Pollinators: under attack by lobbyists and legislators alike

Just a year ago the loss of pollinators was big news. The legislature responded with a bucket full of different strategies ml2013-14_pollinatorleg-final-3.pdf designed to begin the process of reversing the trend. One of the strategies that received more attention than the others was consumer friendly legislation that allowed nurseries to advertise plants as bee friendly if the plants were not treated with insecticides lethal to bees. Minnesota consumers now have a choice to select plants that are pollinator or bee friendly.

But now, the new House Agriculture Policy Committee has adopted language that will mislead consumers into thinking that their plant purchases are pollinator friendly even when systemic pesticides have been added.

Unfortunately, that is not all the bad news.  In the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Economic Development Committee Senator Dahms moved to delete key language that was adopted in 2014, the definition of “pollinator lethal insecticide.”  (MnStat 18.H02 Subd. 28a )The deletion was adopted without audible dissent. The action was done by an amendment that was not posted in advance and not written so the Minnesota public had no idea about what was to take place.   Senator Dahms said the language was vague. To the contrary, the language is clear. Sen Dahms also made reference to the possible use  by the committees that spend Legacy dollars or lottery trust fund dollars, something he clearly did not want to happen.

There is still more bad news for pollinators. The effort to require the use of pollinator friendly seeds and plants on lands purchased with Legacy dollars was stricken by Rep Denny McNamara.

The good news is Governor Dayton. He signed all of the current legislation. Let him know that the moves to backtrack on polinators are unacceptable.

Gov. Dayton to agriculture–do your part to protect our waters

In a move to protect our water resources from erosion and runoff and to provide wildlife and aquatic habitat, Governor Dayton is proposing legislation requiring a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation around public waters. In the words of Dave Frederickson, Commissioner of Agriculture, buffers are needed to “help prevent the continued degradation of our waterways.”

Dave Orrick reporting for AGWEEK captured the Governor’s strong words as he challenged farmers to support his buffer plan.

Under the Governor’s proposal about 125,000 acres of land currently in farm production would be converted to permanent vegetation. Minnesota has approximately 27 million acres of farmland so the buffers would amount to about .4% of current farmland.

This proposal is, by far, the most significant action taken by a Governor to protect our waters since Governor Perpich signed the Groundwater Act in 1989. Other administrations–Carlson, Ventura and Pawlenty– have generally adhered to the message promoted by Big Chemical that farmers are great stewards and there are no significant water problems.

A recent report from PCA clearly showed that streams in heavily agricultural area in southwest Minnesota could not support aquatic life. An earlier PCA report on nitrogen showed that 72% of the nitrogen pollution in this state was from agriculture (February 20th post: Mn Drinking Water–under stress again) But in response to the Governor’s plan, House Speaker Kurt Daudt continued to deny any problem when he said that farmers “have employed practices in their farming to really respect our environment.”

On the other side there are a wide variety of statements of support from groups ranging from Conservation Minnesota to Pheasants Forever.

There is no easy compromise here. Expect this to be one of the last issues settled this session.

Coal: The Republican answer to global warming

Rep. Newberger’s latest bill supporting coal has now passed out of the Job Creation and Affordable Energy Committee and is in Ways and Means, the last committee stop before a vote on the House floor. With 34 authors ( including 8 DFLers) it appears to be a priority for House Republicans.

Last June the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed rule requiring each state to submit a plan detailing how the state will significantly reduce carbon emissions in its energy sector by 2020 and 2030. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota’s designated agency for developing the plan, has convened a large (137 member) group of interested people from very diverse baackgrounds to develop a plan. By all accounts the process is public and transparent. An Xcel representative testified that Minnesota is farther along in its planning than most states.

Members of the group agree that EPA’s proposed target for Minnesota does not give Minnesota the proper credit for the huge reductions in carbon that we made between 2005 and 2012. PCA and others have asked the EPA to reevaluate Minnesota’s fair share and I expect EPA will. In any event we will still need to do significantly more to achieve our fair share. Since we don’t have coal or gas resources in this state we can also continue to be a leader in reducing carbon with efficiency and renewable energy.

Rep. Newberger’s HF 333 allows either the House or Senate to veto the plan that is now in the process of being developed or to veto any other plan that might be developed. Neither Rep. Newberger nor the Republican caucus have an alternative plan for reducing carbon so the veto bill is not a negotiating tactic, rather the bill is designed for gridlock.

Speaking for his bill, Rep. Newberger said that the federal requirement to reduce carbon dioxide from the energy sector will negatively affect every American. He expressed no concern that global warming will affect every American.

At this point it is fair to say that the Republicans are pretending that global warming isn’t real. If one pretends that global warming isn’t real, then it is not necessary to do any problem solving and that is what is happening in the energy committee.

In addition to pretending that global warming isn’t real, the Republican caucus is touting coal as a prefered energy source even though Minnesota does not have a coal resource.

By all measures, efficiency is a cost effective way to reduce carbon pollution. Wind, too, is cost effective. Xcel has testified that it is using wind to produce electricity as a hedge against fossil fuel cost increases. Now solar is quickly becoming cost effective.To the extent that efficiency, wind and solar will be our strategies for reducing global warming gases, coal and oil will be worth less and those industries are fiercely fighting back.

More on solar later. It is what is frightening big oil and big gas the most, not just in Minnesota, but nationally.

New Republican strategy: redesign government for the benefit of polluters

Two bills that would allow either the Minnesota House or the Senate to have veto power over new rules relating to water standards have passed the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and, according to Chair Denny McNamara, will pass the full House.  I believe him.

Another bill that would give the same veto power, but this time over all rules—from banking to drinking water, passed the Government Operations Committee and appears to be on track for passage by the full House.

Minnesota has a well-established system for making the complex data/science based standards for how much of a pollutant can be in our waters. The legislature has set the general policy, the executive branch implements it with ample public input and a full hearing before an administrative law judge if necessary. The courts are there to settle disputes if disputes remain. Three equal branches of government all doing the job they are supposed to do. Testifying in opposition to the proposed legislation, the League of  Women Voter’s  Gretchen Sabel praised the current system and called it orderly and transparent.

Now House Republicans want final approval –and veto power–over any standard.  For some the reaction is, why not, legislators can understand science. Consider that 97% of scientists have come to a consensus that global warming is real and that the impact will be enormous. Republicans in the Minnesota House are pretending that global warming is not an issue as they work to dismantle the Renewable Energy Act of 2007 and otherwise undermine solar energy.

During the hearing on HF 616 and 617, the argument focused on two issues: (1) the cost burden to small cities to implement phosphorus rules pertaining to their waste water treatment systems and (2) Moorhead’s not wanting to upgrade its system until North Dakota upgrades theirs.

In the short amount of time given to him, Trevor Russell of Friends of the Mississippi did a nice job testifying in support of the current system. He pointed out that there is good state financial support for small cities and if it is not good enough, that would be relative easy to fix. In other words, he argued the solution does not fit the problem.  You can hear his testimony here.

There is no legislator who is more fun to hear than Rep. John Persell. You can hear him say that Bemidji upgraded it wastewater treatment system 30 years ago and that it is just Bull Hockey that Moorhead can’t do the same. His remarks are preceded by strong comments from Rep. Cornish.

Rebecca Flood, Assistant Commissioner for Water at the PCA, pointed out that the water standards that would be governed by the proposed legislation and the permits for wastewater treatment systems are two different things. We didn’t hear her full explanation because Chair Denny McNamara cut her off. A standard is the water quality goal for a particular water body. A permit is granted to a specific facility and can include flexible timelines, financial assistance and variances. You can hear Rep. McNamara here.

Inquiring minds will want to know, if the problem and solution don’t fit, why this solution.

In an article entitled “ALEC’s Latest Trojan Horse: The Attack on Standards and Safeguards Moves to the States,” the Center for Effective Government looks at so-called reforms designed to weaken environmental, food, consumer and worker safety policies. It says the two policy changes that the anti-regulatory interests support are “1) increasing the power of a politicized centralized review body with the authority to second-guess the standards proposed by scientists and substantive experts; and 2) requiring new, more extensive economic analyses of the cost of the new standards.” There could not be a better description of HF 616 and 617.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business backed group that promotes free-market, limited-government policies. A New York Times article, April 21, 2012, titled “Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist,” gives a good description.

When Tony Kwilis from the Chamber of Commerce testified in support of HF  1216, the bill giving house or Senate veto over any rule, the only specific issues he cited were the three water quality standards—sulfates, nitrates, and phosphorous—that he said would have a big economic impact on the business community.  It is telling that the HF 1216 that he was promoting only wants significant costs considered like those that might have to be paid by a business. Benefits to the water and those who use it are not considered in the bill. Neither are small costs like those for a new well or an alternative source of water for a private well owner whose water is contaminated with nitrates through no fault of his or her own. They are not considered costs under HF 1216.