House advances $8.93 million omnibus environment policy & finance bill

by Trevor Russell

House Bill #: H.F. 3890 (McNamara)

Late last week, the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee voted to approve its omnibus environment & natural resources policy and finance bill. While the bill includes a number of provisions requested by state agencies, it failed to include FMR's top legislative priority for the 2016 session: The Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program.

This bill incorporates a number of stand-alone funding and policy provisions into a single bill brought forward by House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee Chair Rep. Denny McNamara. The bill was approved on a near party-line vote, and will move forward to the House Ways & Means Committee.

Overall, the bill includes $8.64 million in new environmental funding. Of that, $3.9 million is new general fund spending, most of which is dedicated to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for legal funds to uphold decisions regarding the controversial Polymet copper and nickel mine in Northeastern Minnesota.

Finance Provisions

  • Water Resources: + $225,000
    • $225,000 in FY 2017 for groundwater modeling, monitoring and reporting relating to a House directive that the DNR increased Cold Spring's groundwater appropriation by 90 million gallons per year.
  • Forestry: No new funding – shift from general fund to dedicated forestry fund.
    • A reduction of $1.5M in general fund dollars, offset by an allocation of $1.5M from the state's forest management investment account. Of this money:
      • $3,000 is earmarked for a report of forest management at the Sand Dunes State Forest, and;
      • $3,000 is earmarked for a report on criteria certifying entities that conduct prescribed burns. 
  • PolyMet Mine Legal defense: +$5,400,000
    • A new general fund allocation of $1.74M in FY 2016 and $3.65M in FY 2017 for anticipated legal costs associated with the highly controversial Northmet Mining project (Polymet Mine) in Northeaster Minnesota.
  • Parks and Trails: + $2.3 million
    • $2.3 million in FY 2017 is allocated to parks and trail management from the state parks account. This funding
  • State Enforcement: + $720,000
    • $670,000 in FY 2016 for game and fish fund aviation services, for the purchase of a helicopter to assist with Fish and Game activities.  
    • $50,000 in FY 2016 for the water recreation account for implementation of for carbon monoxide detection device requirements for motorized boats 21 feet or longer with enclosed compartments (Sophie's Law).
  • Aggregate Mining Task Force: +$25,000
    • $25,000 in FY 2016 for an Aggregate Resources Task Force charged with recommending changes to state mapping, taxes, environmental review, permitting, and use of funds related to aggregate mining activities.
  • School Trust Lands: +$250,000
    • $250,000 in FY 2016 from the School Trust fund to initiate real estate development on school trust lands

Policy provisions

In addition to the financial allocations above, the bill includes a small number of related policy provisions. Unfortunately, a number of priority policy provision were not included in the house bill, including the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program.

  • Tribal wild rice harvest rights: This provision allows any person with a valid tribal identification card to harvest wild rice without a state license.
  • Mandatory Cold Spring water appropriation: this provision requires the DNR to amend the city of Cold Spring's water appropriation permit to allow for an additional 100 million gallons per year from 3 of the city's wells, offset by a reduction of 10 million gallons per year from either another city well or from Cold Spring Brewing Company. FMR shares the concerns of legislators from both parties over setting a precedent for enshrining water appropriations directives in state stature. A motion to remove this provision failed on a voice vote in committee.
  • Prescribed burns: the bill includes several provisions related to prescribed burns, including definitions, restrictions and certification criteria.
  • Sand Dunes State Forest: This provision bars the state from any new logging or tree removal at Sand Dunes State Forest, and requires a report on stakeholder engagement activities related to forest management at the forest.
  • Carbon monoxide detection device requirements: this provision includes new requirements for motorized boats with enclosed accommodation compartments.
  • Aggregate Mining Task Force: This provision establishes a proposed Aggregate Resources Task Force, and directs the task force to recommend changes to state mapping, taxes, environmental review, permitting, and use of funds related to aggregate mining activities.
  • Minerals management account & surplus state land sales: the bill includes several provisions related to the state's Minerals Management Account and surplus state lands.
  • Big Lake water level control: This provision, which was amended onto the draft bill on a near party-line vote in committee, directs the DNR to maintain a specific water level elevation for Big Lake (Grant County). FMR shares the concerns of several legislators over establishing a precedent for mandatory lake elevation levels in state stature – a precedent that could become problematic should additional lakes seek similar protections.

Missing provision: Unfortunately, despite bipartisan support form legislators, the House failed to include the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program provision. This provision would have funded the development of a program plan to jump start development of biofuels, green chemical and green energy initiatives using perennial crops and cover crops that protect water quality, soil health, and habitat while boosting the bottom line for Minnesota's farm operations.

We look forward to working with Chair McNamara and members of both parties to secure funding for the Working Lands provision in the final bill before the end of the 2016 session.