Key differences remain in omnibus environment, ag bill

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While recognizing their agreement overall, conferees negotiating a final version of the omnibus environment, natural resources and agriculture bill have spent their first two meetings examining the differences they must bridge.

The most notable may be the fee increases for water usage contained in the House language, but absent from the Senate version of HF976*/ SF1170. The proposed increases, which would cost the average family pennies, but commercial users considerably more, have been controversial throughout their stops along the committee process.

These provisions must now be reconciled with a Senate bill that is reluctant to raise fees in other areas as well, including mining, where increased permit fees are also absent.

“It looks like the Senate is a little fee averse in this,” Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), chair of the Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division said Friday, during the conferees’ second meeting.

Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls), chair of the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee, said she might characterize it somewhat differently, but that was “a discussion we’re going to be having.”

There are differences on other high-profiles issues as well:

• The House would instruct the Environmental Quality Board to develop model standards and criteria for silica sand mining, while the Senate would require the Natural Resources, Health and Transportation departments to develop them jointly;

• The Senate does not include carpet or batteries in a product stewardship program aimed at broadening recycling efforts and waste collection opportunities across the state. Architectural paint is the only program contained in both bills; and

• The water quality certification program for farmers outlined in the House bill is absent in the Senate’s bill.

“We’re the same in a lot of areas of the bill, there’s just a couple spots we’ll have to get creative on,” Tomassoni said.

The conferees will likely meet again Monday. A time should be posted on the Legislature’s website when it is determined.