John Hottinger’s testimony at the Minnesota House

On Tuesday March 22, John Hottinger, immediate past North Star Chapter Chair and former state Senate Majority leader, testified for Sierra Club at the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee of the Minnesota House.   While Sierra Club opposes a number of provisions in that bill, he focused on a provision of HF 1010 that would drastically weaken rules on mining pollution in waters where wild rice is found.  John’s  testimony also was quoted on Minnesota Public Radio.


My name is John Hottinger. I’m a St. Paul resident and a principal in the firm of Hottinger and Gillette which deals with dispute mediation, citizen engagement, and public policy development. And I’m not here for any of our clients.  I’m also a registered lobbyist and I’m not here for any of those clients.  I’m here as a volunteer for the Minnesota Chapter of the Sierra Club, known as the North Star Chapter, as a five-year member of the Executive Committee.  I’m also the two-year immediate past Chair.

On behalf of the Sierra Club, I want to note that we have a variety of concerns, but I’m here today to talk about the wild rice standards. Respecting the time constraints and the process that you are going through, I will focus on two sets of arguments: one relating to process, and one relating to fundamental policy concerns.

This is clearly a policy – the wild rice standards — and there is certainly money attached, and I applaud the committee for having money attached to do the kind of scientific research that can provide a realistic and, as Mr. Robertson said, a current science evaluation of what the standard should be. Traditionally that would not be allowed in a finance bill and should stand alone, and I hope the committee understands that there should be a chance in the future to explore this more extensively.

In any case, this is an important committee and an important issue, and given the brief time as a result of unrealistic deadlines to do the thorough job I know you all would like to do, I would express concerns about including section 15 in the bill at this time.

As I understand, there has been no extended prior testimony on this proposal before today, and certainly not in a policy setting – including no opportunity for this committee to make a decision evaluating scientific opinion in a thoughtful, deliberative and reflective manner: one of the key obligations of policymakers.

But let me talk about the fundamental policy concerns.

While the language of Section 14 , and Mr. Robertson’s [Chamber of Commerce] testimony, acknowledges the need for a great deal of  detailed scientific research and input from a variety of sources in order to get sound standards, Section 15 ignores that important and necessary aspect, and arbitrarily makes up a standard 25 times higher than the current applicable standard. Mr. Robertson pointed out that it hasn’t been enforced.  Well, eight years of foot-dragging in enforcement doesn’t authorize the legislature, or give decent incentive to the legislature, to just abandon the standard and adopt something significantly different. 

I wish the Chamber and others would have asked for that kind of enforcement and that kind of raising of the issues during the last 8 years, or 12, or 16, or 20 years – so that this issue could have been dealt with in the way that it should be dealt with, allowing scientists and people who’ve done studies that give us information to explore and to give the legislature good advice, and/or for the agency to bring about a decision that is based on sound science.

It is a flagrant and transparent effort to do this by legislation, 25 times higher than the current standard, which will dramatically reduce environmental protection.  And it’s being done, frankly, to allow some projects with high risks to get established under very permissive reduced standards.

As I observed the public discussion of the recently passed law to streamline environmental permitting, which this committee approved, and the Governor signed, I heard the continuous refrain that “no one wants to lower environmental standards.” 

Less than two weeks later, we have a provision in Section 15 that indicates that refrain was inaccurate.

Members of the committee and Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to testify and I know that some other witnesses will answer some of the questions about damage to wild rice if the sulfate standard is higher. But I know that you, Mr. Chairman, and the members of this committee want to do the best job that you can, and I would suggest that you not include Section 15 in the bill.  Allow the normal process to work its way through, and find out what’s best for Minnesota – from an environmental and an economic perspective – and weigh those risks.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for the time, and members of the committee.


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