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Bill would require legislative approval for fertilizer rules

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The Minnesota House has passed a bill that would require the Legislature to give final approval to new regulations on nitrogen fertilizer aimed at protecting drinking water.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been working on a proposed Groundwater Protection Rule, which would regulate farmers' use of nitrogen fertilizer in areas where groundwater is sensitive to nitrate contamination.

The bill, which passed the House Monday on a 69-56 vote, would require the Legislature to approve the final rule.

The bill's author, Rep. Jeff Backer, said farmers have been blindsided by new regulations from the Dayton administration. 

"There's concerns from landowners, and we need to make sure it's fully vetted," said Backer, R-Browns Valley.

The Dayton administration says it has spent months getting input from farmers on the rule, including 17 public listening sessions. The rule was revised significantly based on feedback.

Dayton has said he will veto bills that attempt to block its implementation.

Excessive levels of nitrates can be harmful to human health, especially infants. They can cause a life-threatening disorder known as blue baby syndrome.

About 20,000 private drinking water wells across the state have been tested for nitrates, and 10 percent were found to have unsafe levels. 

Opponents of the bill said the regulations are important to public health and shouldn't be subject to partisanship.

"When we have rule-making, we have it for a purpose," said Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato. "It's to pull the politics out, insert the science and make sure that the people are heard within that rule making process. I think that's being done."