As the legislative session wraps up it is important to take a moment and update you on the issues that impact the heart of the work we do at CURE. Despite the challenges of working through the session in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – we made some forward progress.
This work requires coordination among a variety of organizations, state agencies, and many individuals collectively acting on behalf of all Minnesotans. CURE belongs to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), a network of like-minded organizations that work in tandem to engage people across the state to communicate with lawmakers about what is important to them.
It is very likely that the legislature will reconvene in a special session in June, but at the end of May here is where many bills and issues stand:
- Chances for the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) Bill funding package is looking up
- Environment bills from the House and Senate have significant differences, negotiations will be key
- Senate Leadership and House Republicans go to the mat to stop Clean Cars Rulemaking
- Fossil Fuels Forever bill a.k.a. “Clean Energy First” stalls in Senate Finance
- Ban on the toxic chemical trichloroethylene (TCE) was signed by the Governor
- Legislature finds unity in providing some supports for farmers
- No agreement on bonding bill size or projects by the Governor, Senate, and House
- Renewable Development Account bill will fund three projects (for now)
- Energy Conservation Optimization Act passes House, but not the Senate (yet)
Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) and Environment Bills in position for negotiations:
The Minnesota Senate made a couple of plays earlier in the session that put both an environment bill and an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) bill at risk of even being considered by the Senate, but important progress was made.
1) ENRTF Bill Introduced by Senate, Finally:
Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (District 8, R) announced in April that the Senate did not intend to pass the $64 million ENRTF funding package for scientific research, habitat projects, and more that comes from the ENRTF (created by proceeds that are constitutionally dedicated from the Minnesota Lottery). Sen. Ingebrigtsen was holding out to include $1.5 million for a wastewater treatment facility project that is outside the parameters of the Fund’s intended purposes.
Pressure from Minnesotans like YOU asking Senators to pass the ENRTF funding made a difference! On the last Saturday of the session, the package of ENRTF projects – without the $1.5 million for the wastewater facility — was added to the Senate’s environment bill, SF 4499, and passed by the Senate.
The House also passed a combination ENRTF funding and environment policy bill that day as well, HF 4554. Though the House bill is much different from the Senate’s, the bills are now likely being negotiated between legislative leaders and the Walz administration. There is still an opportunity to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate bills take us.
2) Environment Bill brought to Senate floor, Finally:
Word on the street had been that Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy chair Sen. Ingebrigtsen was so opposed to the Clean Cars Rulemaking underway by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) right now that he would keep an environment bill from even being brought to the Senate floor unless he was assured that legislation to stop this rulemaking would be enacted (see more on this below).
But the Senate did bring up its environment bill, SF 4499. A really big shout out to Senator Scott Dibble (District 61, DFL) and Senator John Marty (District 66, DFL) for doing a great job highlighting the harmful provisions in the Senate bill. You can see a detailed analysis of the provisions MEP supports and opposes in this letter. One important provision was left out of this summary:
Section 71 of the Senate bill narrows the definition of what a “pipeline” is for the purpose of excluding pipelines associated with mining (that carry mineral slurry, for instance) from regulation.
There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in the direction the House and Senate environment bills take us. We will be sending more messages on this soon.
Clean Cars Rulemaking:
The Walz Administration announced in September of 2019 that the MPCA would start the rulemaking process for creating a Clean Cars Standard for Minnesota. The two main things a Clean Cars Standard would do is ensure higher efficiency and less pollution from all cars and trucks sold in Minnesota and require auto dealers to sell more models of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids here as well.
Since February, opponents of Clean Cars have been trying to revoke MPCA’s authority to make rules regarding vehicle emissions which would essentially eliminate MPCA’s ability to enact a Clean Cars Standard. An amendment to revoke MPCA authority to engage in this rulemaking was offered by Representative Dan Fabian (District 1A, R). Fortunately, the amendment failed on a vote, 55 – 59.
However, this same language remains in the Senate’s version of the environment bill, SF 4499.
Big Win: A Ban on TCE is Signed by the Governor:
One significant win worth celebrating was the passage of the nation’s first ban on the toxic chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE. Communities affected by high levels of TCE exposure from Water Gremlin over the past 17 years strongly advocated for this ban, along with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Minnesota. Thank you for showing us that good progress can be made quickly when we work together for the right goals.
Nearly Unanimous Legislation Supporting Farmers:
The multiple crises of insufficient access to health care, climate change, disrupted markets and the Covid-19 pandemic are compounding for farm families and communities. Several pieces of legislation to help lead by MEP member Land Stewardship Project passed with nearly unanimous support, including:
- Extending deadlines for farmer mediation to prevent foreclosure for 150 days or December 1 (whichever is later) – giving farmers time to plant and harvest, understand new market conditions and new government assistance programs, and respond to these new circumstances. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously.
- Securing funds to help farmers restructure loans, and expand the capacity of smaller meat and poultry processing facilities and other food processors
Bonding: No Agreement Between House, Senate, and Governor Yet:
General obligation bonding is our state government’s method for paying for improvements to Minnesota infrastructure – from higher education buildings to farmland put aside for conservation purposes. “Bonding” years typically happen during the second year of the biennium (the first year is often reserved for passing the state’s budget).
Three different collections of projects, or bonding packages, have been put forward by the Governor, the House, and the Senate. Passing a bonding bill usually needs bi-partisan cooperation to meet the required threshold of 60% affirmative votes. In the final days of the session, neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass their own bonding bill, much less agree with the other players.
Thanks to all of you who have weighed in with legislators supporting a large bonding bill with significant investments in:
- Land use that fights climate change
- Water infrastructure for communities across the state.
CURE along with our partners through the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) will continue to advocate for these priorities and the significant jobs they will create as we head into an anticipated special session. Join us by visiting this action alert.
What is next?
While we accomplished many things, there is still much work to move forward and we anticipate a special session this summer.
Once a special session is announced we will begin reaching out to constituents and asking you to contact lawmakers in the House and Senate. Personal contact and telling them your stories matter – we want to thank those of you who amplify the issues that address the health of the land and water, engage in issues that promote rural social and environmental justice for all Minnesotans.