Welcome from MCEA's legislative team. This is our bi-weekly newsletter “Live from the Legislature,” bringing you inside information on the important environmental issues that MCEA is tracking at the Minnesota Capitol this session.
In this issue:
COVID-19: What it means for legislators and bills being heard
Hot issues in the Legislature: What was dominating the discussion in environment and energy committees before COVID-19
In the news: Minnesotans oppose mining near the Boundary Waters
COVID-19 Reshapes the Legislative Session
Our second issue of this newsletter comes to you in a time of great uncertainty. We have been closely tracking the emerging coronovirus outbreak and the response to it. As an organization committed to following the lead of scientists, we have taken action in response to the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Minnesota Department of Health. That means that MCEA staff are conducting our work remotely, including our legislative advocacy work. Click here to learn more about MCEA's response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Minnesota Legislature announced their approach to legislating in the midst of recommendations to limit the size of public gatherings and limit person-to-person transmission this morning. After taking immediate action on bills to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature plans to stop meeting regularly and focus on three "buckets" of work for the time being:
- Work related to the COVID-19 outbreak as needed and requested by Governor Walz - Critical priorities for the session (such as a bonding bill) - Issues where there is agreement by legislative leaders of both parties and Governor Walz
Some of the issues below may fall into the third "bucket" of work. But the bottom line is the focus will rightfully be on how to best respond to this unprecedented situation. It's possible that a special session will be called later this spring or early summer to address work left undone for now.
MCEA's legislative team is monitoring developments minute-by-minute. As we learn more, we'll be in touch with more information. For now, we're providing an update of where we were at when the session was upended. Want to follow the bills that we have been tracking? Check out our public bill tracker here.
Trichloroethylene, a toxic chemical commonly used as a degreaser, has been hotly debated both in the House and the Senate. Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township) has introduced bills that set a deadline to phase out use of the chemical. Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) has introduced a bill working with the Chamber of Commerce that includes some exceptions to the phase-out of TCE. MCEA supports efforts to end the use of TCE, and appreciates bipartisan efforts to stop toxic chemicals from entering our air and water. However, we believe that a full ban of the chemical is the most effective way to ensure the health and safety of Minnesotans. We have safer alternatives to TCE, and we are already seeing TCE users making the transition to safer options.
Both Rep. Wazlawik’s full ban bill and Sen. Chamberlain’s less robust bill have been moving quickly and independently of each other in both bodies. We are working with citizen groups and other environmental organizations to advocate for a full ban.
Several bills have been moving in the House on lead tackle and lead shot, which, when left behind, are toxic to fish, birds, other wildlife, and humans as well. Most of these bills do not ban the use of lead in tackle and shot, but instead create incentives for using safer products. For example, HF 3220 introduced by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Shoreview) would establish a program to trade in lead fishing tackle for non-toxic alternatives. These bills provide affordable ways for anglers to replace lead fishing tackle they already have at home. We have testified in support of these efforts, and watched closely as these bills progress in the House.
In some early good news on this issue, a $1.3 million education and outreach program to reduce lead poisoning in loons was finally approved in February. This federal grant was being held up by the chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria). It is part of the settlement from the BP oil spill, which harmed Minnesota loons wintering on the Gulf Coast, but Sen. Ingebrigtsen released that hold after a hearing on the program.
Legislators in the House have made significant efforts this session to provide environmental justice to their constituents, through bills that give power to citizens to hold industry accountable to polluting air, water, and soil. MCEA has testified on several of these bills, supporting the efforts to allow citizens to be involved in the environmental issues that affect them on a daily basis and to call attention to areas (such as north Minneapolis) where multiple sources of pollution affect the air quality, but not enough attention is paid to the cumulative impact.
The MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) has begun to adopt clean car standards used by 14 other states using authority granted to the agency by the legislature. Sen. Andrew Mathews (R-Princeton) has proposed a bill (SF 3496) that revokes MPCA’s authority to adopt this rule. This bill has been moving rapidly in the Senate, and we have testified against this bill in every committee it has been heard. We support MPCA’s initiative in adopting stronger clean car standards and incentives for the more widespread use of electric vehicles,, and believe this authority should remain with MPCA.
By now, nearly all Minnesotans know about these “forever chemicals,” which were produced by companies like 3M and DuPont for a variety of uses, including stain protection, nonstick pans, and firefighting foam. But the characteristics that made these chemicals valuable also make them incredibly persistent in the environment, and scientific evidence shows that they cause cancer and other health problems in people. That’s why MCEA supports and testified in favor of Rep. Steve Sandell’s (DFL-Woodbury) HF 3423, which would establish a water quality standard for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most widespread perflourochemicals. This would allow the MPCA to declare water bodies impaired by this pollution and propose cleanup plans. Since Minnesota is the epicenter of this pollution, and since 3M recently settled a lawsuit about this pollution for $850 million, it’s time to give the MPCA better tools to address the pollution.
SF 3311, introduced by Sen. Ingebrigtsen, is moving through the committee process in the Senate. Heavily influenced by corporate interests, this bill contains numerous provisions aimed at rolling back our state’s bedrock environmental protections. It gives a 16-year free pass for industrial polluters to address any new or stronger water quality standard, limits the ability of agencies to fund permitting programs, and imposes undue burdens on the MPCA’s ability to regulate pollution. MCEA strongly opposes this bill.
Rep. Acomb’s ”can do” climate budget that addresses several measures to combat climate change in Minnesota has been broken up into smaller bills, carried by several authors in the House, and moving independently in their appropriate committees. All of these bills are moving quickly, and we expect them to continue to advance through the first deadline. MCEA supports all of these bills, and Rep. Acomb’s overall bill, and we are monitoring their progress closely. To see these bills, check them out on our bill tracker.
In the News: Minnesotans Oppose Mining in the Boundary Waters
A poll conducted for the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio News by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. shows clear consensus that Minnesotans do not support the dangerous type of sulfide mining being proposed in northeast Minnesota.
Public opinion, science and the law are aligned. Sulfide mining threatens our most valuable water resources and the health of Minnesotans.
Like all of you, we're trying to figure out what happens next, and we are focusing on making sure our community is taken care of and safe. We will also continue to defend Minnesota's environment and the health of its people.
For now, that means making smart choices about how we engage with the Legislature, since they are appropriately focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The MCEA legislative team wishes all legislators, staff, and other advocates the best as we pull together protect our community.
Meet the MCEA Legislative Team
Kara Josephson, Legislative Director
Kara worked for seven years in the Minnesota Senate, including as committee administrator to the State and Local Government Committee for Senators Pappas and Torres Ray. Before coming to MCEA in 2018, Kara was a legislative coordinator and lobbyist for the Sierra Club and served as Government Relations Manager for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. While working at MCEA, Kara has been earning credits toward her law degree at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. She graduated with a B.A. and political science and global studies from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Kate Knuth, Climate Policy Advisor
Dr. Kate Knuth brings legislative and policy experience on a range of climate issues to MCEA. Kate was the first chief resilience officer for the City of Minneapolis and founding director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. She served six years in the Minnesota House of Representatives (2007-2012), where she championed clean energy and climate policy. Kate earned her PhD in conservation from the University of Minnesota. She also holds a MSc in biodiversity conservation from Oxford University, and a BA in biology and philosophy from the University of Chicago.
Andrea Lovoll, Legislative Associate
Andrea joined MCEA in January as our Legislative Associate. Andrea most recently served as campaign manager to Senator Richard Cohen (District 64) before he decided to retire, and worked on legislative arts advocacy at Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. She is excited to use her advocacy skills to protect our environment on a legislative level. She graduated from Metropolitan State with a Master's in Advocacy and Political Leadership (MAPL) in 2017, and also holds a Master's in Communication Studies from the University of North Texas earned in 2013.
MCEA is proud to host In'am Al-Hammouri for her 2020 Capitol Pathways internship. Capitol Pathways is a program of the Citizens League that connects students of color interested in legislative work with lobbying firms, nonprofit advocacy groups and other organizations at the Capitol. In'am is a senior at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and is planning to attend law school after graduation.