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Omnibus environment bill carries controversial rice water legislation

The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee does a walk-through of the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill April 18. A vote on the bill is expected Thursday. Photo by Andrew VonBank

An issue impacting Minnesota’s state grain that has failed to be resolved for nearly eight years is addressed in a proposed omnibus bill.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee reviewed the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill Wednesday. It plans to continue discussion, take additional amendments and vote on the bill Thursday.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), HF3502, as amended, includes a policy provision that would tackle the uncertainty surrounding Minnesota’s wild rice water quality standards, an issue that stems back to 2011, when the state’s long-standing rice water sulfate standard was found to be scientifically unsupported.

After the Legislature directed the Pollution Control Agency to replace the abandoned standard, the PCA developed an equation-based standard that was rejected by an administrative law judge in January.

The provision included in the omnibus bill would prohibit the PCA from proceeding with rules pertaining to the wild rice water quality standards without going through a new rulemaking process.

While Republicans largely support repealing the old standard, the DFL is less unified on the issue, with some Iron Rangers supporting the provision. The PCA, tribal organizations and environmental interests stand by the rarely enforced 1973 rule.

The omnibus bill also touches on another long-standing issue: the lawsuit the state filed against 3M, accusing the company of causing natural resource damages.

WATCH The committee walks through the bill 

A provision calls for the establishment of a dedicated account in the remediation fund for the $850 million settlement reached in February. The amount available after legal expenses, an estimated $720 million, would be appropriated to the PCA and Department of Natural Resources to enhance the quality and sustainability of the drinking water in some parts of the eastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Another policy provision would make a number of changes to the state’s Clean Water Act.

One modification could make it easier for local units of government to receive financial assistance for water and soil projects by centering the financial assistance process around a watershed-based approach instead of current performance-based guidelines. Opponents argue the proposed process lacks due diligence.

The lone General Fund spending increase in the bill would be $750,000 in Fiscal Year 2019 to address chronic wasting disease.

The committee is expected to compare the bill’s fiscal appropriations to the governor’s supplemental recommendations Thursday.


What would HF3502 do?

The bill also includes measures that would:

  • modify drainage law to accelerate ditch buffer strip implementation;
  • prohibit the PCA from increasing fees for certain water-related activities and require the agency to submit a report to the Legislature on water quality permit fee revenues;
  • require PCA water quality standards to prove scientific basis and undergo external, scientific peer review;
  • allow individuals to possess feral swine if they notify the DNR within 24 hours of shooting it; and
  • revoke snowmobile and ATV privileges following a DWI conviction.


What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part of in whole into the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill:

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