Greetings from St. Paul,
During the past few years, there has been much public debate about the standards regarding permissible sulfate water quality standards established long ago. House File 3280, a bill with bipartisan authorship, seeks to repeal the numeric sulfate water standards for protecting wild rice beds in Minnesota and establish new measures designed to protect and restore wild rice habitats.
The 10 mg/L sulfate standard was adopted in 1973 based upon field observations of wild rice beds that were conducted in the 1930s and 1940s. Current field research shows that Minnesota natural wild rice is growing in waters with sulfate levels far exceeding the current standards in the hundreds of mg/L, while current laboratory research shows that wild rice is not affected by sulfate until levels reach at least 1600 mg/L.
In 2010, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency began a rulemaking process to revise the water quality standard of 10 mg/L sulfate to protect wild rice. In 2011 the Legislature provided $1.5 million to the MPCA for the related research and directed the MPCA to update the rule. After seven years of research and analysis by the MPCA, the Agency proposed its rule revision in August of 2017.
The MPCA’s proposed new standard was opposed by cities, industry, and many environmental advocates. After extensive public hearings last January, the MPCA’s effort was rejected by the Administrative Law Judge that oversaw the administrative rule making process. The extremely complex rule proposal failed to meet the reasonableness standard required for all regulatory rules.
The MPCA then appealed that decision and recently Chief Administrative Law Judge Tammy L. Pust again rejected MCPA’s proposed rule. In a 16-page denial order, Chief Judge Pust wrote:
“It is not difficult to understand how the public questions whether a standard that is unknowable until sufficiently sampled and calculated over a period of ten years, which consists of an equation with mathematical terms that continue to evolve even before adoption, can constitute a rule by which their actions can be regulated.”
The bill directs both the MPCA and the DNR to refocus their efforts on protecting, enhancing and where appropriate restoring natural wild rice beds in Minnesota. The bill retires a 1973 numeric sulfate standard which has gone unenforced for the past 45 years.
In no way, shape, or form does this bill look to end the discussion on water quality. To the contrary, it sets the stage for the MPCA to finally develop a workable standard, while also heightening the Department of Natural Resources’ efforts on protecting, enhancing, and restoring natural wild rice in Minnesota. We can do much better by employing the collaborative talents of the wild rice experts at the DNR, in tribal governments, and in the public sector. This bill helps us get there and that is why it enjoyed strong bipartisan support in passing the House on Monday. We are now awaiting action in the Senate.
The House’s supplemental tax bill is now making its way through the committee process so that it can come up for discussion before the full body. The goal remains to hold as many Minnesotans as harmless as possible while reducing headaches for filers next year by simplifying the state tax code and allowing us to fully benefit from the recent federal tax reform. Many of the tax bill’s provisions include bills that I chief-authored, including individual income tax reduction. Look for more news on this subject as discussions take place during the remaining weeks of the 2018 session.
SOPHIA’S LAW CLARIFICATION
In other news, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation I authored to provide technical clarifications to “Sophia’s Law,” which passed in 2016 and will take effect May 1.
Under the new law, boats longer than 16 feet with enclosed cabin facilities that include sleeping areas, a bathroom, and a galley will be required to have detectors to alert passengers of dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide. The clarifying language in H.F. 3755 is necessary to prevent interpretations of the original text from leading to far more installation work than intended with the new law.
The goal with this clarification bill (H.F. 3755) is to provide a practical solution, whereby we are able to meet the original intent of this new law without adding egregious burdens. The new language provides greater specificity as to where CO detectors shall be placed in an attempt to avoid confusion. It is important this language be updated before May 1 to make for a smoother transition as the new law takes effect.
Sophia’s Law was led to enactment following a tragic carbon monoxide poisoning incident involving 7-year-old Sophia Baechler on Lake Minnetonka in 2015. The clarification bill passed the House 127-0 and now is awaiting passage from the full Senate before it can be presented to the governor for his review.