Part of our work at Conservation Minnesota includes an annual reporting of the dedicated funds, bonding initiatives, and general fund spending that make up the state’s commitment to protecting our natural resources. This is the fourteenth year that Conservation Minnesota has analyzed the state’s conservation budget and we are proud of all that our reports have helped accomplish. Our reports were important in identifying the lapses in conservation spending that generated support for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. Today our reports serve as a reliable data source for the media, legislators, organizations, and state government departments in setting annual priorities.
Here is a summary of this year’s report: A Clean Water Future? Impact of the 2015 Legislative Session on Conservation in Minnesota and Summary of the Governor’s 2016 Bonding Recommendations.
Our report describes the recent legislative attempts to go backward on conservation issues, and finds that the big question raised by the 2015 legislative session is whether our state’s elected leaders are willing to fulfill the vision for clean water that unites Minnesotans.
There is no doubt that clean water is important to all Minnesotans. In the Land of 11,842 Lakes, water isn’t just a natural resource. It is part of who we are. One need only look at the Legacy Amendment that passed in 2008 to see an example of the level of support Minnesotans have for clean water. We voted to increase our own taxes to make sure that our lakes, rivers and drinking water will be protected.
The 2015 Legislative session resulted in the net loss of conservation funds, less citizen involvement, un-vetted policy rollbacks, and missed opportunities to address the state’s growing water quality concerns. During the session, environment and energy omnibus bills were co-opted and used by the Legislature to advance conservation policy rollbacks that bypassed the normal legislative process.
Governor Dayton vetoed the worst of the bad legislation, but the resulting one-day special session still produced an array of setbacks for conservation, including:
- A $43 million raid on landfill cleanup funds, despite the presence of a budget surplus.
- The elimination of the 40-year-old MPCA Citizen’s Board.
- Duplicative and unnecessary studies of existing water quality standards.
- A provision exempting sulfide mines from solid waste rules.
- A net metering change that weakens renewable energy efforts.
- Failure to restore recycling funds raided in previous years.
The only positive accomplishment of the 2015 session was the approval of the Governor’s stream buffer initiative. This new law, as written, was expected to reduce the pollution reaching public waters and protect thousands of miles of stream banks. Sadly, the buffer initiative has became a political bargaining chip, and Department of Natural Resources implementation of the law was recently reduced in scope to exempt private ditches from inclusion.
Looking forward, our report finds that With the state looking at a $900 million dollar budget surplus for the current biennium, the 2016 session offers a clean slate and a clear opportunity to make real progress toward a clean water future for Minnesota. In the 2016 session, Conservation Minnesota recommends that the Legislature:
- Include all of the Governor’s 2016 bonding recommendations for conservation, environment, and water cleanup in the final bonding bill,
- Restore the funds raided from the Closed Landfill Fund, and recapture the portion of the Solid Waste Tax that has been diverted to the General Fund instead of used for recycling programs as intended,
- Support full implementation of the stream buffer law,
- Approve the recommendations of the LSOHC and LCCMR for allocation of FY 2017 dedicated funds, and
- Support the policy recommendations from the upcoming Governor’s Water Summit that fulfill the vision for clean water that unites Minnesotans