How the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund fared this session

by Trevor Russell

In 1988 (and twice since then), Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment to dedicate lottery proceeds to the state’s Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund.

One major controversy this session was a Senate attempt to raid this fund for prohibited purposes.

A blossoming controversy

The trouble started when the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) attempted to make its required annual recommendations to the Legislature for how to appropriate Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars.

During a contentious meeting last July, some legislators on the commission attempted to insert grant money for wastewater treatment plant upgrades into their recommendations. This move reanimated concerns about previous attempts to raid dedicated environmental funds for prohibited projects.

Those concerns were validated earlier this session when the Senate brought forward environment trust fund legislation containing the raid. 

Taking action

In the last month of the session, FMR teamed up with Audubon Minnesota, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Clean Water Action, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership to make 1,874 contacts to legislators encouraging a clean bill.

Our coalition also reached out to media sources to support press coverage from MPR, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Duluth News Tribune and The Timberjay. And worked closely to coordinate a powerful commentary from a number of former commission members that was published in the Star Tribune.

The House and Senate response

Following that public pressure, we were thrilled to see the Senate change course and offer a bill without the wastewater treatment grant money. We're proud of this major win in the regular session.

In fact, both chambers eventually offered relatively "clean" bills and approved language to extend existing grants by an additional year to account for COVID-19 delays.

However, both chambers also modified the proposals by adding new items or adding additional funding that did not align with LCCMR recommendations.

The House version added additional funding for several recommended projects on climate change, PFAS contamination research, STEM education and emerald ash borer management.

The House also added some new projects, including drinking water protection research, education on preventing lead poisoning in raptors, the Lawns to Legumes program, the Birch Lake recreation area, and renewable energy grants for small wastewater facilities.

Over in the Senate, members added a dozen additional projects focused mostly on flood mitigation and control, USDA Forest Service land exchanges, a state park ATV trailhead and an Adopt-a-Dumpster program (part of the state's Chronic Wasting Disease response).

The clock runs out

Rather than stand-alone bills, the environment trust fund bills in each chamber were actually included as part of larger omnibus environment bills.

The House omnibus environment bill passed the House floor with a vote of 74-59. The Senate followed suit and passed their omnibus environment bill with a vote of 41-26.

However, the clock ran out before the two chambers could appoint a conference committee to work out their differences between those two bills.

As a result, no final action was taken and no bill will be sent to the governor for his signature.

Looking ahead — we’re counting on you!

As is the case with most major legislative items this session, we’re looking ahead to a special session (most likely in mid-June) when a clean bill can be finalized and passed on to the governor for his signature.

Please take a moment to become a River Guardian so we can let you know when important river issues arise, and help you quickly and easily share your values with your legislators. 

River Guardians are also invited to free special events (including happy hours) to learn more about important legislative and metro river corridor issues and toast our accomplishments.

 

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