The Minnesota House of Representatives Thursday passed a wide-ranging bill on environmental policy that some critics say rolls back certain key protections.
The bill would remove authority over environmental reviews from the citizens' board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It would require the MPCA to act on minor permit applications within 60 days. The bill also moves authority to approve mining leases from top administration officials to the Department of Natural Resources. And it would ease rules on wetland preservation. Those provisions face criticism from advocacy groups and the governor.
Chief House author Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said the new wetland rules will help farmers and developers. He said it is a good bill that speeds up environmental reviews and reduces the spread of invasive species.
"We are loosening up those requirements a little bit. But they are really arguably the micromanaging of the situation that we need to correct," McNamara said.
Environmental groups say the natural resources bill rolls back key protections that have been in place for years for wetlands, water quality, and citizen participation.
The wetlands perform important functions, including purifying water and providing wildlife habitat, said Molly Pederson, public affairs director for Conservation Minnesota.
"It's important for flood mitigation," she said. "We continue to invest money in flood damage after the fact and we are doing very little to protect Minnesota from floods before they happen."
A provision in the bill that says the state cannot set water quality standards that are stricter than federal standards makes no sense, Pederson said.
"The federal government has no standards in place for those things," Pederson said. "To say you can't have state standards that are more protective than federal standards means that we have no state standards for water. There will be no standards anymore."
The bill also allows mandatory boat inspections and increases fines for violations that could lead to the spread of invasive species. The Senate hasn't voted on the bill yet.
Among other provisions, the bill would create a children's state forest with land traded by the federal government for state-owned land inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The legislation would also allow game and fish licenses to continue to be sold during government shutdowns. One provision environmental groups applaud is a ban on formaldehyde in children's products.
McNamara said he likely will be negotiating with Dayton administration officials over several issues. He will also need to negotiate with the Senate on the companion bill.
"I'm not interested in having vetoes on our bills," McNamara said. "I want to try to and get them in a form that's acceptable to folks and to get them passed."