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!

Minnesota’s drinking water sources are in trouble. The House Environment Committee just added to the trouble

HF 1003, the bill that asks you neighbor downstream to clean up your wastewater so you don’t have to, just passed the House Environment Committee. Or in other words, if you want clean drinking water, you have to clean it up because the upstream waste water treatment system doesn’t want to and under HF 1003 doesn’t have to.
The bill prevents the PCA from imposing additional requirements on a new wastewater treatment system for 16 years. Science is telling us about the threats to drinking waters from pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, endocrine disrupters and more coming from wastewater treatment systems. HF 1003 wants Minnesotans to pretend that those threats don’t exist.

The map below is from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and shows all of the wastewater treatment systems in the upper Mississippi River basin, the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans.

Drinking water: where state agencies are failing Minnesotans

Nitrogen and pesticides are found in drinking water:

In the spring of 2016, the Pollution Control Agency issued a press release and said in part:
“(n)itrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater and comes from sources like agricultural fertilizer and animal manure. Up to 60 percent of the groundwater samples from monitoring wells in central Minnesota are contaminated with nitrate well beyond the safe drinking water standard.”

The Department of Agriculture’s own Minnesota data shows that where there is nitrogen in groundwater, there likely will be pesticides. And, if there is a lot of nitrogen, then it is likely that there will be a lot of pesticides. Unfortunately nitrogen is not a perfect indicator of pesticides. The Department of Agriculture’s data show that there can be pesticides even when there is no nitrogen present.

Even if a private well is then tested for a wide range of pesticides and all are found to be below the health risk limit, it would be wrong to let the well owner assume that the water was safe. The Minnesota Department of Health may be able to tell well owners what might be a safe level of one pesticide, but where there are multiple pesticides, current science can’t tell us about the cumulative or compounding effect of pesticides even when individually some or all may be at very low level.

It is unfair that well owners are put in the position of needing to clean up water that they did not contaminate or to otherwise find an alternative source. Rep. Rick Hansen has a bill to provide help. Providing help, especially to families with children, should be a top Minnesota priority.

Minnesota’s Department of Health is not on top of agricultural contaminates

In its groundwater water-testing program The Minnesota Department of Agriculture looks for more than 130 pesticides and associated break-down products. Even though Minnesota is an agriculture state, MDH typically only tests for a limited number of pesticides–20 is the number given to House Research–in municipal drinking water wells.

MDH does not test for any of the ubiquitous systemic pesticides including neonicotinoids. They are water soluble, persistent and toxic to water creatures. They are also found in some foods so accounting for cumulative impacts is a necessity.

With the exception of one break-down product test required by EPA, MDH does not test for the multiple break-down products of pesticides like Atrazine that are commonly found in our waters. It is generally understood that break-down products can be as toxic as the parent, perhaps more so. Further, break-down products and their parent may have a cumulative effect so they should not be ignored.

For example, MDH’s health based standard for Atrazine is 3 parts per billion, a standard set by the Federal government in 1992 and reevaluated in 2003. Since then studies link Atrazine to endocrine disruption, not just in animals, but in humans.

In 2000, Minnesota changed its health based standards law. The 2000 law, Minnesota Statutes 144.0751, requires MDH to revise standards to “include a reasonable margin of safety to adequately protect the health of infants, children…taking into consideration risks to…reproductive development and function…development of the brain and nervous system, endocrine (hormonal) function….”

Science has changed. It is far more sophisticated. The basis of our health standard changed. Yet, the standard for Atrazine has not changed. The MDH still does not test for–or add in–Atrazine’s break down products.

Source water monitoring of contaminates is very limited

The pesticides tests that MDH is doing are on “finished” water. Its testing of source water has been very limited. Source water should be tested in order to understand what needs to be checked in finished water. Further, if source water is not tested, then it seems that prevention is not a goal that is being pursued.

The lack of taking measures to prevent drinking water pollution is also evident in the limited follow through on source water protection plans and the increasing pollution in drinking water systems. The MDH has determined that over 1.2 million acres of land should be in municipal wellhead protection areas. Of that, over 350,000 acres are at particular risk because of geology. The Department reports that only a very small percentage have been permanently protected.

This Mississippi River is the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans who reside in St. Cloud, Minneapolis, St. Paul and many suburbs. MDH has not produced a source water plan protecting the Mississippi similar to the plans designed to protect municipal wells.

Clearly, our source water protection plans need to be reevaluated and reformed. They are not protecting source water. I have introduced a bill, that starts that process.

Minnesota and Kansas. Who is leading on renewable energy? You guessed wrong.

Bloomberg reports that, on behalf of a group of Governors from both red and blue states, Governor Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to “support renewable energy, saying the wind and solar industries are crucial economic engines for impoverished rural regions.”

In Minnesota, Republican legislators are fast tracking a bill that allows Xcel energy to build an oversized natural gas plant in Becker, Minnesota. Because it is so large it squeezes out the need for wind and solar projects in rural Minnesota.

A commentary piece in the Star Tribune called it a “multi billion-dollar boondoggle.” As commentary noted, there is still time to stop this boondoggle.