House Passes Environmental Bill
St. Paul / AP – The Minnesota House passed its environmental finance bill that Republicans say will help “slow down the government spending spree.”
The $1.2 billion legislation passed 80-53 Thursday night with Republicans championing the bill that they said will make environmental agencies more responsive to the public, remove unnecessary regulatory burdens and halt overspending in a number of areas.
Republican Rep. Dan Fabian of Roseau said state agencies, like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, have continued to be unresponsive to legislative inquiries.
“MPCA is unwilling to meet with myself and the people who are interested in streamlining the permitting process,” he said. “It’s a pretty sad commentary on the way the pollution control agency works when they refuse to meet to work on these things.”
Under the bill, the MPCA would create a budget within each division of the group, Fabian said, a measure that would increase transparency.
MPCA spokesman Dave Verhasselt disputed Fabian’s claims. He said the agency tried to meet with Fabian in late February with its concerns about the legislation, but Fabian declined to talk with them over a disagreement of what was to be discussed.
Restrictions on lead ammunition, county control over environmental projects and the Environmental Quality Board were all subject to debate on the floor. Democratic Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, of Roseville, said there were numerous pieces of legislation that weren’t heard in the environmental committee before they were included in the larger legislation.
Democrats fought hard against the bill. They said it was too concentrated on policy attempting to dismantle environmental protections. Rep. Rick Hansen, the South St. Paul Democrat, pointed to the fact that about one-third of the bill was focused on finance.
Hansen introduced an amendment to strip the bill of all policy provisions, but his and other Democrats efforts to derail the bill ultimately failed. That divide played out most of the night, with Democrats introducing amendments that were shot down — mostly along party lines.
The bill brings the Legislature one step closer to negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton. The debate over the slimming of the state agencies will likely be contentious as the governor has made environmental protection on of his flagship issues during his tenure.