2017 legislative update

smoke stack with steam coming out of it, a river green with algae, a landfill

Proposed legislation threatens MPCA’s work

Several of the large “omnibus” bills under consideration in the Minnesota Legislature have provisions that would change long-standing environmental protections and slow down MPCA services. MPCA leadership has testified that these provisions will seriously hamper our ability to protect Minnesotans' air, water and land resources, and interfere with our support of individuals, local governments and businesses.

The proposals:

  • Reduce or eliminate public input from some MPCA work
  • Put political considerations ahead of vetted science
  • Introduce uncertainty, red tape, and delay into required processes for Minnesota businesses

What these policy changes would do:

Slow down businesses by delaying their permits

  • Ban a faster, more flexible companion process to rulemaking in which the agency provides guidance to regulated parties and avoids painstaking, formal rulemaking.
  • Place requirements on the permitting process that would actually bog it down with legal challenges and the need to repeat processes.
  • Obstruct our providing accurate information to the public about permits.

Bog down rulemaking

  • Add new, redundant, and unnecessary review provisions that would increase bureaucratic processes and slow down our work.
  • Change standards of proof, putting scientific decision-making in the hands of administrative law judges instead of the MPCA’s engineers, soil scientists, hydrologists, microbiologists, toxicologists, and other researchers with the necessary expertise.
  • Delay protection of wild rice by specifically directing the agency to slow walk its wild rice rulemaking, currently in process.

Restrict state water-protection tools

  • Delay the impaired waters list, creating an endless loop of bureaucracy.

Funding issues

The MPCA did not request increased funding from the Legislature in our FY 2018-2019 budget but instead proposed a flat budget. The legislative response so far has been to make cuts.

Budget cuts would delay critical support to local governments

State law requires the MPCA to develop watershed restoration and protection strategies for each of the 80 major watersheds in Minnesota every 10 years. Local government partners use the strategies to develop their local water management plans. Right now, the legislature is cutting more than $1.4 million from this program, which will delay local water restoration or cleanup plans. We support the Governor’s recommendation to fund this program at $20.463 million over the next biennium.

Recycling budget cuts would harm state economy and environment

The Legislature proposes cutting $5 million from the MPCA’s Resource Management and Assistance Division over the next two years. These dollars fund work that includes:

  • reducing toxic substances in products
  • assisting communities and businesses on sustainability issues
  • helping local government do solid waste planning
  • encouraging recycling and composting efforts

County governments are slated to get increased funding, but at the expense of statewide coordination and technical assistance. Counties do important work in managing waste and recycling around the state, but many need MPCA assistance to do it. Additional shifts in grant funding would result in a net loss for recycling in rural areas. At risk are the approximately 63,500 direct jobs in the recycling, reuse, rental, and repair sectors of the economy, which generate an estimated $1.338 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue.

Bill puts $47 million from VW settlement at risk

The MPCA has serious concerns about a bill that requires legislative appropriation of funds that Minnesota would receive from the national Volkswagen settlement. Minnesota is in line to receive $47 million from this settlement. Recently MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine sent a letter to legislative leaders stating strong opposition to the proposed legislation, as it could adversely affect Minnesota’s ability to obtain these funds. You can sign up to receive updates on the VW settlement, and provide comments to the MPCA on how you feel the money should be spent, on the VW settlement web page.

St. Louis River cleanup waiting on bonding bill

The Governor’s bonding bill seeks $25.4 million in funding to remove polluted riverbed sediment and industrial waste from the St. Louis River estuary and Duluth harbor. State funding at this time is crucial, due to the limited-time availability of $47.2 million in matching federal funds. Minnesota is competing with other Great Lakes states for the federal match funds, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to decades of uncontrolled pollution before modern pollution laws went into effect, riverbed sediments are contaminated with mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and other toxins. See the St. Louis River fact sheet for more.

MPCA's new policy proposals go nowhere

The agency made two new funding requests to the Legislature in 2017 to address critical pollution problems with serious implications for public health. Neither proposal has advanced:

  • New funds are needed to deal with both existing and emerging issues at hundreds of Superfund and leak sites statewide. The MPCA currently lacks the resources necessary to clean up these sites and mitigate the threat to the environment and public health. Learn more.
  • Eighty-eight Minnesota landfills that accept construction and demolition debris were constructed without linings, because linings weren’t required at the time. Moisture and stormwater that percolates through debris in unlined landfills can seep into the surrounding soil. Groundwater contamination has been confirmed at 63% (42) of the landfills; monitoring continues at 19 other sites. Learn more.

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