By Don Davis
Paint will cost more and be recycled. Bees will be protected. Financially troubled farmers will be able to access state aid.
And an island to provide more wildlife habitat could be built in the Mississippi River.
Those are a few of the impacts from a diverse environment, natural resources and agriculture funding bill headed for Gov. Mark Dayton’s expected approval.
The overall bill spends $312 million on programs such as in the Agriculture Department, Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources. Funding for the two years beginning July 1 is $25 million more than in the current budget.
The House voted for the bill 71-60 and the Senate 42-23, sending it to Dayton for his expected signature.
A House-Senate conference committee removed the most controversial aspect of the bill, new fees on people who use large quantities of water, such as farmers who irrigate land.
The House version of the bill tacked on new fees, but the committee accepted the Senate provision that takes money from the state General Fund.
“This bill is a winner for communities in rural Minnesota,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin. “It gives us the tools to address shrinking water supplies without raising water fees, which is a big deal for farmers, ranchers, livestock producers and agri-businesses that depend on reliable supplies of water. This bill recognizes the need to solve that problem before it’s too late.”
Mining fees were rejected that House bill author Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said were needed “so the mining industry was paying its fair share for some of the costs it is imposing on the state. The Senate declined to increase fees whatsoever.”
One of Wagenius’ concerns this year has been a water shortage in parts of Minnesota, including Worthington, parts of Otter Tail County and White Bear Lake.
The bill gives the DNR more authority and $6.6 million more money to monitor groundwater and surface water to the state can address water shortages.
“It is something hard for me to imagine … where we are having shortages of water,” Wagenius said.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, did not agree with the water monitoring. She said it bothers her to see money spent on water monitoring when the Democratic-written budget does not give enough money to nursing homes.
And, Franson added, “we’ve still got that $300,000 restroom in there.” She referred to a northern Minnesota restroom in an area Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said is miles away from any public restroom.
The bill tacks a 75-cent-a-can fee on paint to establish a program to recycle unused paint.
“We are moving to a system of the person who creates the mess pays for it rather than asking for a subsidy from the neighbor,” Wagenius said.
That fee concerned Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau. He said his constituents could buy paint in North Dakota, which does not charge a recycling fee.
“I cannot imagine how this is going to be good for our border hardware stores and paint stores,” Fabian said.
However, he added, he was glad that proposal to require carpet recycling was dropped.
Some Republicans complained that the bill adds too much to government.
“What we have here is government run amuck…” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said. “We are giving them even more unchecked authority in a number of areas.”
The bill also establishes protections for bees that have been dying off.
“We are an agriculture state and agriculture depends on pollinators,” Wagenius said.
The bill includes a provision that would allow Minneapolis authorities to “recreate” an island in the Mississippi River.
Drazkowski asked Wagenius: “Can you tell me where did the island go?”
Wagenius responded: “No.”
Drazkowski guessed that “the river took the island out.”
“We could end up building an island in the stream and having it washed away,” Drazkowski said.
Wagenius said the island is needed to add wildlife habitat.
Among other provisions in the bill financing environment, natural resources and agriculture programs are:
– The Minnesota Agriculture Department will spend $3 million on a farm-to-school program to provide local produce for schools.
– Agriculture business development will get a $10.5 million boost and renewable fuels $2.5 million more.
– Spending $8.7 million for the University of Minnesota to develop its aquatic invasive species research center to fight invasive species such as Asian carp, but fish barriers were not funded because the federal government has not approved them.
– More fuels will be defined as biofuels beyond just ethanol and biodiesel.
– The state will provide guidance to local governments dealing with silica sand mines and production facilities and local silica sand mining moratorium provisions may be expanded for a year.
– Perfluorochemical (PFC) monitoring is funded for the eastern Twin Cities, where 3M waste has been an issue.
– The farmer-lender mediation act that helps farmers in financial trouble was extended through 2016.