MN Senate takes aim at environment and public's right to know

by Trevor Russell

While many of our lives have been disrupted by the global pandemic, one thing remains alarmingly consistent: The Minnesota Senate is once again taking aim at our state's bedrock environmental laws.

This session, which is scheduled to end May 18th, they've even added in a ban to prevent state agencies from discussing certain groundwater work with the public.

Please take a moment to ask your Senator to remove these damaging provisions.

To learn more, read on.

Environment bill rolls back environmental protections

The Senate's omnibus environment bill (SF 4499) combines multiple smaller bills into one package.

Currently, that includes six rollbacks to important water quality and groundwater protections and Minnesotan's right to know:  

  • Groundwater “gag rule”
    This bizarre language actually prohibits agency staff from discussing the state’s Groundwater Management Areas work with the public – undermining public trust in the agency while also violating Minnesota’s Data Practices Act. (Section 56)
  • 16-year wastewater holiday
    Provides a 16-year exemption from any new wastewater quality standards for some industrial polluters (Section 60)
  • Redefining groundwater "sustainability"
    This arbitrary, one-size-fits-all definition of "sustainable" water-use in state Groundwater Management Areas contradicts the definition recommended by agency experts. (Section 57)
  • Preventing modification of groundwater permits
    This provision prevents the Department of Natural Resources from modifying permits that are transferred with the sale of land to take into account evolving groundwater sustainability issues. (Section 54)
  • Cart-before-the-horse economic assessments
    This section requires the state to provide an economic impact estimate of groundwater management plans before those plans have even been prepared. (Section 54)
  • Undermining protections for private wells
    This provision forces the Department of Natural Resources to reduce the compensatory awards to some individuals who have experienced compromised private well water levels most often caused by the actions of massive commercial irrigators. (Section 58) 

But wait — there's more!

In addition to the water rollbacks, the bill also undermines a variety of state agency initiatives and authorities.

Several highlights (or lowlights) include:  

  • Requiring legislative approval of agency fees
    These sections make fees under the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) subject to legislative approval, which is unnecessary when existing laws already limit the parameters under which agencies develop fees. (Sections 59, 61-63)
  • Blocking the Clean Cars rule
    This provision revokes the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s authority to pursue Clean Cars rulemaking, a central part of the state’s climate resiliency strategy. (Section 66)
  • Creating a "forever" industrial air pollution holiday
    This section allows industrial polluters found to be exceeding allowable air pollution levels to be able to continue to pollute at those levels as long as it doesn’t make changes to its operations. (Section 79)
  • Redirecting funding for statewide solid waste diversion programs
    This section guts statewide solid waste diversion programs by forcing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to transfer 95% of its annual landfill abatement revenue to counties instead. (Section 72)

As you can see, these provisions take dead aim at the ability of our state agencies to address important natural resource issues.

Many of these provisions would compromise the health of our air, land, water and people. We find it hard to believe that - and are not acceptable to Minnesota voters.

Please take a moment to reach out to your Senator and ask that these provisions be removed from the bill before passage on the Senate floor.

Speak up today – become a River Guardian!

Rollbacks attempts like this one are why we count on our network of River Guardians to take action to support and strengthen environmental protections for our great river and beyond. Sign up to be a River Guardian and we'll be in touch when you can act to support clean water and our river corridor this legislative session.

River Guardians also get invitations to special FMR happy hour events, like our upcoming post-session (virtual) happy hour, where we'll review everything that happened this session and what it means for the river.

More water and legislative updates.