March 22 is the deadline for bills to make initial progress in the House and remain in the mix this session, meaning committees are hard at work conducting hearings on a large number of proposals.
A couple of bills I have authored related to nitrates received hearings this week. The first (H.F. 2727) prohibits adoption of the proposed nitrogen fertilizer rule recently announced by the governor and his Department of Agriculture. His proposal is not supported by science and even reports from his own administration (the MPCA) show vast improvement in reducing nitrates in groundwater over the last 15 years.
Agriculture is a bipartisan issue, and one of our top priorities is clean drinking water. As the MPCA report shows, farmers already are using less nitrogen than they have in the past and this type of rulemaking from the governor would just add more unnecessary rules and regulations for them to follow. Besides, nitrogen is expensive and farmers are working on the slimmest of margins. They don’t want to send nitrogen down the stream any more than they want to flush money down the drain.
It is disappointing he has chosen to address nitrates in groundwater by executive rule rather than attempting to work with us on a bipartisan solution. By pumping the brakes on this rule, we restore order to the legislative process so we can conduct public hearings, gain input from all sides and find an agreeable solution.
The Legislature is in session now and we could give this issue the attention it deserves in order to make rational, science-based decisions on our best path forward.
The other bill (H.F. 3607) I authored on this subject would examine nitrogen levels on state lands. Specifically, on outdoor recreation system lands owned by the state, the commissioner of agriculture must monitor groundwater and surface water for nitrogen and report the results.
This is something of a fact-finding mission that could help give us a baseline for how much nitrogen naturally exists on untouched state lands. That scientific information also could be helpful to consider on this issue at large.
Finally, a third bill I am working on (H.F. 3679) has to do with water, but from a different angle. My bill stipulates that if the state requires installation of a test well for an irrigation permit and then denies the permit, the state must pay the costs of the well. This issue has been a source of frustration and expensive experiments for property owners who feel as though they’ve done the right things, followed the proper channels, only to be punished for it with no recourse.
Stay tuned as things develop at the Capitol and, as always, your input is welcome.