The Legislature adjourned May 17, as required by the Minnesota Constitution, without passing any of its budget bills. That day, the Governor, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced that they had reached a “global agreement” on budget targets.
Conference committees have been tasked with determining how the budget will be spent in each subject area by May 28 (today) and with having the bill language ready by June 4. The expectation is that the Governor will call the Legislature back into session around June 14 to complete their work.
PFAS Legislative Efforts
A few years ago, several of wastewater operators notified us about concerns with PFAS in their waste streams. MESERB has supported and contributed to the work done by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) and the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) to create the Municipal PFAS Source Reduction Strategy, which if passed, would help communities identify the main sources of PFAS in wastewater streams, develop strategies for reducing PFAS, and develop educational materials for operators and citizens.
The groups sought input from the Municipal Wastewater Stakeholder Group (which includes MMUA, Rural Water, and several other city groups) as they drafted the legislation seeking $500,000 for the development of this strategy. Funding would be directed to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), but the legislation specifies that the agency must consult with a stakeholder group whose membership is identical to the current Municipal Wastewater Stakeholder Group.
The groups introduced the bill last year, but between the challenges of legislating during COVID and the lack of available funds in a non-budget year, it did not advance. They reintroduced it this year (HF 1155/SF 1410) and the Senate included the request in their omnibus environment finance bill.
Declaring PFAS as Hazardous Substance
MPCA sponsored legislation that would designate PFAS as a hazardous substance within the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act (MERLA), Minnesota’s version of the Superfund law. MPCA’s goal was understandable, but the strategy was misguided.
MPCA hoped that by designating the entire class of chemicals as hazardous, it would be easier to go after the responsible businesses and ensure that contaminated sites would be cleaned up. The problem is that MERLA is broader than the federal law and allows for civil liability to be imposed on those who “release” the hazardous substance, regardless of whether the party was responsible for the presence of the chemicals. In other words, cities could face liability for harm caused by PFAS in their wastewater or drinking water despite being simply conduits of the chemicals.
This legislation advanced several steps in the House. MESERB assisted the CGMC and LMC, who testified against it in committees and devoted countless hours to negotiating with MPCA. We brought in several operators to talk with MPCA about the implications for wastewater and their biosolid programs. After that meeting, the agency recognized the problems with the legislation and agreed to stop pursuing it this year. We are pleased with this winning result, but we anticipate MPCA will pursue this legislation again in the future.
Other PFAS legislation
There were several bills introduced regarding PFAS. The most concerning legislation would require MPCA to develop water quality standards for two types of PFAS by 2024. We recognize that standards will be developed in the future, but we oppose arbitrarily requiring them when the research on this issue is not yet ready. This requirement was included in the House omnibus bill, but we anticipate that it will likely be removed before the bill is finalized.
Disagreements Over Clean Cars and Manure Hold Up Environment Bill
The Environment Conference Committee met multiple times before the session adjourned, but it made little progress. At the start of the conference committee process, the Senate put forth its demands that the House delay implementation of the “clean car” rules, rules regarding manure spreading, and several items. The Senate chair refused to negotiate any other aspects of the bill unless the House would agree to the demands regarding the clean car rules and manure. The House has not been willing to accede to that proposal.
Since then, the committee has not met publicly. We understand that there have been a few discussions, but the clean car dispute continues to hold up progress. If the two chairs cannot resolve the differences on these issues, legislative leaders may take over responsibility for cobbling together a bare-bones environment omnibus bill.
Chloride Reduction Grants
It is anticipated that more than 100 municipalities could see chloride limits in their wastewater permits. Removing chloride from wastewater is prohibitively expensive. Water softeners are a primary source of chloride in effluent, so we’ve been advocating for funding to help cities offer grants to remove or optimize residential water softeners.
This proposal was included in the Clean Water Council’s recommendations, which were later included in the omnibus Legacy bill in both the House and Senate, HF1079/SF0971. The Legacy bill has not been finalized. The conference committee met only once before adjournment and has not held any meetings in the interim. We anticipate that this provision will be included in the final bill, but we are still awaiting the outcome.
Public Facilities Authority Funding
Funding for the Public Facilities Authority’s (PFA) drinking water and wastewater grant and loan programs continues to be important. However, it is still unclear whether there will be a bonding bill when the Legislature comes back for a special session.
The House put together a $1 billion bonding bill in May, but the bill was never brought up for a vote. Despite the size, the bill primarily focused on projects and programs in the metropolitan area. It included just $15 million for the PFA. The Senate did not assemble a bonding bill. They recommended dedicating $165 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to the PFA, but that proposal did not advance.
Climate Resiliency Grants
MESERB voiced support for MPCA’s efforts to obtain funding for Climate Resiliency Grants, which would help cities assess how to adapt their infrastructure to withstand extreme weather in a cost-effective way. The House included these grants in their omnibus bill, but the Senate did not. At this point, we do not know whether they will move forward.
Duty to Notify
Earlier this year, MPCA introduced legislation that would have required wastewater operators to notify affected members of the public about overflow events. Our partner organizations did not object to the concept, but the original proposal was overly broad and would have been impossible to implement. We were disappointed MPCA introduced the bill without consulting with us or any operators about whether the requirements were feasible, but are pleased to report that after discussing the issue with MPCA, they recognized the problems with their language and to redraft the provision. We consulted with several of our operators to ensure that the language made sense.
In addition to improving the language of this specific proposal, this exchange also helped MPCA recognize that they should consult with municipal organizations and their operators earlier in the process when making these types of proposals.