ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Legislature adjourned sine die tonight, concluding the most successful legislative session for the state's environment and natural resources in recent history. Lawmakers delivered key investments for critical habitat, implemented new protections from invasive species, provided funding for endangered wetlands, and gave voters the choice this November to dedicate a new portion of the state sales tax (3/8 of one cent) to the outdoors, clean water efforts, and Minnesota heritage.
"Minnesotans will remember 2008 as a major milestone in the long and challenging effort to protect and enhance our unique and treasured natural resources," said Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL - South St. Paul) who serves on the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and chairs the Wetlands, Watersheds, and Buffers Subcommittee. "The efforts and investments we made in the face of a huge budget shortfall will meet the mounting needs of our embattled environment, provide a more stable source of funding for critical conservation efforts statewide and encourage green job growth."
After a decade of hard work and advocacy, the Legacy Amendment was passed with broad, bipartisan support in the Legislature this year - arguably the most significant piece of environmental legislation to pass both bodies in decades. If passed by Minnesota voters, this amendment will establish a reliable funding mechanism capable of providing sustainable resources for Minnesota's environment well into the future.
"The choice to invest in Minnesota's natural resources will finally be in the hands of voters this November," said State Representative Jean Wagenius (DFL - Minneapolis), who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division. "By giving Minnesotans the choice, we can all share in the effort to improve our environment for the long-term."
In addition to the proposed dedicated funding, the Legislature made solid investments in Minnesota's natural resources through bonding efforts included in this year's capital investment bill (HF 380). Specifically, HF 380 provided approximately $130 million for projects operated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) including:
· $30 million for flood hazard mitigation grants;
· $500 thousand for groundwater monitoring and observation wells;
· $2 million for dam renovation and removal;
· $500 thousand for the Mississippi River Barrier to prevent flying carp from invading state waters;
· $1 million for stream protection and restoration;
· $1 million for shoreline and aquatic habitat acquisition;
· $650 thousand for water access acquisition for fishing piers and shoreline access;
· $1.5 million for fish hatchery improvements focused on getting hatchery operations out of natural wetlands;
· $5 million for wildlife area acquisition and improvement;
· $3 million for matching RIM Critical Habitat funding from the federal government;
· $4 million for native prairie conservation and protection;
· $3 million for forest land conservation easements;
· $3 million for state forest land reforestation;
· $1 million for forest roads and bridges;
· $500 thousand for diseased shade trees;
· $19 million for state park and recreation area rehabilitation, development, and acquisition.
The bill also provided $27.5 million for projects operated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) including:
· $2.5 million for Albert Lea Landfill remediation; and
· $25 million for the Closed Landfill Cleanup Program.
Finally, the bill provided $30 million for projects operated by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) including:
· $25 million for RIM Reserve state funding with specific language for regions of southeastern Minnesota affected by flooding, Cedar River/Turtle Creek flooding, and the Red River Basin;
· $4.2 million for wetland replacement due to local road projects; and
· $1.275 million for Clean Water Legacy projects with specific language for Grass Lake wetland restoration and Lake Titlow watershed in Gaylord.
Some of these state commitments will not only provide direct and intended benefits, but will also yield additional federal dollars for further capital improvements in Minnesota's environment and natural resources. Nowhere is that payoff more significant, and more important right now, than in the federal Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) dollars Minnesota will receive through its commitment to the RIM Reserve.
"At a time when 40 percent of Minnesota's water resources are considered 'impaired,' and hundreds more are falling victim to serious contamination and quality issues every year, demand for efforts to restore and protect wetlands is at an all-time high," said Rep. Hansen. "Leveraging federal dollars to expand the scope and quality of these efforts is not only the smart thing to do, it is essential to the success of our comprehensive conservation efforts in Minnesota."
Additional measures were implemented this session to enhance Minnesota's environment and natural resources including:
· The establishment of a new state park at Lake Vermillion;
· Requiring ships on Lake Superior to follow ballast water regulations; and
· Updating statutes relating to aquaculture, invasive species, fish propagation, and use and transport of bait and commercial fishing in order to comprehensively address the threat of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS).
Minnesota's environmental funding has declined in recent years at a time when the complexity, size, and expense of environmental challenges have increased substantially. Climate change, impaired waters, invasive species, forest fragmentation, new and persistent chemicals in drinking water, and a number of other environmental challenges present the Legislature with tough fiscal choices as it works to preserve Minnesota's natural resources.
But this year, lawmakers met those challenges boldly. While some cuts to agencies had to be made to balance the budget deficit, the Legislature still delivered important investments that will stand the test of time and help enhance Minnesota's natural resources well into the future.
"After years of stalemate and under-funding, we made considerable progress this year for our environment," said Rep. Wagenius. "We have much to celebrate, and more work to do when the 2009 Legislative Session convenes in January."