Reviews are mixed for governor's enviro and energy spending

Trout stream
Some environmental groups are expressing disappointment that Gov. Pawlenty's budget doesn't spend more to clean up streams and lakes.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership has been trying to get permanent funding to clean up the state's lakes, rivers and streams for the past four years. The clean up is needed to comply with the 1972 Clean Water Act which prohibits additional discharges into already polluted waterways. In recent years, the act has prevented some Minnesota cities from expanding because they would exceed pollution limits.

Minnesota lawmakers agreed to spend $25 million to start the clean up process last year. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership was hoping for an additional $200 million during the next two year budget cycle.

But Executive Director Steve Morse says the governor's plan doesn't even come close to that amount.

"This really falls back. It's actually instead of ramping up, it's slipping back. And it's a $20 million per year appropriation and it really falls short of the mark. We cannot call it a Clean Water Legacy. It's a clean water start is what it is."

Morse says the governor's $40 million proposal would only pay for testing and developing plans to begin cleaning up polluted waters. But he says there wouldn't be enough money to actually pay for clean up efforts.

"It's like building a house and you're putting in the foundation and maybe even laying up the bricks and the concrete walls of the basement, but there's no house," Morse says.

The governor didn't talk specifically about his Clean Water Legacy proposal during his budget address. But he did highlight some of his renewable energy priorities. Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson said the Governor's proposal would spend $40 million on things like new biomass gasification technology, solar power rebates and alternative energy research grants.

"A 40 million plan may not seem like much compared to K-12 and higher ed, but that money takes us a long ways towards the next generation of energy in our country," he said.

Some of the money would go toward expanding the number of gas stations that sell E85 fuel from 300 to 1800. That's welcome news to Kai Curry, a biofuels broker from Minneapolis.

"It sounds great. It's an increase of 1500 gas stations that are selling renewable fuel."

But as much as Curry appreciates the governor's interest in E85, he says it might make more sense to invest more in fuels that are cheaper to make and easier to use like biodiesel.

"With ethanol you're lucky to get as much energy out of a gallon of ethanol as you put in and biodiesel is a little bit better in that you get three times the energy out that you put in."

Part of the money from the governor's spending proposal would be used to help ethanol plants run more efficiently. There's also money in the budget to research more efficient types of biofuels using products like switch grass, corn stalks, wheat straw and wood waste.

Brendan Jordan who oversees biomass programs at The Great Plains Institute, says these newer, more efficient fuels, are really the future of energy.

"I think it's great. It's exactly the right kind of things we need to do. The governor is promoting sort of the next generation of biofuel technologies. We've done a great job in Minnesota of supporting the early development of the corn ethanol and biodiesel industries. And now we're well positioned to promote cellulosic ethanol technologies."

Jordan says he hopes Minnesota lawmakers agree to support Gov. Pawlenty's energy initiatives. He says governors in neighboring states, including Wisconsin and Iowa, have proposed spending twice as much on renewable energy technologies.