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?

ALEC MN Chair, Rep. Pat Garofalo takes credit for killing cheaper, more efficient solar

For those who may not know, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by the Koch brothers and their big fossil fuel friends. ALEC has been particularly interested in undermining solar energy. The fossil fuel industry worries that solar energy will become as cheap as wind energy which is already outcompeting fossil fuels. If renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels then the assets held by the fossil fuel industry will become less and less valuable.

The project that Rep. Garofalo takes credit for killing was designed to develop inexpensive, high-efficiency solar energy by using a new photovoltaic material and roll-to-roll manufacturing technology.

This project was one of six relating to solar energy that was recommended for funding by the Legislative Citizens Commission for Natural Resources, the group that recommends grants from lottery proceeds. Each of these six projects was deleted from the LCCMR package by the Republican controlled Environment and Natural Resources Committee in the House.

Here is what the five other projects that were deleted would have accomplished:

Create a research-based energy storage guide for small renewable energy generators;

Develop a new clean technology system to absorb and store solar energy during the daytime so the solar energy can be used at a later time;

Evaluate the use of solar for both generating farm electricity and for using the
shade from the system to promote animal welfare and increased milk production;

Determine whether targeted distribution of clean energy generation can replace or defer the need for transmission upgrades;

Develop and test the potential for robots to manage weeds in pastures as a way to reduce herbicide use.

You can see what Rep. Garofalo did last year in the April 12, 2016 post titled “Cheaper, more efficient solar. Rep. Pat Garofalo says no. Chalk up another gift to fossil fuel folks.”

If that isn’t enough, there’s more. The Republican lead Environment and Natural Resources Committee also eliminated LCCMR recommended grants that mentioned climate change.

Republican spending targets for the environment are not good. Is anybody out there surprised.

This morning the Republicans published their spending targets. With the target given to it, the environment and natural resources committee that proposes the budgets for the various environmental agencies will spend $94 million less for the environment in the next two years than it spent in the last two years. I fully expect that there will be less for renewable energy too, but since that budget is covered in another bigger budget, we don’t yet know the exact dollar amount. Cuts here and from other budgets will allow the Republicans to vote for an enormous $1.4 billion tax cut package.

In addition, with its cuts to EPA, the Trump budget would translate to an estimated $10.5 million cut per year from MPCA’s current federal funding of about $22 million per year

Farm groups seem totally unconcerned about the loss of pollinators. Why is that?

Minnesotans–that is you and I–have 256,000 acres of right of way along 12,000 miles of trunk highway that provide habitat for monarchs and other pollinators and nesting birds such as pheasants. The right of ways also allow wildlife to travel.

While enforcement hasn’t been great, a 1980’s law designed to protect the habitat value of the right of ways says that right of ways can’t be mowed except in the month of August.

HF 124, now waiting a final vote on the House floor, allows farmers and other individuals to mow the entire right of way at any time of year and sell the hay or keep it for themselves. To make it crystal clear that the Minnesota Department of Transportation cannot determine how right of ways are to be managed for safety or public benefit, HF 124 prohibits MnDOT from requiring a permit to mow.

MnDOT is strongly opposed to HF124. The Farm Bureau, MN Farmers Union and the Cattleman’s Association strongly support it.

Another bill on a fast tract gives farmers who irrigate rights to water that no one else has. One would not be wrong to ask, what’s next?

The author of HF 124 says that there are other opportunities and public funding for developing habitat.

That’s true. Governor Dayton is working to find $150,000,000 to match $350,000,000 federal dollars for permanent conservation easements. This $500,000,000 program will put easements on an estimated 60,000 acres or less than a quarter of the 256,000 acres of right of way that we already have.

The Chamber bill: gives new rights to businesses while taking rights from citizens

Under the guise of streamlining, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is trying to turn Minnesota’s environmental review laws upside down.

The Chamber bill, HF 1291, puts polluters in charge and, in the process, cuts Minnesotans who may be affected by new pollution out of the process. Let us count the ways:

1. It is hard to say which provision in the Chamber bill is the worst, but the one letting the polluter prepare its own environmental impact statement would be in anyone’s top three list. So instead of the agency gathering information about the proposed project and asking for public comment, the agency is relegated to determining the completeness of the proposers “EIS” and possibly modifying it without having gathered the underlyingl data that would inform good decision making. More subtly, if the proposer drafts the EIS, what role does the public now have? Moreover, there would no longer be public access to the documents used to draft the EIS; government documents are subject to the Data Practices Act but private company documents are not.

2. Affected citizens would no longer be able to request a contested case hearing to review a mining permit or any other decision related to a mining permit.

3. Agencies would be required to start a permit at the same time they start environmental review even though the information gathered in the environmental review is supposed be the foundation for the permit. Public input is undercut if the permit is underway before the public has a chance to weigh in.

4. A draft permit must be given to the applicant for comment before it is issued. The public that will be affected by the project doesn’t have the same right.

5. A proposer who has the ability to pay extra can get an expedited permit leaving those without extra money –new or smaller businesses–at the back of the line.

6. A provision that gives automatic approval for wetland replacement sites skirts local, BOWSR, and DNR decisions on wetland replacement sites.

7. The Environmental Quality Board is eliminated, eliminating another opportunity for citizens to participate, eliminating sunshine.

Unfortunately, there is more but one does get the picture!