A bad, VERY BAD, environment bill has passed the House

The House environment bill will now go to conference committee where a bad bill made worse would be sent to the Governor for a very likely veto. Or, as some have speculated, the Senate would accept the House’s bill and it would go straight to the Governor for signature or veto.

Besides giving environment agencies $94 million less to spend in the next two years than they have to spend in the current two years, the bill contains a host of bad changes to current law. It would simply take too long to list them all so here are just some of the highlights or, more accurately, lowlights.

Right now Minnesotans have the ability to weigh in on permits to pollute and on environmental impact statements that evaluate a project that will affect them. In the name of efficiency the Chamber of Commerce wants to take away rights that citizens now have. It certainly is efficient. But it is not fair. There are 7 different provisions in the Chamber bill that take away citizen rights and all were included in the House bill.

Irrigators also wanted added rights and they were included in the bill. Irrigators seem to think we are governed by western water law which gives a priority for water to certain early users. Under Minnesota water law all get a fair share so giving additional rights to some takes away current rights of the irrigator’s neighbors.

Some cities that need to build or refurbish their wastewater treatment system asked for and got a provision that says they don’t have to do any upgrades for 16 years. There are over 200 wastewater treatment systems that put their effluent into the upper Mississippi basin, the drinking water source for a million Minnesotans including those of us in Minneapolis. Moreover, the PCA’s new study of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants shows that the Crow River which enters the Mississippi just upstream from our drinking water intakes is a hot spot for those contaminants. One would hope that before the next 16 years are up, PCA will want to require waste water systems to do a better job eliminating these contaminants. Given the science that is exploding on this issue, I would expect moms and dads to be way ahead of PCA. No one wants their kids drinking someone else’s drugs. 

There are 109 old landfills that volunteered to get into the State’s landfill cleanup program that protects groundwater from the toxic leakage from these old landfills. One landfill, Freeway in Burnsville, was still making money at a transfer station on the landfill site, so it refused to volunteer the program and is now a Federal Superfund site. The bill indemnifies everybody–including haulers and those who put hazardous waste into the landfill. That is, state taxpayers will pay all costs of clean up–no matter what the federal government chooses to charge–and the state will pay all legal fees and any other costs — forever. In the Freeway landfill case the PCA estimates the cost to clean up will be $67 million. Legal fees and other costs could bring this total to an estimated $134million. Basically the bill creates a legal morass that opens the state’s checkbook and says to lawyers, have at it, with absolutely no guarantee that the landfill will actually be cleaned up.

There were numerous lawsuits against Volkswagen because it cheated and their cars emitted much more air pollution than allowed. The bill requires legislative approval before any of the $47 million that Minnesota is getting from a large Volkswagen settlement can be spent. The trust agreement created by the settlement requires Governor Dayton to certify that the allocations of the dollars made by the Pollution Control Agency will be legally binding. The Governor can’t make that certification if the legislature has the ability to override PCA.

And then there are the numerous changes to the buffer law. The Governor has repeatedly said, no more changes.

There’s more but isn’t that enough for you, someone with Minnesota values, to know that this is a bad, VERY BAD, environment bill?