'Zombie' 16-year water pollution holiday bill is back from the dead in #MNLeg

Last year, cities concerned about the cost of upgrading water treatment facilities to meet water quality standards were given a 16-year pass from the Legislature — meaning that recent upgrades would come with a 16-year holiday when it comes to meeting any future water quality standards.

The provision was struck down by two administrative law judges for violating the Clean Water Act, as many opponents to the bill had predicted during testimony on last year’s bills.

Undaunted, legislators have not only reintroduced the provision but expanded it to include industrial polluters!

Giving pollution sources a blanket 16-year holiday on all new water quality standards violates the basic principles of environmental management. This is exactly the sort of “one size fits all” environmental provision the bill’s own backers often speak against.

Is this even legal?

Language passed in 2017 was promptly challenged in court as a violation of the Clean Water Act. Two administrative law judges agreed.

Despite the same warnings this session, legislators are once again moving the bill forward. If passed, the language will likely return to the courts, where the same fate likely awaits.

If the bill is enacted and somehow survives initial court challenges, it almost certainly invites a series of case-by-case challenges, which would create uncertainty for municipal or industrial wastewater operators and increase the possibility of costly litigation.

Municipal cost challenges

It’s no secret that many municipalities are struggling with the costs of maintaining aging water infrastructure.

A recent report to the Minnesota Legislature estimates nearly $5 billion in costs for upgrades to water infrastructure in the next 20 years. However, the state estimates that only about 5% of that cost is related to meeting improved water quality standards or permit requirements.

From wastewater plants to aging sewer and water pipes – much of our water infrastructure was built in the 1970s and 80s and has already exceeded its designed lifespan. Simply put, concrete and metal don’t last forever, and this stuff needs to be replaced soon.

While addressing those costs is a real issue (and is why Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $167 million in bonding for such work this session), we urge legislators and the governor to work together to find long-term funding solutions rather than grant an unnecessary and legally questionable pollution holiday to municipal and industrial wastewater treatment sources.

After all, we’ve come a long way in treating wastewater in the last 16 years. It would be a shame to pause that progress for the next 16.

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. 


More legislative updates