The Legislature is on Easter/Passover break this week, but next week begins the fast and furious final six weeks of session. A number of bills are moving through the Legislature that could impact MESERB members. The following list summarizes the bills that may be of interest to MESERB members and still have the potential to advance at the Legislature. As a reminder, MESERB does not lobby on issues at the Legislature. Because many MESERB members also belong to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), any CGMC involvement in a bill is noted.
PFA Funding Bill (HF 3122/SF 2668) This bill, a top priority for the CGMC, would appropriate $167 million in bonding to the Public Facilities Authority for the following programs: $25 million to match federal clean water grants, $80 million for Water Infrastructure Fund and $62 million for the Point Source Implementation Grant Program. A hearing highlighting the need for these programs was held in the House and the proposal has received support from many quarters. The Governor included an identical recommendation in his bonding bill, and the Legislative Water Commission made a similar recommendation and pointed to this legislation as an appropriate vehicle for the request.
MESERB Appropriation Bill (HF 3065/SF 2878) This bill, sponsored by the CGMC, would appropriate $1 million per year for the next two fiscal years to MESERB to review the scientific validity, technical accuracy and costs to implement water quality standards, TMDLs, watershed restoration and protection strategies (WRAPs) and NPDES permits. MESERB would determine which items would be selected for review and hire the necessary consultants to conduct the review as needed. The bill has been heard in two committees in the Senate and was held over for possible inclusion in the Senate environmental finance omnibus bill. It has not been heard in the House.
Supplemental Wastewater Grant Program (HF 3332/SF 3075) This CGMC-sponsored bill would create a grant program so that when a city undertakes a wastewater project it will receive at least 50% of the total project costs or the amount needed to reduce the annual household wastewater rates to no more than twice the annual Twin Cities metropolitan area average. The concept is popular among rural legislators, but there is concern about how it would be paid for. It has not yet received a hearing in either body, but that may happen after the break.
Wild Rice Sulfate Standard (HF 3280/SF 2983) The wild rice sulfate water quality standard has been a source of controversy for nearly a decade. Adopted in 1974, the standard has rarely been applied and was largely ignored until environmental groups raised the issue with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. This led to legislation requiring studies of the impact of sulfate on wild rice as well as a new rulemaking. MESERB and the CGMC were active during the rulemaking process to amend the standard. Earlier this year, the Office of Administrative Hearings invalidated portions of the proposed rule. HF 3280/SF 2983 would nullify the current 10 mg/l standard and require new rulemaking. The bill has passed through all necessary policy committees in the House and Senate and is awaiting action in the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. It is not clear whether the Governor would sign this legislation. To date, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) testimony has been limited to a statement that they are involved in active litigation on the issue and cannot comment. The CGMC continues to monitor the legislation and stay involved behind the scenes. The organization will likely submit letters of support as the legislation moves forward.
Safe Salting (HF3577/SF 3199) This bill is designed to encourage better salting practices by landscapers and other private entities who apply salt in the winter. It would provide limited liability relief for applicators who have been certified and who have documented their practices. The bill has made it through multiple committees in the House and Senate, but its final fate is uncertain because the trial lawyers association has objected. The CGMC submitted a letter in support of this bill.
Regulatory Certainty (HF 2802/SF 2807) Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that would provide municipal wastewater facilities relief from frequent upgrades to meet new permit limits. Under the legislation, a municipality that constructs a wastewater facility to comply with a new or modified effluent limit would not be required to comply with a new or modified limit that was adopted after construction begins and that would require additional capital investment for the 16 years after the new facility begins operation. The Office of Administrative Hearings rejected the rulemaking on that legislation and this bill seeks to correct the alleged defect by adding the phrase “To the extent allowable under federal law.” The MPCA continues to pursue its appeal of the OAH decision. The CGMC is participating in the appeal as an amicus along with the League of Minnesota Cities.
Permit Fees (HF 2940/SF2637) Last summer, the MPCA began the rulemaking process to modify and, in many cases, increase its fees for water quality permits. MESERB and the CGMC submitted comments objecting to any increase in fees without legislative approval. This bill would prohibit the MPCA from increasing permit fees without legislative approval. The CGMC provided behind-the-scenes support for the legislation, and the bill authors based the legislation in part on its objections. The bill has passed all necessary committees in the House and Senate and awaits action on the floor.
Modification of External Peer Review Requirements (HF 3960/SF 3686) The CGMC has been advocating for several years to require independent peer review at the MPCA. Last summer, the MPCA Commissioner issued a memorandum requiring independent peer review in a variety of situations and included a requirement for public comment on the charge questions. The CGMC and MESERB began advocating that the proposal be codified into statute. This bill would accomplish that and was included in the recommendations from the Legislative Water Commission’s stakeholder group (in which MESERB and the CGMC participated). The bill passed through all necessary committees in the House. It has not yet been heard in the Senate yet, but the language was included in a separate bill that did clear deadlines, so it still may move forward but not as a stand-alone bill.
Rulemaking Reform (HF 3445/SF 3113) The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has sponsored legislation aimed at improving the rulemaking process. It contains a variety of provisions that could benefit MESERB members. It would require that guidance documents be published before they are enforced and imposes additional requirements on the use of guidance documents. Under current law, the Legislature must approve any rule that would cost a city with less than 10 full-time employees more than $25,000, unless the Governor waives application of the statute. This legislation would remove the Governor’s waiver authority. The CGMC has been consulting with the Chamber on the bill language. The legislation was not heard before deadline, but portions of it may be inserted into larger policy bills.
Fertilizer Rules (HF 4133/ SF3536) The Department of Agriculture has been working on rules regulating the application of fertilizer in areas of the state where groundwater could be affected. Last summer, the CGMC submitted a letter in support of the rulemaking. The Department unveiled a revised version of the rules earlier this winter. A number of farm groups objected and legislation was introduced that would prohibit the Department from adopting the rules without legislative approval. This language was included in the omnibus agricultural policy bill that is awaiting floor action in both bodies. At least one farm group has suggested that this provision could trigger a veto of the bill.
LCCMR Bill (HF 3352/ SF2934) The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) makes recommendations on how the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund (lottery money) should be spent. One recommendation that the CGMC supports is a pilot program to optimize local and mechanical pond wastewater treatment plants. In addition, the Senate version of the bill recommends that the LCCMR consider recommending up to $10 million of the trust fund be used for grants for cities with populations under 5,000 for wastewater infrastructure and that up to 5 percent of the trust fund principal be used for loans to those cities. The bills have passed through the relevant policy committees in both bodies and are awaiting action in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
Chamber Multi-subject Environment Bill (HF 3120/ SF 2705) The Chamber introduced legislation that includes multiple provisions that the CGMC supports including regulatory certainty, codification of commissioner’s directive on peer review, and creation of a water credit exchange pilot program. The pilot program was amended out in House due to objections from agriculture. The bill is awaiting a floor vote in the House and will be heard in the Senate Environment Finance Committee next week. The legislation could face a veto because the regulatory certainty provision includes protection for industrial wastewater permittees as well.
Senate Environment Policy Omnibus (SF 3141) The Senate rolled a number of policy provisions into a single omnibus bill, including the regulatory certainty provision. This bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Environment Finance Committee. The House will roll some of their policy provisions into omnibus finance and policy bills.