Top 10 bad water bills at the legislative halfway point
As the Minnesota Legislature returns from its spring break, a troubling theme has emerged.
Many of the worst water bills this session undermine science and bypass public decision-making on important water issues.
Whether nullifying water quality standards, preempting local environmental laws or granting automatic approval for projects like Line 3, the Legislature is rolling up its sleeves and rolling back bedrock protections for water quality.
Here's our top-10 list of bad water bills (so far) this session.
The top 10 bad water bills
- Blocking the Drinking Water Protection Rule
To protect our drinking water, the state has proposed a modest rule (30 years in the making) to require improved fertilizer management in vulnerable areas. These rules help protect public and private wells from contamination. Most ag groups say they're not difficult to comply with.
Unfortunately, legislation to block the rule has been included in both the House and Senate Omnibus Agricultural Policy bills. This is bad for public health, the environment and the well-being of communities struggling with contaminated wells.
- Removing wild rice protections
To help protect Minnesota’s state grain the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency established a water quality standard of 10 mg/L sulfate in 1973. Now the Legislature is aiming to nullify the existing water quality standard AND end the current rulemaking process, denying even the most basic state protections for wild rice.
Legislatively nullifying water quality standards is unfair to our communities and sets a terrible precedent: Politics should not matter more than science when it comes to our environment.
- Approving the Line 3 Pipeline
The Line 3 pipeline bill terminates an ongoing public review and approval process and immediately grants Canadian Enbridge Energy full authority to build the Line 3 pipeline (on the company’s preferred route) without further approvals from the state!
This politically motivated Legislative overwrite ignores the concerns of communities, landowners, industries, and First Nations along the proposed route, and likewise ignore the state Commerce Department, which concluded that the project isn’t needed and won’t benefit Minnesota.
- The bill to allow regulated entities 'oversight' of their regulators
Every so often, a bill starts moving at the Capitol that defies rational explanation. This year it’s a bill brought to you from the folks at the Minnesota Environmental Science and Economic Review Board, which aims to give millions in state taxpayer funds to regulated parties like municipal wastewater authorities to allow them to provide “oversight” of their own state regulators.
- 'Zombie' 16-year wastewater holiday
What do you do when an administrative law judges strike down a bill that violates the Clean Water Act? Why not revive it – and expand it the following session?
This bill seeks to give both municipal AND industrial wastewater treatment plants a 16-year holiday from new water quality standards. Our water quality standards are scientifically set to ensure that our rivers and lakes are healthy. Giving 16-year exemptions for polluters isn't what Minnesotans want but some bad ideas never die.
- Suspending protections for White Bear Lake
This bill suspends an existing legal directive for managing groundwater in the northeast metro. If passed into law, the bill would result in two branches of government (Judicial & Legislative) offering conflicting instructions for the Executive branch (the Department of Natural Resources), putting sustainable water management (and water levels in White Bear Lake) in peril.
- Legislative approval over agency permit fees
State agencies are limited by law to only charge permit fees necessary to cover the costs of their permitting work. Nonetheless, the Legislature is attempting to grant itself approval authority over those fees.
Allowing the Legislature to block fee increases (where the costs of administering those permits have increased) starves our regulatory agencies and shifts the cost of regulation from polluters to taxpayers.
- Pre-empting local sustainability
House language removes the ability of local communities to regulate any type of packaging including single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam to-go containers, and more. As we noted in the State of the River Report, microplastics (and other contaminants) from these products can harm our waters.
This policy undermines local environmental policies and impedes the development of more sustainable product alternatives.
- Raiding the Environmental Trust Fund
The Senate version of this year's Environmental Trust Fund Bill claims $10 million from Environmental & Natural Resources Trust Fund (20% of the fund) and redirects it to grants to wastewater utilities. While Minnesota needs a significant investment in wastewater infrastructure, such systems were never the intended recipients of these funds. This is a major policy shift that denies resources for important environmental projects and misspends a voter-approved trust fund.
- Undermining DNR well permitting
Today, the state requires water use permits for operations using more than 10,000 gallons per day or 1,000,000 gallons per year. The state may require a test well before a new water appropriation permit is granted, to ensure that the proposed water use won’t compromise the aquifer or nearby wetlands. A bill in the house (HF 3679) would force the Department of Natural Resources state to pay out of pocket to for the costs of any test well where an appropriation permit is denied — even if the denial was the result of impacts on calcareous fens — a rare and fragile type of wetland.
You can help!
Bad environmental bills like this one are why FMR needs your help to protect our waters.
• Join us on Water Action Day (May 2, 2018)
Perhaps the best way to help stop bad environmental bills this session is to join us for Water Action Day — our day of public action and advocacy to let lawmakers know we care about our water.
This all-day event will include free breakfast and morning briefings on Minnesota's water issues, followed by the #ProtectOurWater rally in the rotunda, and meetings with legislators throughout the day. You can sign up for all or part of the day, whatever works for you.
• Become a River Guardian
Many of FMR's victories are thanks to our strong base of advocates. Sign up to become a River Guardian, and we'll email you when an important river issue arises and make it quick and easy to contact decision makers. River Guardians are also invited to special events, including happy hours, about important legislative and metro river corridor issues.