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Minnesota Legislature

At Issue: Animal, vegetable, mineral … or chemical?

Published (4/24/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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Rep. Jean Wagenius presents the omnibus environment and energy finance bill April 22 on the House floor. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)During a lengthy discussion about the environment on Earth Day, April 22, the House approved legislation that calls for data collection on toxic chemicals found in children’s products.

The omnibus environment and energy finance bill, HF2123, sponsored by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) was passed by the House on an 85-46 vote. Most of the debate centered on the environment portion of the bill.

A companion, SF2099, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the full Senate.

With major appropriations for the Pollution Control Agency and the Board of Water and Soil Resources, traditional work such as monitoring water, mining and timber resources would continue, although Wagenius said the PCA, which is under a “mountain of debt,” would have to do their work with a 10 percent budget cut.

New provisions include HF250, sponsored by Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton). Known as the Toxic Free Kids Act, it would require manufacturers of children’s products to give the PCA a list of the chemicals found in their products and the list would be made public. More than an hour of floor debate and several failed amendments were offered by members who doubted the calculated fiscal impact, saying it would be much larger. Others considered the language in the bill as a possible trade secret violation for manufacturers. “Minnesota children and parents deserve better information and protection” from toxic chemicals, Knuth said.

Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said the act would make the bill fiscally “out of whack” and would be “a mandate of monumental proportions” from a department that is, to use Wagenius’ phrase, “under a mountain of debt.” Zellers unsuccessfully attempted to refer the bill to the House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee for further review.

Chemicals are also addressed in other sections of the bill. A provision to publish mercury warnings for fish consumption in four languages also drew much debate. The bill did not designate which four languages should be used on the warnings, prompting Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) to successfully amend the bill to read, “one of which must be English.” The remainder will be at the discretion of the Department of Natural Resources.

Chemicals in coal tar driveway sealants were found in the bottom of a stormwater retention pond in White Bear Lake. The toxic sediment resulted in a provision to ban coal tar from state transportation projects and to study the issue in anticipation of a future public ban.

PCA and BWSR would also continue testing water in lakes, ponds, streams and wastewater treatment plants for chemicals. Testing would include research on how chemicals found in drinking water sources affect children and pregnant women.

Animal

General Fund appropriations include funding for the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Como Zoo in St. Paul and the Duluth Zoo. The non-game wildlife account in the natural resources fund would provide $440,000 for research and management of the gray wolf. Wildlife habitats would be maintained or restored and paid for through the heritage enhancement account in the game and fish fund.

Likewise, management of deer, bear, waterfowl, pheasant and wild turkey would be paid for through each of their respective dedicated funding accounts.

Vegetable

A large portion of BWSR’s appropriations would be passed to local governments as grants. Within the bill, $2.3 million is for soil erosion control and water quality management. Another $2.4 million would be used to maintain vegetation buffers and to restore native prairie.

Wagenius included language that would require state agencies and their grant recipients to plant or sow only native seeds and plants for conservation and management projects. The requirement could rule out the use of some plants commonly used today by farmers.

Four million dollars is earmarked for the state’s tree nurseries and forests. The Minnesota Forest Resources Council would have to submit recommendations to the Legislature by next January about ways to increase tree planting for the sequestration of carbon.

Another emerging tree issue focuses on preventing the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive species that was recently discovered in Wisconsin and on the Minnesota border near Houston County. The insect bores into ash trees, killing them over the course of several years. An appropriation of $190,000 from the heritage enhancement account in the game and fish fund would be allocated to prevent the spread of invasive species on state property.

On April 22, the Department of Agriculture placed a state quarantine on firewood, ash trees and ash tree products in Houston County. Although the pest has not yet been found in Minnesota, the precaution was taken to prevent its spread.

Mineral

Mining in Minnesota would cost the six operating companies in the state more due to proposed fees ranging from $5,000 for a peat-mining operation to $50,000 for nonferrous metallic mineral operations. In addition, the bill would establish annual permit fees ranging from $1,000 for peat mining to $60,000 for taconite mining.

Taconite mining would be subject to a new reclamation fee of .0075 cents per ton of iron ore mined. The DNR would use the revenue to pay for oversight of mining operations and to cover the cost of issuing the permit.

Energy

The House Finance Committee incorporated the omnibus energy finance bill into the omnibus environment finance bill April 15 in order to align the bill with the Senate version. The bill includes appropriations from the federal stimulus money through the Department of Commerce. Some of the funds will be used to hire and train weatherization technicians. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) successfully amended the bill to require background checks on those hired to perform the energy audits on houses that qualify for weatherization projects.

A $1.5 million grant to the Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges for “applied research” with Swedish manufacturers of renewable energy products was called into question by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers). She said the energy commissioner told her that the funding source, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, prohibits spending federal stimulus money on research projects.

“This clearly is a violation of the federal law,” Peppin said. Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch) said the jury is still out on that issue, and the provision would be addressed in conference committee.

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