Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Senate DFLers name new committee chairs

St. Paul — With a new party taking control of the Minnesota Senate, restructuring has occurred within the two committees that deal with environment and natural resources legislation.

Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, will chair the new Senate Legacy and Natural Resources Committee, while Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, will chair the new Energy, Utilities, Environment and Climate Change Committee.

There were two related committees in the outgoing Senate structure: the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, which last year was chaired by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. Former Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, chaired the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

Neither Ruud nor Ingebrigtsen ran for another Senate term, but voters would have ended their chairmanships either way with the majority changing in the Senate.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, also recently was reappointed as the chair of the House’s Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.

Under the new structure, it seems Hawj, who could not be reached for comment for this story, will be coordinating the bulk of conservation issues in his committee.

Hawj was described as a bowhunter, angler, recreational landowner, wild
berry picker, and canoeist with lots of experience in the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in a recent Star Tribune story.

“Environmental preservation is a priority and we’re a leading state in America,” Hawj told the newspaper.

Hawj sits on the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources,
which recommends to the Legislature how to spend the Environment and
Natural Resources Trust Fund.

“He’s a real champion for the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Environmental Trust Fund,” said Dave Carlson, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance. “I think he is going to do a good job.”

The ENRTF has come underfire in recent years, first
by Senate Republicans who tried repeatedly to tap it to pay for
wastewater infrastructure grants – a move that led to a lawsuit and the
legislation being largely reversed.

The ENRTF projects and legislative package have become somewhat of a
political football and a bargaining chip in larger negotiations between
the DFL and Republicans late in the session, and Sen. Torrey Westrom,
R-Elbow Lake, substituted a handful of projects for ones that hadn’t
gone through the normal process in the LCCMR.

Also, DFL members last session proposed using some of the money to pay for affordable housing, a move that was as unpopular with conservationists as were the proposed wastewater infrastructure grants.

ENRTF projects (or the bill that includes them all) have been held up by the partisan haggling in recent years, but that process, as well as an
effort to reauthorize the ENRTF for another 25 years, likely will have
an easier time gaining passage now that the DFL has majorities in both
chambers.

“It sounds like there is an appetite in both the House and Senate to get
the ENRTF reauthorized,” Carlson said. “Hopefully they will keep it
clean and focus on the original intent. That is our hope.”

Carlson said he hopes the DFL will also back off the affordable housing proposal.

“Not only wastewater grants, but affordable housing and other things that
got introduced and talked about last year,” Carlson said. “The cool
thing about the ENRTF is it funded things that couldn’t get funded any
other way. We don’t need to divert this money to affordable housing,
which can funded other ways. The same for wastewater grants.”

Carlson added that he was hopeful that the new Legislature will also be able to make real progress on the issue of chronic wasting disease. Senate Republicans have opposed most attempts at new regulations for the farmed cervid industry.

“Hopefully, with more CWD being found, there will be more funding for managing CWD via the DNR and the Board of Animal Health,” Carlson said.

Carlson said he expects a high load of legislation being introduced this
session, some of which will be conservation-related, because of the
large number of new incoming legislators.

“Lord only knows what that will include,” said Carlson, who mentioned the possibility of a lead ammunition or lead fishing tackle ban.

He also hopes that legislators will be more accessible.

“I hope they communicate better with us,” he said. “Some have been
unwilling to communicate with us. I hope that changes. I don’t know if
it will.”

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