House panel rejects U of M research projects

A House panel on Thursday recommended against funding several University of Minnesota research projects with state lottery money.

The projects were recommended by the Legislative Citizen Council on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Legislature must sign off on the recommendations, which were heard in the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. Among the projects targeted:

  • $133,000 for an outreach program to teach people about alternatives to lead ammunition. Lead ammunition is toxic to birds.

  • $170,000 to assess and prioritize vegetative buffers along Minnesota waterways as a complement to the state’s new buffer law.

  • $411,000 to generate high resolution climate change projections for local government planning efforts.

  • $388,000 to develop inexpensive, high-efficiency solar energy using existing manufacturing technology.

The climate change project generated the most discussion.

University climate scientists testified that Minnesota's climate is changing more rapidly than other states.

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"This proposal is from the bottom up,” said Mark Seeley, a university Extension climatologist who also appears regularly on MPR News.

“All our local units of government, from municipalities, public works departments, soil and water conservation districts and a variety of others are behind the notion of doing more in terms of planning," he said.

But Republicans, led by Tom Hackbarth of Cedar, opposed the climate data project.

"We just felt that it didn't rise to the level of some of the things we needed to put back into the bill,” he said.

One of those other projects would map sand and gravel resources throughout the state. Another would provide $2.5 million to MnDOT to restore and enhance wildlife habitat along highways. And $2 million would go to the existing Reinvest in Minnesota program, which acquires permanent conservation easements and restores wetland habitat.

None of the added projects was vetted by the LCCMR, said executive director Susan Thornton.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said Hackbarth’s changes ignored the LCCMR’s work, taking a “wrecking ball” to scientific inquiry, climate and even jobs (a Duluth airport project was also removed).

“It takes a wrecking ball to reality,” Hansen said.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, defended the changes.

“To expect that every single project that any commission that brings something to the Legislature is going to remain exactly intact, I don’t believe that’s an expectation those commissions should have,” he said.

Some of the projects that were cut could be restored in a conference committee later in the session.