House Republican environment policy bill passes

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The Republican House passed its environment and natural resources policy bill Thursday, April 5, legislation that seeks to keep the Minnesota Zoo and state parks open in the event of state government shutdowns.

And it creates a Children’s State Forest as a means of quickening Boundary Water Canoe Area land swaps with the federal government.

The bill passed the House on a 74-52 vote, with several area lawmakers successfully amending it.

Rep. Melissa Hortman, R-Brooklyn Park, saw her amendment prohibiting the sale of children’s products containing formaldehyde voted on — Hortman described the chemical as posing health risks.

Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, saw her amendment requiring the commissioners of the Three Rivers Park District to be elected, not appointed, also pass.

“I think anybody with taxing authority should be elected,” said Peppin.

Some of the area parks in Three Rivers include Elm Creek Park Reserve, Crow-Hassan Park Reserve and Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park.

In addition to keeping the Minnesota Zoo and state parks and campgrounds open, the bill also provides for the electronic sales of hunting and fishing licenses during state government shutdowns.

Another amendment increases the fine from $50 to $100 for failing to have drain plugs or similar devices removed or opened while transporting boats and other water-related equipment.

It was deemed necessary to combat the spread of invasive species.

One provision, too, allows the City of Elk River to provide treated waste water to replace surface water used for non-contact cooling by the Great River Energy generating facility located in the city.

But an amendment to allow older deer hunters to bait for deer while hunting was voted down.

“How does a deer know the bait has been put down by someone 65 or older,” quipped Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

Dayton Administration officials found a number of provisions in the bill objectionable.

One provision deemed dubious prohibits the Pollution Control Agency from adopting water standards more restrictive than federal water standards except when shown by “clear and convincing evidence” another standard was necessary.

In a letter to House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, administration officials argued the provision would result in confusion and lawsuits.

“Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not set standards, but rather sets a framework under the Clean Water Act which states must follow when developing standards based on local conditions and needs,” the letter states.

Another provision in the bill Dayton officials question would require Pollution Control Agency commissioners to approve or deny within 60 days of application minor permits or minor permit amendments.

Failure to do so would approve the permit, unless the permit fails to contain all necessary information.

But once provided, the 60 day time clock ticks anew.

“Our state departments do not approve permits unless we can defend them to the public, courts and federal government,” the letter reads, signed by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Paul Aasen, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr, and others.

The officials argue that in order to meet the 60-day threshold, staff would need to be reassigned resulting in bigger permits receiving less attention in order to meet the time demands of smaller.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, ranking DFL committee member, characterized the Republican bill as another example of Republicans bowing to the demands of business.

“This is not as over the top as some people saying,” said McNamara.

He styled the bill as building on good work already done.

“It’s really important stuff,” he said.