Senate environment committee unanimously advances $7.5 million environment bill

by Trevor Russell

Late last week, the Minnesota Senate Environment and Energy Finance Budget Division unanimously passed the Omnibus Environment & Energy Finance bill.

The bill includes a number of environmental provisions, including FMR's top legislative priority for the 2016 session: The Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program.

This bill, an "omnibus" bill that incorporates a number of stand-alone funding provisions into a single bill, was brought forward by Senate Environment & Energy Policy & Finance Committee Chair Sen. John Marty. Overall, the bill includes $7.5 million in supplemental environmental funding for the 2016-2017 fiscal years.

A brief summary of the water-related funding and policy provisions included in the Senate's bill is included below.]

  • Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program: $594,000
    • FMR's top legislative priority, the bill establishes the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program, and fully funds our $479,000 request for the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to prepare a feasibility study and program plan for future implementation of this vital program.
    • The bill also provides $115,000 for the MPCA to assist with development of the program plan.
  • Technical assistance for water infrastructure upgrades: $923,000
    • The provision directs $923,000 in FY 2017 for enhanced technical assistance for municipal water infrastructure upgrades. The Governor and Senate have made enhanced water infrastructure a priority, and this funding will allow agencies to issue more permits for upgrades, and manage an additional 12 such projects per year.
  • Review of water fees: $108,000
    • This provision directs $108,000 in FY 2017 from the environmental fund to manage a rulemaking process to enhance equity in water program permit fee structure.
  • St. Louis River clean up: $432,000
    • This provision allocates $432,000 in FY 2017 for cleaning up contaminated sediment through the St. Louis River remedial action plan to restore water quality in the St. Louis River area of concern.
  • Minnesota River basin water quality goals: $250,000
    • This provision provides $250,000 (of a $1,250,000 request) in FY 2017 to establish watershed-based sediment reduction, flow reduction, and nutrient reduction goals in the Minnesota River watershed. FMR has reservations about this funding, given that pollution reduction goals have already been established for Minnesota River basin watersheds.
  • Metro landfill investment fund: $491,000 (estimated)
    • This bill modifies the Metro Landfill Contingency Action Trust (MLCAT) by investing the trust fund through the State Board of Investment for long term fund growth. This investment is estimated to enhance long-term funding for monitoring and remediation of leaking closed landfills by $491,000 in FY 2017.
  • PolyMet mine legal defense: $1,432,000
    • This provision directs $1,432,000 in state general fund for legal costs associated with the Northmet Mining project (Polymet Mine). Several members raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest associated with the legal firm involved, which also represents the National Mining Association in other legal and policy matters.

This bill also includes a number of provisions that are not directly related to water quality programs, but are nonetheless beneficial to our state's natural resources including the Mississippi River and its watershed.

Next Steps
The bill will move to the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Cohen, before it is sent to the Senate floor for a full vote.

As the Senate and House versions of this will likely differ, the two chambers will establish a conference committee to reconcile the differences between their respective versions, and pass a single final bill to the floor of the House and Senate for final adoption.

We look forward to working with Chair Marty, Chair Cohen, Chair McNamara and members of both parties to secure funding for the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program and other priority environmental policy provisions in the Omnibus Environment Bill as the 2016 legislative session advances.