One of many March for Science rallies around the country will happen in St. Paul on Saturday at the state Capitol, where a feud has broken out over funding for environmental programs.
Organizers of the marches worry there's a growing threat to science-based public policy.
In Minnesota's GOP-controlled House, a committee cut millions of dollars in projects recommended by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, or LCCMR.
Jeff Broberg, citizen co-chair of the LCCMR, sees that as an insult.
"It takes me over 60 hours to read the proposals," he said. "I sit through 15 days of meetings to vet 'em out and I work pretty hard to sort out the wheat from the chaff."
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Like most of the seven citizen-members of the commission, Broberg has a background in science. He's a licensed geologist and works as an environmental consultant.
He chafes at what he sees as an anti-science bent to some of the changes the Republican-controlled House made to the commission's recommendations.
Gone was funding for projects on climate change, renewable energy and water quality.
"[There is] some pernicious notion that the science isn't valid, we shouldn't listen to experts, the citizen involvement is not legitimate and we're legislators and we have election certificates so we're going to do whatever we want," said Broberg.
Funding was also cut for proposals to buy land for the Metropolitan Regional Park System, State Parks, and Scientific and Natural Areas.
Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1988 establishing the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund with which lottery money is earmarked for environmental research, education and land acquisition.
State and local governments, nonprofits and scientists apply for funding, and a 17-member panel recommends how the state should spend the money.
State Rep. Josh Heintzeman was in charge of evaluating the commission's proposals.
Heintzeman is on the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committee. He's also a new member of the LCCMR and will help select projects for funding next year.
The Nisswa Republican denies specific areas of research were targeted by lawmakers and says there were many reasons for eliminating projects. Among them, he said, were "things that might maybe have opportunities in future years, or may have had some issues with committee members and maybe were somewhat controversial."
Heintzeman insists those who criticize the Legislature for changing the LCCMR recommendations don't understand the process.
"The Legislature wasn't given a rubber stamp," Heintzeman said, they were given the opportunity to be a part of what is and isn't in the bill and there may have been previous legislatures that had a different take, but this is where we are at currently."
It's not the first time science and politics became entangled with environmental funding.
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In fact, the makeup of the LCCMR was changed in 2006 to include citizens. At the time, projects were selected by a commission of legislators, and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticized the process as too political.
It's also not new for lawmakers to cut projects recommended by the commission. But former legislator and past commission member Steve Morse says lawmakers seem to be ignoring the advice of experts.
"They've becoming more brazen, and it's happening to a larger degree," said Morse. "I'm not sure where it will end up but it's a very bad trend."
Heintzeman said the funding shifts are a matter of priority, not politics. Money from eliminated projects will go to fund the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Under the CREP program, the federal government pays farmers not to till environmentally sensitive areas, but the program requires state matching funds.
Minnesota has a CREP agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve water quality by targeting land in southern and western Minnesota. The agreement will help compensate farmers who install grass buffers to protect streams from pollution.
Morse, who now heads the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, says it's admirable to spend money on the conservation program, but not at the expense of important research.
"Some of these people don't want to spend it on climate, they don't want to spend it on hard science that is going to tell us things that they maybe don't want to know," said Morse. "So they're looking for other places to spend the money. They need a place to park it. I think the CREP is an easy place to park it. Everyone loves the CREP."
The funding cuts are not final. The Senate left the commission's recommendations largely intact, but Heintzeman says he expects many of the cuts to be accepted by the Senate when the bills are reconciled in conference committee.