Senate approves controversial environmental bill

With nearly all DFL Senators voting no, the Senate debated and voted 36-30 for preliminary approval of a controversial package of environmental budget and policy measures. The vote was taken during the wee hours of Thursday morning, a time when most Minnesotans are home and in bed.

Widely opposed by environmental organizations and strongly criticized by affected state agency commissioners, the bill makes dozens of changes to Minnesota’s environmental regulations that critics say will limit citizens’ voices, force procedural requirements that slow down environmental permitting, politicize the science around environmental protection, cut funds for state parks, trails, and other outdoor amenities during a time of budget surplus, and more.

One section of the bill goes after a signature priority for Governor Dayton: buffer protections to clean up Minnesota’s waters. It exempts about 200,000 acres from water quality and habitat benefits and fails to provide basic buffer implementation funding to local governments.

Other measures include:

  • Suspending water quality standards for two years, so the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will not be able to issue permits for wastewater treatment plants until 2019 – potentially leaving cities exposed to third-party lawsuits.
  • Prohibiting local governments from banning or charging a fee on plastic bags, eroding local control and overriding the will of local residents.
  • Setting a “one-size-fits-all” requirement for the Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue permits within 150 days, a mandate that fails to recognize that some projects are located in sensitive areas or are too big or complex to be permitted within this time frame.
  • New feedlot language that paves the way for more and bigger feedlots. It essentially doubles the size the largest feedlots can be before environmental review is required.

(SF 723)