MN Senate says: It's clean cars or state parks, not both

by Trevor Russell

Earlier this week, the environmental debate at the Legislature crescendoed when the Senate threatened to block the entire Omnibus Environment Bill if Gov. Walz doesn't agree to repeal the Minnesota Pollution Control Agencies’ existing authority to regulate auto emissions.

Our friends at Conversation Minnesota shared the precise moment on Twitter.

What’s at stake? Well, a lot, actually.

The Omnibus Environment Bill combines state funding for the next two years for Minnesota’s front-line environmental agencies and more. This includes base funding for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources (including state parks), and the Board of Water & Soil Resources, as well as the Minnesota Zoo and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Also at stake: Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund spending. This fund is supported with constitutionally dedicated, voter-approved state lottery proceeds. It provides funding for projects across the state – including important FMR river restoration projects.  

The bill has (until recently) been free from partisan politics, but since both last year’s bill (which was never approved) and this year’s bill were wrapped into the Omnibus Environment Bill, funding for both years now hangs in the balance too.  

The governor’s reaction

Here is Gov. Walz' reaction to the Star Tribune about the unexpected ultimatum:

"There's irony in that, they are going to hold up the environmental budget for a proposal that cleans the environment," Walz said. "The idea that you would shut down government, shut down funding … because we're doing what 15 other states and most of the rest of the world has done just doesn't make any sense to me."

Looking ahead

The Legislature is due to wrap up its work on May 17 this year, though the governor can call lawmakers back to a “special session” if needed. The state’s budget year begins July 1, meaning any unfunded portions of state government must shut down — an ugly prospect for Fourth of July weekend campers. 

So lawmakers have a brief window to come to an agreement or risk an ugly repeat of the 2011 state shutdown.

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