The Legislature that Lost its Way

Capitol2It’s almost hard to believe that it’s possible in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Environmental values are Minnesota values. We treasure our natural resources; the lakes, rivers, streams, fresh air, forests, prairies, parks and open spaces that define so much of our state’s identity. It’s hard to imagine that publicly elected officials would do anything other than look out for those things that are so integral to our quality of life.

Enter the 2015 Minnesota Legislature.

As the session opened, many of us had high hopes that we could work with legislators to get some good things done for our environment. Sure, having control of state government divided between Democrats and Republicans was going to make things tougher, but divided governments have accomplished good things for Minnesota in the past. In fact, landmark initiatives such as the Next Generation Energy Act, the Mercury Emissions Reduction Act and the 2008 transportation funding bill were all accomplished during an era of divided state government.

And so, the environmental community rallied behind Governor Dayton’s proposed buffer law. We brought new initiatives to expand transportation choices and grow clean energy jobs. We assumed we would be given a fair hearing and an opportunity to work with other stakeholders to advance policies in the public interest.

Unfortunately, leadership in both the House and Senate had a different agenda in 2015. GOP leadership in the House advanced a package of radical ideas such as repealing Minnesota’s greenhouse gas reduction goals and eliminating Minnesota’s nation-leading energy efficiency programs. While some of these ideas fortunately failed to gain traction, too many of them found willing allies in the DFL-controlled Minnesota Senate.

Here are just a few of the bad ideas that managed to pass both chambers in 2015:

  • Suspension of Minnesota’s sulfate pollution standard for wild rice lakes
  • Repeal of the longstanding Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen’s Board
  • Allowing Minnesota Power and Otter Tail Power to slash electricity rates for industry at the expense of residential ratepayers
  • New discriminatory fixed charges allowed on residential solar customers of rural electric coops and municipal utilities
  • Exempt sulfide mining waste from solid waste rules

That’s a pretty far cry from a session that began with much higher hopes of a strengthened renewable energy standard (no action taken) and urgently needed new funding for transit and transportation infrastructure (a “lights on” bill was passed with no new dedicated resources for transit, biking or walking). A scaled-back version of Governor Dayton’s buffer proposal was also signed into law.

As we approach the start of another legislative session, we’ll likely hear plenty of platitudes from lawmakers about how they care for Minnesota’s environment. After all, it’s an election year. Even rabid anti-environmental ideologues know that they should be for clean air and clean water in an election year.

The problem, of course, is that actions speak much more clearly than words do. The early indications for the 2016 session are not encouraging – bills already “pre-filed” in the House include efforts to remove certificate of need requirements for oil pipelines and further chip away at clean energy and energy efficiency. That’s why we’re calling on Minnesotans to speak up now and demand better results in 2016.

The North Star Chapter will continue to fight hard for healthy communities and a renewed commitment to Minnesota’s environment. Minnesotans deserve a Legislature that shares these values – let’s work together to make that happen.

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