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LCCMR bill moves forward despite substantial changes

By Jonathan Mohr
Susan Thornton, director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, testifies March 16 before the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee on a bill sponsored by Rep. Josh Heintzeman, left, that would appropriate environment and natural resources trust fund money. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The amount of money meant to benefit Minnesota’s environment and natural resources remained largely the same, but how that money would be spent was the subject of sharp disagreement among members of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee Thursday.

Sponsored by Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa), HF1265 would appropriate more than $59 million based on recommendations made by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources for expenditures from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. The fund was established through a constitutional amendment in 1988 to direct proceeds from the state lottery and investment income to benefit those resources.

However, as Thursday’s meeting began, the committee adopted a delete-all amendment on a largely party-line, roll-call vote that stripped more than 20 of the 69 projects recommended by the LCCMR, and instead devoted much of that funding to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

“There are some differences of opinion on some of these particular items,” Heintzeman said. “In order to try and move this bill forward we had to make some adjustments.”

Heintzeman said there are a lot of great things in the bill, mentioning projects that would connect youth to the outdoors, increasing diversity in environmental careers and funding to fight aquatic invasive species and the emerald ash borer. He said HF1265, which was approved as amended and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, was “worth supporting.”

The companion, SF550, is sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) and awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

But DFL committee members objected to cuts made to projects focused on climate change, solar power, environmental education and land acquisitions. And they said that although they support funding for the conservation reserve program, other sources for those dollars were under consideration and could be used.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) said some of deletions were “unconscionable” and that he was very disappointed.

“We cannot continue to deny the reality of climate change, and we’ve done that again in this bill,” he said.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St, Paul) said he understood the need to fashion a bill that would find enough votes to pass, but he also wants legislation that would benefit Minnesotans.

“Environmental education involves Minnesotans, solar helps light the path to the future, scientific acquisition protects treasures that could be lost, and climate change acknowledges reality,” Hansen said.

A number of testifiers also spoke against the amended bill, including LCCMR co-chair Jeff Broberg, who said the committee had done many hours of work to arrive at its recommendations and that cutting 25 projects undermined the process.

“We went through a very deliberative process to come up with a series of recommendations that we think best serves the state of Minnesota,” Broberg said.

But Heintzeman said reviewing and amending the bill as it moves through the committee process is also part of the process, and he reminded committee members they all have constituents to represent.

“Each one of us go back to our districts and we get feedback on what they’d like to see happen on issues,” he said. “They have some concerns and they have some things that are critically important to them and we’re trying to represent those.”

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