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House passes bill prohibiting new nitrogen rules, Dayton promises veto

The Department of Agriculture would not have the final say on adopting rules regulating nitrogen fertilizer application under provisions of a bill passed 69-56 by the House Monday.

But Gov. Mark Dayton may.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley), HF2887 would prohibit the department from adopting new nitrogen rules unless they are specifically approved by law. The bill now travels to the Senate where Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) is the sponsor.

Dayton proposed new rules to reduce nitrate levels in the state’s drinking water in March. Elevated levels of nitrates can be harmful to humans. The proposal includes restricting the application of fertilizer in some areas of the state most vulnerable to nitrates leaching into the groundwater.

In response, Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) – chairs of the agriculture finance and policy committees, respectively – sent a March 6 letter to Dayton calling on him to “abandon his efforts to enforce this unpopular proposition via administrative rule” and instead work the Legislature to ensure maximum input. 

However, in a letter to Hamilton and Anderson on Monday, Dayton promised to veto any legislation reaching his desk that prohibits implementation of the rule or repeals the executive branch’s rulemaking authority.

WATCH Full video of Monday's House Floor session 

The governor said the department had followed an “open and transparent” process in drafting the proposed rules, holding 17 listening sessions and soliciting over 820 written comments, efforts the governor said were “unprecedented” and not required by the rulemaking process the executive branch follows.

But Backer said the administration had “blindsided” farmers and his bill would require the rule to travel through the committee process.

“This bill does nothing more than require the Department of Agriculture to allow us to approve the rule on nitrogen fertilizer,” Backer said.

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