House passes omnibus environment bill

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The House passed the Omnibus Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Finance bill 72-57 after approving several amendments, such as removing a provision to allow the harvesting of hardwood trees in two state parks.

Offered by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), the amendment easily passed 106-22 despite an attempt by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) to garner support for his state park timber harvesting provision.

“It defies common sense … that we are not considering, just prior to these trees dying, that we don’t harvest this resource. It can be done in a very environmental way,” Drazkowski said.

HF1010 now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) is the sponsor.

House members also debated General Fund cuts to the Department of Natural Resources for parks and trails funding, which DNR officials have said may result in dozens of state park closings. Rep. Tom Hackbarth said the DNR’s assertion that it will be forced to close state parks is a “threat.” He introduced an amendment to prohibit the closure of state parks that was approved 128-0. He withdrew a portion of the amendment that would have required the DNR to layoff or to reduce salaries on non-classified employees in order to keep state parks open.

Another amendment regarding wild rice was also split into two separate votes. Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) asked members to retain the current 10 milligram standard, even though he was the one who offered the 50 milligram compromise contained in the bill. The other portion would have deleted the requirement for a wild rice study based on scientific research. Both portions of the amendment failed, which means the study would go forward and the sulfate standards in wild rice would rise to 50 milligrams per liter until a new standard could be adopted.

Drazkowski successfully amended the bill to set aside a portion of the environmental trust fund to pay for managing new land acquired with HF1010 appropriations. Although legislators supported setting aside funds to manage newly acquired land, some questioned the constitutionality of using the environmental trust fund to pay local governments a payment in lieu of property taxes, commonly called PILT.

DFLers were also critical of how environmental trust fund projects were removed in the committee process and new projects inserted in their place. Several amendments to reinstate projects previously recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources failed. One of those projects was a grant to the University of Minnesota to study the effect on bees and pollinating plants of a pesticide used to control an invasive species, the emerald ash borer.

DFL members also accused Republicans of cutting General Fund support for invasive species and supplanting those cuts with the LCCMR lottery proceeds.

“The invasive species is government growth that we need to stop,” said House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood). It’s not always about what we’d like to do. We have funded the priorities within our means.”