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Critics pan Minnesota House environment policy bill

Posted on April 12, 2012

St. Paul — Critics panned an omnibus environment bill the state House passed last week, contending it laid waste to laws protecting Minnesota’s wetlands.

They pointed out several other issues they had with the bill, and the DNR went so far as to say it wouldn’t support the bill – even if it contained the hunting and fishing license fee increases it has sought for two years. (As of earlier this week, it appeared those fees would be included in a separate bill. See story, above left.)

The House passed its omnibus policy bill – HF 2164 – last Thursday. The vote was 74-52.

The Senate likely will take up its bill early next week. Many of the provisions in that bill are the same as those in the House bill.

At the core of many people’s concern with the bill is the changes it would make to the state’s wetlands laws.
“Instead of following the current Wetland Conservation Act that replaces any wetlands that are lost, this provision would increase exemptions and allow more wetlands to be destroyed without any replacement,” Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, wrote. “This is wrong for Minnesota, since wetlands provide habitat for Minnesota’s wildlife, help filter runoff, retain flood waters, and help keep our waters clean.”

But the bill’s author, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said wetland loss isn’t the intent of the bill.

“I don’t want that to happen; that’s not what it’s about,” he said.

McNamara said the Wetland Conservation Act changes are about making it “move at the speed of commerce.” He also said the bill would result in wetland management on a broader basis.

“If we can manage the wetlands on a watershed basis and reach out more broadly (when replacing wetlands), I think we can see some real positive results,” he said. “In the end, we can’t be destroying wetlands. We have to build better wetlands than any that we lose.”

McNamara acknowledged that Gov. Mark Dayton may not sign the bill if it’s sent to him as it’s currently written.

“I’m hopeful in the end we can come up with a bill the governor can sign – one that will move us forward in a positive way on these wetlands,” he said.

According a letter signed by officials from the DNR, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Pollution Control Agency, and Department of Agriculture: “We are strongly opposed to the changes to de minimus that reduce wetland protection. Minnesota has a ‘no net loss’ of wetland policy that has been carefully crafted over the past (20) years. … This proposed policy change would undermine the wetland restoration work being done with Legacy dollars, which Minnesotans voted for in overwhelming support.”

The bill also creates an aquatic invasive species program the DNR is pushing, though the bill doesn’t make it mandatory, which the agency wants. The Senate version of the bills would require boats to complete the program.

The House bill, after a successful amendment by Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, doubles the civil penalties for people who run afoul of laws related to aquatic invasive species. The fine for failure to remove the drain plug of a boat before transporting it, for example, would rise from $50 to $100.