efforts to streamline the environmental permitting process should reduce timelines and costs without sacrificing environmental goals.

Pollinators

Republicans will push back on efforts to restrict uses of neonicotinoid pesticides to help reverse the decline of bee and other pollinator populations, saying they are burdensome and expensive  for farmers.

  • The national crisis surrounding pollinators has hit Minnesota hard, with beekeepers reporting a 50% loss of their colonies in the 2014-15 season alone.
  • In 2014, the DFL legislature passed a bill that prohibited plant nurseries from marketing plants as bee- and butterfly-friendly if they are grown with the use of neonicotinoids.  (In 2015, the final Agriculture and Environment Finance Bill included a measure that scaled back the 2014 legislation, allowing plants sold as “pollinator friendly” to include some insecticide use.)
    • In August, 2016, Governor Dayton issued an executive order with requirements and recommendations to limit the use of neonicotinoids, and has said he will ask the legislature for authority to regulate neonicotinoid-treated seeds before they are planted.
    • Other legislative proposals could include the establishment of a dedicated pollinator protection account to support research and education on pollinators and pesticides, and state review of neonicotinoids.

Energy

Republicans may advance proposals to roll back Minnesota’s progress on renewable energy.

  • Renewable Energy Standard. Republicans may try to alter the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.  In 2007, legislation was enacted with strong bipartisan support to set Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard at 25% renewable energy by 2025.  Republicans have expressed support for an approach that includes continued use of nuclear and coal-based electricity generation and more hydroelectric power.
    • In 2015, Minnesota generated 21% of its electricity from renewable energy, up from 6% a decade earlier. 17% of Minnesota’s electricity was generated by wind energy, compared with 3% in 2005. Coal-fired electricity dropped from 62% in 2005 to 44% in 2015.
    • Many metro/suburban Democrats argue that Minnesota needs to make better progress toward climate change goals, and the Renewable Energy Standard should be strengthened.
  • Nuclear Moratorium. Republicans are likely to want to repeal the state’s 22-year moratorium on building new nuclear power plants, saying the state needs this source of reliable power.
    • Opponents have argued that Minnesota’s utilities have not been asking for more baseload power, there is no long-term solution for storage of toxic nuclear waste, and Minnesota needs to move away from nuclear energy.
  • Conservation Spending. Republicans may try to undermine the state’s energy savings goals.
    • Minnesota’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) is recognized nationally as a leader in utility-administered efforts to achieve energy savings. It reflects the state’s long-standing commitment to energy efficiency – saving consumers and businesses money, creating jobs, and benefiting the economy.
  • Renewable Development Fund. Republicans may try to cap and/or eliminate the state’s obligation to fund the Renewable Development Fund.
    • For many years the Renewable Development Fund has served as a key resource to expand Minnesota’s renewable energy markets and support emerging renewable energy technology.
    • At a time when Minnesota needs to continue moving forward on renewable energy, this proposal would derail important energy initiatives and Minnesota’s significant progress.
  • “Made in Minnesota” Solar Program.  Republicans are likely to propose a redesign of the “Made in Minnesota” solar program. Proposals could include diverting the program’s funds for building electric car infrastructure.
    • Democrats have supported this popular program, which encourages solar panel manufacturers to locate in Minnesota through subsidies that encourage the solar industry while helping residential and business owners afford solar energy.
  • Oil Pipelines. Republicans may propose to exempt oil and natural gas pipelines from the Public Utilities Commission’s Certificate of Need requirement.
    • DFLers and the Department of Commerce argued in 2015 that this proposal would not speed up the permitting process and would eliminate crucial public review of the need for pipeline projects.
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