A silver lining for 2006 session: WMA funding

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul – While the 2006 legislative session is likely to be
remembered as the one in which dedicated funding came within a
breath of passing – only to fall apart in the closing hours –
lawmakers were active in other conservation and environmental
issues.

Passed were a Clean Water Legacy Act and $25 million in one-time
funding; a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources; a
bonding bill that included more than $20 million for wildlife
management areas; and a University of Minnesota stadium bill that
will result in the state owning about 2,800 acres of sensitive land
in Rosemount.

‘To me, it’s amazing the success we had this session,’ said Bob
Meier, DNR legislative affairs director.

Said Bob Schroeder, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Tim Pawlenty:
‘But for the constitutional amendment, I would say this was a great
year,’ for conservation and the environment.

Clean Water Legacy

A plan to clean the state’s lakes and rivers, and bring them
into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, is a reality.

Environmentalists hailed the plan’s passage, but noted that at
least $80 million per year is needed to adequately fund the
program. Funding was not included in the package. Instead, a
supplemental budget bill and the bonding bill equate to about $25
million to fund the program this year.

‘There’s no long-term commitment, and that’s what we really
need,’ said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota
Environmental Partnership.

Funding for water clean-up was included in House and Senate
versions of dedicated funding.

Additionally, the policy also allows for the trading of credits
within a watershed. If, for example, discharge were reduced in one
area, it could be increased in another. That allows polluters to
delay or avoid cleaning up their operations, Morse said.

He expects the Legislature to tweak the bill next year,
particularly that part of it. Before that, lawsuits could move the
matter into the court’s hands, Morse said.

‘We still have more work to do,’ he said.

Bonding bill

At $10 million, WMAs fared as well as they ever had in a bonding
bill last year – until this year.

Legislators in this year’s bill included $14 million for WMA
acquisition, as well as $6 million for a project in Dakota County
that will tie in with the Gophers stadium land-swap deal. Another
$2.2 million will be spent to restore the Grass Lake prairie
wetland basin near Willmar.

That level of funding for WMAs was a ‘major, major achievement
this year,’ said Gary Botzek, chair of MEP’s government relations
committee and lobbyist for the Minnesota Conservation Federation
and Minnesota Waters.

Other appropriations from the bonding bill include:

$25 million for flood hazard mitigation grants.

$2.25 million for dam renovation and removal.

$2 million for stream protection and restoration.

$3 million for water access acquisition.

$2 million for acquisition of aquatic management areas.

$1 million for fish hatchery improvements.

$1 million for water control structures.

$2 million for scientific and natural areas.

$7 million to acquire large-scale forest conservation
easements. The easements must guarantee public access, including
hunting and fishing. The Forest Legacy also received $500,000 from
the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Notably missing from the bonding bill was money for the second
phase of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The House
had included $2.7 million for it, but that was zeroed out amid
lawmaker concern that CREP money from last year hadn’t been
spent.

Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea and co-chair of the bonding
conference committee, said it’s possible CREP could be funded next
year if last year’s money is spent.

LCMR reform

Initially proposed by Pawlenty in the fall of 2004, the
Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, which doles out
money for natural resources projects, has been reformed.

The new commission will include 17 members – seven citizens and
10 lawmakers, who will formulate a strategic plan to guide spending
from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

‘We will now have citizen experts in the outdoors helping make
direct decisions in the investments that matter to us,’ Schroeder
said. ‘It’s a vast difference from what we had before. We’re going
to be on much more solid footing.’

Mercury reduction

One of MEP’s main initiatives this session was to pass
legislation mandating utilities to reduce their mercury
emissions.

The result: a plan that requires that state’s largest utilities
to reduce their mercury emissions by 90 percent by the end of 2014.
That’s ahead of the federal timetable.

Both Morse and Schroeder said the plan makes Minnesota a leader
in mercury reform.

‘It’s a good first step to moving mercury reduction nationally,’
Morse said.

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