The 88th Legislature & The Environment
As the Minnesota Legislature wrapped up for the summer, many celebrated victories while others fumed in frustration. My personal view is that change does not happen overnight. While I consistently support stronger protections for our environment, I know that the seed of an idea needs time to germinate before it can grow into mighty policy. Below are a few environmental issues Minnesota's 88th legislature addressed well and which seeds we need to shed some more light on.
I first heard of environmental justice in my late teens, and throughout my environmental education it kept popping up again and again. I have come to realize that environmental justice is a pillar to all environmental policy, ensuring that all citizens are seen as equals in the eyes of the law. Back in 2009 the House introduced the Environmental Justice Act that was never to be heard of again. Now, in 2013, it is back with the same language but hopefully a renewed push. I am hopeful that our representatives will see its importance and take it further in the latter part of the session.
If you haven’t heard, the bees are disappearing. Now, that may not seem so bad at first, until you take into account how vital pollinators are to our natural habitat. Development paired with pesticide use has driven down the bee population in Minnesota significantly. This has repercussions on growing seasons, especially fruit production.
Therefore, this current legislature has rightfully brought awareness to habitat protection from pesticides for pollinators through legislation. In addition, funding has been set aside to develop pesticide best management practices, increase responsible application training, and draw public awareness to the problem at hand. Funding was also set aside in another bill to increase monitoring of pesticides and their run-off products in surface and ground water. As more emphasis is placed on investigating non-point source pollution, pesticides are a great place to start in Minnesota. The information gathered will be used to reevaluate current practices.
Our waterways have been garnering some attention through a plethora of different outlets. A big area water quality has been addressed has been through localized projects. In conjunction with partners like the University of Minnesota, a bill addresses individual projects to protect water resources through allocations and grants. This is great to see, as ground-up developments build a strong foundation for water protection.
Another bill established the Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, a voluntary program designed to increase commitment to water quality around the state. The same bill called for an increase in education in training in water quality issues. A separate bill addresses out-of-date wastewater treatment facilities and provides funding through grants to improvement projects. This is to keep facilities operating at maximum efficiency and ensure that no effluent standards (such as those for nitrogen and phosphorus) are passed, avoiding issues of public and environmental health.
The biggest win for water quality came from the Omnibus Legacy Act. This monster of a bill points to water quality protection through a variety of different mediums and agencies. Instead of just throwing money at the problem, the bill states that pollution sources must be better researched and sought out as to really establish what is polluting Minnesota watersheds. This holistic approach will give a clearer picture of the problems we face so more effective solutions can be drafted.
Solar power is all the buzz in Minnesota right now. With the Governor singing the 1.5% by 2020 solar standard into law, we are looking at increased renewable energy throughout the state. Now, I was disappointed at first that the initial House Bill, which called for a stronger mandate, was axed in committee. A nice perk of the new bill however is the community solar gardens and the potential they bring to the state. As I stated before, a little step is better than nothing and I am excited to see where renewables take us in the future.
Studies are being called for instead to research feasibility of getting Minnesota to 40% of our energy coming from renewable by 2030. The net-metering cap also increased from 40 kW to 1mW. This means that larger renewable energy producers can now reap the economic benefits of hooking up the grid at large.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the 88th legislature has touched on some incredibly important environmental policy so far. Again, they didn’t always go the way I would hope, but nonetheless the conversation has been started. As residents of MN it is imperative to keep the push going strong and remain vigilant of our elected officials so they continue to research and enact sound environmental policy.