Environmental trust fund projects changing course


Funding for several environmental research and education projects would be stripped from a bill and replaced with funding for emerging issues such as invasive species, chronic wasting disease and to study wild rice, under an amendment proposed by the chair of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.

Committee Chairman Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) is proposing to diminish or cut funding for about 16 percent of the projects recommended for Environmental Trust Fund money by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Lottery receipts comprise the bulk of the fund. The bill, HF400, sponsored by Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), is a compilation of $50 million worth of projects vetted over the past year by the LCCMR, a group of citizen and legislative appointees. No action was taken; there is no Senate companion.

McNamara said the recommendations are the result of an agenda from the previously-held Democratic House majority. His amendment is an attempt to reflect the current majority, he said. Howes no longer serves on the LCCMR and several new appointees joined the commission in January.

Nancy Gibson, the LCCMR co-chairwoman, said elements approved by the commission were “wiped out” and the integrity of the nonpartisan process has been challenged. Howes reminded the committee that the commission is charged with making recommendations, but the House committee may amend the bill.

Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday.

Among the projects McNamara’s amendment would delete are:

  • multiple University of Minnesota Natural Resources Research Institute projects;
  • National Eagle Center surveys and education program;
  • climate change studies by the University of Minnesota;
  • local watershed planning in Crow Wing County and along the St. Croix River;
  • assessing the impacts of the gulf oil spill on migratory birds;
  • protection of grasslands from woody vegetation;
  • a forest stewardship plan on the north shore;
  • multiple water monitoring projects;
  • local government grants to help educate residents about proper disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals;
  • renewable energy initiatives;
  • training young people to install Minnesota-made solar panels on homes of low-income wage earners; and
  • multiple elementary and secondary environmental education programs.

The amendment also would add funding to train and mentor conservation professionals through a Conservation Corps Minnesota apprenticeship program; for a Pollution Control Agency wild rice standards study; to accelerate efforts to address chronic wasting disease in deer and elk populations; for design work on the Coon Rapids Dam project to prevent the introduction of invasive carp and other work to eradicate invasive species.