Legislature formally delays Dayton’s nitrogen rule

Updated: 3:55 p.m. | Posted: 2:40 p.m.

A new state rule aimed at reducing groundwater contamination by farm fertilizers could be delayed by a legislative move made formal on Monday.

The state House and Senate both passed resolutions during this year's legislative session delaying the rule in response to the possibility that Gov. Mark Dayton would veto an omnibus ag policy bill. The governor did just that, and legislative leaders have now moved forward with that delay, publishing the resolutions in the State Register.

"There are a number of concerns over this rule that still need to be addressed," Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said in a written statement.

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Anderson, who chairs the House Agriculture Policy Committee, said the agriculture community "still has questions regarding how fertilizer application would be impacted."

"Farmers are good stewards of our land and water and deserve to be treated as such," he said.

The so-called Groundwater Protection Rule has been several years in the making and looks to reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching groundwater aquifers, which many Minnesotans rely on for their drinking water. In delaying the rule, the Legislature tapped an obscure 2001 law that appears to put a check on administrative rules by giving the next Legislature a chance to weigh in on it in 2019.

But Dayton said he has instructed the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to proceed as planned and has called the Legislature's move unconstitutional.

It's possible the matter will end up in court.  On Monday, Dayton reiterated that he thinks the Legislature overstepped its bounds.

"We will not abide Republican legislators’ politically-motivated attempts to intrude upon the work of the executive branch," he said in a written statement, adding that delaying the rule would be "detrimental to the public’s health."

For Dayton, a delay could be significant because this is his last year in office, and it isn't clear how the next governor will approach the issue.