Senate Environment Omnibus Budget Bill loaded with controversial Republican provisions

The 2021 Omnibus Environment Budget Bill had its first hearing this week in the Environment Finance Committee. While many of the policy provisions had been heard and passed by Republicans previously, this marked the first discussion that included the proposal of this year’s agency appropriations. Senate Republicans may claim publicly their bill saves taxpayer dollars through cuts to government spending, their bill instead shifts spending to funds outside of the general fund, raising questions from some advocates over whether this is an appropriate use of these funds.

This year’s bill includes many controversial Republican priorities, including a provision to rollback the Pollution Control Agency’s (PCA) authority to set vehicle emissions standards and several others that would inhibit agencies’ ability to protect Minnesotans’ health and ensure the sustainability of our state’s environment and precious natural resources. And while the bill was controversial at the beginning of the committee hearing, Republicans took the opportunity to amend even more harmful provisions into the bill, including one that would circumvent the DNR’s wolf management planning by establishing outright an open season on wolves in the state, and another that would require the PCA to purchase electric vehicles from auto dealers in the state if the vehicles haven’t been sold by the dealers within 90 days.

At the same time, many important priorities were left out of the bill entirely, including funding for reforestation which would help reduce carbon emissions in the state, policy changes that would help the state tackle the growing issue of groundwater pollution from a family of forever chemicals known as PFAS, and funding requested from state agencies to help support Minnesota’s state parks and trails – which saw a drastic uptick in visitors during the pandemic when many Minnesotans turned to outdoor activities for their leisure.

DFLers on the committee went well into the evening offering amendments to the bill to make it more bipartisan, but each attempt to amend the bill was struck down by Republicans along party lines while asserting that now is not the right time to begin tackling some of the issues raised. One DFL amendment would have provided funding for equipment to monitor air pollution in areas of Environmental Justice concern, which include areas with high populations of low-income Minnesotans and areas with high populations of Black and Indigenous Minnesotans and other Minnesotans of color. Another DFL amendment Republicans rejected would have removed certain wastewater projects that are currently slated to receive funding from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which some have argued is an unconstitutional use of the fund.

The bill was passed out of committee along party lines, with all DFLers voting against its passage. It’ll be heard next in the Finance Committee, where we will once again attempt to shape this bill into one that reflects Minnesota’s values of providing clean water and clean air to everyone, regardless of their race, income, or zip code. (SF 959)