12 other wins for the Mississippi River from this legislative session

High river waters in the foreground, flooding a wooded shoreline.

While FMR wasn't leading on these efforts, we were quite happy to see them come out of the Capitol this session. (Photo by David Wheaton for FMR)

FMR was far from the only group to notch major accomplishments for the Mississippi River this session. (Learn more about FMR's successes.) Take a quick a look at these 12 wins for the river that many of our colleagues and fellow environmental organizations made happen, and which we are very happy to have seen make it out of the Capitol.

Phasing out toxic PFAS chemicals (Amara’s Law)

The environment omnibus bill includes the strongest PFAS protections in the country. PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” pollute our water and threaten public and environmental health. As we noted in our 2016 State of the River Report, the pollutants are also common in fish tissue in the Twin Cities metro Mississippi River. 

The new provisions, which take effect in 2025, prohibit the sale of consumer products with intentionally-added PFAS. That includes carpeting, cookware, children's products, cosmetics, dental floss, menstruation products and ski wax. Manufacturers must also disclose PFAS in any products they sell in Minnesota. 

The legislation was dubbed “Amara’s Law” thanks to the inspiring advocacy of Amara Strande, who passed away on April 14, 2023, after fighting a rare cancer she developed due to PFAS exposure. 

We are grateful to our friends at Clean Water Action and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for their leadership on this legislation. 

A chance to conserve Mississippi Dunes

The environment budget also includes a $6 million appropriation to the DNR to acquire more of the former Mississippi Dunes golf course property in Cottage Grove, which would then be added to the neighboring Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area. 

While FMR did not lobby for this appropriation, we’d be happy to see the widespread community interest in protecting this rare riverfront habitat bear this fruit.

This is not a certain outcome. Now, the DNR will begin to work with the property owner to try to negotiate this purchase. It’s not clear how much, if any, of the former golf course can be acquired at this time. 

The final outcome will depend on the ability of the DNR and the property owners to reach an agreement. 

Investing in community connections to the river

Legislators agreed to $2.6 billion for capital investment projects throughout the state in their bonding bills. We’re happy to see several metro-area riverfront projects receive funding.

In St. Paul alone, that includes Wakan Tipi Center, River Learning Center and RiversEdge (part of the downtown River Balcony project). Mississippi Gateway Regional Park in Brooklyn Park and Mississippi Crossings in Champlin were also funded. 

Each of these projects will improve community access to, and connections with, the river.

More money for clean water infrastructure

A pair of infrastructure bills (HF 669 and HF 670) included an unprecedented $381.1 million to the Public Facilities Authority for wastewater and drinking water treatment upgrades across the state. The bills also included $49.7 million for flood hazard mitigation programs and $15M for Minnesota River riverbank stabilization to help reduce a significant source of sediment pollution to the Mississippi River.

Extending the Midtown Greenway

The Legislature’s transportation bill focused on significant investments in transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure and other strategies essential to reducing the carbon footprint of our transportation systems.

Of note for river lovers is the direction to the Metropolitan Council to plan a continuous bike and pedestrian trail between the Midtown Greenway (which currently ends on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis) and Allianz Field in St. Paul. This would include developing an arrangement to extend the trail over the Mississippi River gorge on the existing Short Line Railroad Bridge. FMR has long supported extending the greenway over this bridge, which sees very little rail traffic and may be able to accommodate both train tracks and a trail side-by-side.

Funding Soil & Water Conservation Districts

County-based Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) are Minnesota’s frontline conservation organizations. They work hand in hand with local landowners to implement a variety of conservation projects that conserve soil, water and related natural resources on private land.

FMR has long worked alongside numerous partners to secure stable, long-term funding for the state’s SWCDs. This year, we broke through. The tax bill (HF 1938) includes $12 million per year going forward to provide base funding for these organizations.

This funding also helps protect the Clean Water Fund from being raided for this purpose — in turn, allowing the Clean Water Council’s recommendations to advance without being subject to such raids.

That’s a win-win for all Minnesotans. 

Cumulative Impacts Bill

The final omnibus environment bill helps to address environmental justice through “cumulative impacts” legislation. This provision requires the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to consider historical pollution when weighing whether to issue new or renewed air permits for facilities in environmental justice areas in the seven-county metro, regional centers and tribal areas. 

Once the agency-led rulemaking process is complete, Minnesota will join New York and New Jersey as the only states with such rules.

Enhanced groundwater protections 

The environment bill gives the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enhanced authority (including larger potential fines) to address groundwater permit violators who pump more groundwater than their permits allow. 

Responding to fish kills 

The environment bill requires state agencies to develop a strategy for investigating fish kills, including a rapid response team of interagency staff (or an independent contractor) that will take water samples and begin an investigation within 24-48 hours of a reported fish kill. 

Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve

The bonding bills include $10.7 million for the Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve. This money is used to preserve, restore, create and enhance wetlands, prairies, grasslands and riparian lands, in order to protect soil health, improve water quality, support fish and wildlife habitat and reduce flood damage. 

Protecting the Hmong American Farmers Association’s farm 

The Hmong American Farmers Association is the nation’s largest Hmong-owned and operated nonprofit farming collective. They’re also valuable FMR partners and stewards of the land in a critical habitat corridor along the river. 

The farm, which straddles Highway 52 in Dakota County, was threatened by a county interchange proposal that could have consumed one-third of the association’s farmland. 

The project has been halted, and the Hmong American Farmers Association also secured $2 million in legislative funding to build a box culvert under Highway 52 (to enhance safe access to both sides of the highway for people and farm machinery), plus $400,000 to acquire additional farmland.

Massive movement on climate

This session was the most consequential for climate and energy policy in a generation. While this generally falls outside of FMR’s area of influence, lawmakers advanced the Next Generation Climate Act (an economy-wide emissions goal of net zero by 2050) and a “100% clean energy by 2040” bill earlier in the session. 

Lawmakers also invested $45 million in the newly established Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority, and $190 million in the Minnesota State Competitiveness Fund for energy projects. More on these victories is available from our stalwart friends at Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
 

Missed opportunities 

We can’t win them all! Unfortunately, some vital environmental victories will need to wait for next year. A few highlights (or lowlights) include: 

Re-establishment of the MPCA Community Board:

From 1967 until 2015, the MPCA Citizens’ Board insulated the MPCA from political interference by ensuring an open and transparent decision-making processes for major projects. Sadly, the board was repealed in the final hours of the 2015 session without a single public hearing — largely due to fallout over a disputed dairy operation

This year, legislation was brought forward to re-establish the board under a new moniker: the MPCA Community Board. 

The Community Board aimed to restore agency transparency and public trust, create more opportunities for meaningful public engagement, and put decision-making power back into the hands of regular Minnesotans. Unfortunately, the bill was not included in final negotiations. 

Stop over-salting:

Lawmakers were once again unable to secure chloride liability reforms that have been proven to help reduce excessive salt application. There is some good news here though: The MPCA was granted the authority to collect fees to fund ongoing Smart Salt training programs.

Transparency for large drainage projects:

Our friends at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy worked hard on legislation to create an accessible, searchable, statewide database that would allow residents (and water resource managers) to find out if drainage projects are proposed in their communities or watersheds. This bill, which FMR supports, advanced in the House but failed to be included in final negotiations. 

Non-toxic lead and tackle:

We came up short on legislation that would have phased out lead shot and tackle in favor of other non-toxic options. Lawmakers did not take meaningful action to address lead ammunition or lead tackle outside of ongoing support for lead-free fishing tackle education. 

Upcoming Events

Saturday, April 20, 2024 - 9:30am to 12:00pm
West River Parkway and 36th Street/44th Street, Minneapolis
Applications due Friday, May 3 by 5 p.m.
Virtual and in-person
Thursday, May 9, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Hastings Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area