Msg 1 Posted: 03:35 PM 06/22/06 (CST)
Gary Botzek, Capitol Connections, Minnesota Waters Lobbyist|
The following is a summary and status report for the major issues on Minnesota Waters 2006 legislative agenda and other legislation of special interest to Minnesota Waters members.
The 2006 legislative session is in the books. While the session is expected to be remembered as the "stadium bills" year, much else got done. The following is a summary and status report for the major issues on Minnesota Waters' 2006 legislative agenda and other legislation of special interest to Minnesota Waters members.
Clean Water Legacy (CWL)
SF762 (Sen. Dennis Frederickson-R-New Ulm & Rep. Dennis Ozment-R-Rosemount)
The Clean Water Legacy policy bill did pass after three years! The new law will provide the mechanics for the administration of the new CWL policy and funding, including two new wastewater programs created in the Public Facilities Authority. A new 19-member Clean Water Council is established to replace the G-16 crowd with one seat reserved for an organization dedicated to protecting lakes and rivers; Minnesota Waters hopes to fill that spot. The Governor will make nominations, council members cannot be lobbyists, and the nominees will be approved by the Senate.
Funding for the CWL includes $15 million from the general fund and $8.31 million in bonding for phosphorous reduction at wastewater treatment plants. This funding is less than the $40 million that we lobbied for but is considered a "good down payment" to start the effort, which has taken over three years to get organized and passed by the legislature. Portions of the general fund dollars would pass through the Department of Natural Resources, Board of Water and Soil Resources and the Pollution Control Agency for testing and monitoring of our lakes and streams, establishment of plans (TMDLs) to clean up impaired waters and protection and preservation of lakes and streams.
The need for long-term funding for CWL is estimated to be in the range of $80-$200 million per year for at least 10 years. As more waters are assessed the need will continue. Of the only 10 percent of rivers and 16 percent of lakes in Minnesota adequately tested, more than 2,200 water bodies violate federal clean water standards for mercury, phosphorus, bacteria and other pollutants. Per the federal Clean Water Act, the state of Minnesota must develop a clean-up plan for each contaminant, but the state has only completed five plans, 50 are in progress and 150 are on a waiting list. The long-term funding of CWL, in the range of $40 million to $94 million, was included in the constitutional dedication of sales tax debate this session; however, this legislation was not passed.
A big reason the legislature finally acted this year was the law suit filed by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) two years ago that stopped the permitting of a wastewater treatment plant expansion in Annandale and Maple Lake that would have allowed additional impairments into an already impaired water bodyin this case Lake Pepin. That case has been heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court and a decision is expected yet this year. Due to that law suit, over 60 "economic development" projects, including housing projects, have been denied wastewater petitions by the MPCA.
A special thanks to Louis Smith, Vice Chairman of Minnesota Waters, for all his work on the G16 committee. His leadership assisted in crafting an excellent bill and program. We have our work cut out for us regarding future long-term funding.
Dedicated Funding For Clean Water, Conservation, Parks, Trails, Arts, etc.
HF1909 (Rep. Tom Hackbarth-R-Cedar and SF2734 (Sen. Dallas Sams-D-Staples)
This legislation got further than ever before in the legislature, passing both the House and the Senate, but the versions were so different, no agreement was able to be reached in the conference committee.
The Senate passed a bill that proposed a constitutional amendment dedicating three-eighths of one percent of new sales tax that would break down the revenue earned as follows: 34% percent for improvement, enhancement and protection of the state's fish, wildlife, habitat and fish and wildlife tourism; 22% percent for parks, trails and zoos; 22 % percent for protection and restoration of lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and groundwater; 22% percent in cultural allocations for the arts, humanities, museum and public broadcasting fund.
The House version would have asked the voters to dedicate 3/16 of the current sales tax to the same four program areas listed above. However, the percentages are different. HF 1909 would commit 60% of the dedicated funds to hunting and fishing efforts, 30% to CWL, 5% to parks and trails and 5% to arts and humanities.
Constitutionally dedicating a portion of the sales tax is being proposed as a way to fund long-term support for the Clean Water Legacy effort to clean up Minnesota's impaired waters, along with fish and wildlife habitat protection; parks, trails and zoos; and arts and humanities. If the legislature had passed a dedicated funding bill for a constitutional amendment, the voters would have decided at the polls in November. As I am writing this report, there continues to be talk about a Special Session if everyone could agree on the language and funding levels for this important piece of legislation. It could happen, but I doubt it!
Mercury Emissions Reduction
HF3712 (Rep. Tom Hackbarth-R-Cedar and Sen. Scott Dibble-D-Minneapolis)
Mercury has contaminated Minnesota's lakes, rivers and fish, and is a potent neurotoxin that can cause learning and developmental disabilities in children. The sources of mercury reaching Minnesota waters include coal-burning power plants and taconite processing plants, as well as natural sources. Mercury is the major pollutant in two-thirds of Minnesota's impaired waters. The Minnesota Department of Health has issued general fish consumption guidelines for fish consumed from all lakes in Minnesota, with special precautions for children, pregnant women and women of child bearing age.
Due to the strong efforts of "Mercury Free Minnesota" a coalition of environmental and conservation organizations, a very strong mercury emissions reduction bill was passed this year. The new legislation calls for a 90 percent reduction1,200 pounds per yearin mercury production at the three largest Minnesota coal-burning power plants by 2015. This is more aggressive than the federal timetable of a 70 percent reduction by 2018.
Minnesota's Mercury Reductions Act of 2006 targets Xcel Energy's Sherco power plant in Becker, Xcel's Allen S. King plant in Oak Park Heights and Minnesota Power's Clay Boswell plant near Grand Rapids. Mercury-control technologies would be phased in at those three plants between 2009 and 2014.
This is a big victory for Minnesota's lakes and rivers, safer fish and healthy kids. The leadership of those involved in the negotiations and the technology being developed to remove mercury from emissions even as the bill was being negotiated - will be shared with other states and countries to reduce their emissions as well.
Invasive Species Control
HF1457 Rep. Dean Urdahl-R-Grove City and SF1434 (Sen. Gen Olson-R-Minnetrista)
While the legislature did not pass our bills for funding increases for aquatic invasive species prevention and management, Minnesota Waters may have had an influence on the decision to add additional dollars into the supplemental budget for invasive species control. Following requests by the DNR and a letter to the Governor by Minnesota Waters, the Governor recommended an additional $975,000 for the DNR's Invasive Species Program; the legislature agreed to $550,000 including help for the Lake Osakis curley-leaf pondweed effort.
Last year the Minnesota Waters introduced a bill to bolster revenues to the DNR's Invasive Species Program through the establishment of an annual $10 boat decal sticker program that would raise an additional $5 million per year, of which about 80% would be passed through to lake associations, other citizen groups and local governments to take the lead in management and prevention of AIS locally. While our legislation did not pass, an extra $308,000 was appropriated to the DNR for aquatic invasive species and is being used for an expanded grant program to lake associations for lakewide treatments of Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed.
This year Minnesota Waters decided to drop the annual decal idea in favor of raising the current invasive species surcharge on boat licenses paid every three years from $5 dollars to $15 dollars. This would raise an additional $2.5 million per year towards prevention and management of aquatic invasive species; however, we were unable to secure a legislative hearing. There is still not enough money and effort towards managing and stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species, and this is an issue that continues to worry legislators in terms of tourism, fishing and lake shore property values. This is going to be a big issue in 2007.
Reform for Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR)
SF 2814 (Sen. Dallas Sams-D-Staples and Rep. Kathy Tingelstad-R-Androver)
A new Legislative & Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) was created this year. The new LCCMR will replace the old LCMR (Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources) and include seven citizens and 10 legislators, instead of the current 20-legislators only.The Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) is the legislative body that allocates the distribution of interest earned on the principle of Minnesota's Environmental Trust Fund, which is funded by the state lottery. These changes, along with others, will empower citizens in this funding process, which is expected to increase in future years. The amount distributed by LCMR bi-annually was $32 million for the next two years. Minnesota Waters' Citizen Monitoring Program is funded with LCMR funds.
MEP Protect Our Waters Package:
Minnesota Waters is one of 45 environmental and conservation group members of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) that provided lobbying supporting for MEP's Protect Our Waters legislative package. Minnesota Water's lobbyist Gary Botzek is chair of MEP's Government Relations Committee and serves on the MEP board.
Bonding Investments in the environment
HF2959 (Rep. Dan Dorman-R-Albert Lea and Sen. Keith Langseth-D-Glyndon)
The 2006 legislature passed its second big bonding bill this year. Close to $1 billion will be invested in the state's infrastructure over the next few years. Close to $200 million can be traced or labeled as investments in the environment and natural resources. Around $100 million will go through the DNR, while $17 million will pass through the MPCA and $7 million for the BWSR. Included in these numbers is money for water access acquisition and development including fishing piers, fisheries acquisition and improvements and stream protection and restoration. Minnesota Waters, through MEP, supported a package of long-term bonding projects that invest in clean water, protected lands, wastewater treatment improvements and transit.
Off Highway Vehicles in our Wetlands
MEP, led by the Audubon Minnesota and Izaak Walton League, were able to fight back additional difficult OHV bills and amendments. The beautiful North Shore Trail was protected from OHV useat least for this year. That plan called for the OHV crossing of nearly 100 trout streams. Our wetlands continue to be under attack from rider abuse, especially wetlands near state forests.
Off-highway vehicle riding has increased tremendously in the last ten years, creating user conflicts and putting stress on publicly-owned natural resources. Changes by the legislature in recent years instructed the DNR to limit motorized recreation to designated trails in state forests and then reversed that policy two years later. As a result, all trails in state forests north of U.S. Highway 2 (from Duluth to East Grand Forks) remain open to off-highway vehicle traffic unless specifically posted "closed."
Other Legislation of Minnesota Waters Interest:
Aquatic Plant Management Rules
HF 3372 (Rep. Barb Sykora-R-Excelsior) and SF 3323 (Sen. Gen Olson-R-Minnetrista)
Minnesotans for Healthy Lakes (MHL) introduced legislation that would have allowed more local control of submerged aquatic plants, both native and aquatic invasive species, than is being proposed in the DNR's Aquatic Plant Management (APM) rule revisions in progress. The legislation also defined conditions in which automated unintended aquatic plant control devices (a.k.a. weed rollers) could be used without seeking a DNR permit, and established an appeal process for aquatic plant management permits denied by the DNR.
The legislation received a hearing in a House committee, but due to concerns raised by the DNR and others, the bill was laid over for future work and hearings. Minnesota Waters will be part of those discussions. Minnesota Water's position is that the APM program needs to provide a delicate balance between lake access and lake protection with strong protection for native plant communities through aggressive management and prevention of aquatic invasive plants, which displace native plant communities.
Straight Pipe Sewage Disposal
SF 2437(Sen. Michael Jungbauer-R-East Bethel and Rep. Kathy Tingelstad-R-Andover)
This new law requires the replacement of straight-pipe systems of sewage on private land. A straight-pipe system is a sewage disposal system that transports raw or partially settled sewage directly to a lake, a stream, a drainage system or ground surface. They have been illegal for a long time. The bill increases the use of administrative penalty orders (APO) by the MPCA as requested by local governments to move in and enforce against these systems as discovered. Once a property owner is notified of a recording offense, they have 10 months to replace the system. After that, the state and county can levy a $500 per month fine. Over 50,000 straight pipe systems are estimated to yet exist in the state. These are the "easy" fixes in terms of the Clean Water Legacy Act. We have to start somewhere.
Replacement and Repair of Watercraft Storage Structures:
HF2994 (Rep. David Dill-D-Crane Lake and Sen. Tom Bakk-D-Cook)
This bill changed some of the guidelines for restoring watercraft storage facilities to better-than-new or total replacement. In 1979 the legislature passed a moratorium on boathouse construction. As a result, owners of boathouses built prior to 1979 had been allowed to maintain only 50 percent of the structure in any given year. This new law does not allow owners to increase the area of the boathouse, but they could extend the height by one foot to accommodate taller boats. They could also replace the foundational structure as long as they use only materials nontoxic to aquatic life below the high water mark. The bill also allows existing boathouses to be consolidated or moved off the water onto the owner's property. Boathouse owners would apply to the DNR for a permit to renovate, which would also require the approval of the local government unit and proof that the boathouse existed prior to 1979.
Eminent Domain Bill:
SF2750 (Sen. Tom Bakk-D-Cook and Rep. Jeff Johnson-R-Plymouth)
This new law attempts to limit, narrow, and clarify the use of eminent domain for economic development projects across the state. While Minnesota Waters supports these changes, we opposed an amendment that was added to the House bill that dealt with nonconforming shoreland lots. The House language would prohibit counties or cities from stopping the sale or denying a building permit for a single-family residence based upon the common ownership of a contiguous lot or parcel, provided that contiguous nonconforming lots or parcels under the same ownership contain no more than three residential structures. The House amendment was removed in conference committee.
As you can see from the listing above, the 2006 legislative session was an active one in terms of the environment, natural resources and property rights. Minnesota Waters played an active role in the issues listed above, as well as others. We urge you to thank your local legislators for their work these past two years, but do ask them the tough questions as they approach you for your vote this summer and fall. Ask them about full funding of the Clean Water Legacy, as well as the need to do more for shoreland protection and the prevention and management of aquatic nonnative invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil, Curlyleaf pondweed, and zebra mussels as well as others waiting on Minnesota's doorstep. These are battles that we are closing and we need to force the 2007 and 2008 legislatures to move these issues up in terms of new polices and increased funding.
It has been an honor and pleasure to work with and for Minnesota Waters! Enjoy the summer!
IF IT'S WET...IT'S CATCH'N FISH