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Paul Austin

Exec. Director, Conservation Minnesota

Paul Austin: Standing up for clean water

If you’re reading this, you are likely already aware that after a contentious end of session, Governor Dayton vetoed three omnibus budget bills, which created the need for a special session of the Minnesota Legislature.  While he clearly had his reasons for vetoing the bills, the media reports seem to be rather light on details. 

I want to tell you why I support Governor Dayton’s decision to veto the Agriculture and Environment bill. 

* Since 1967, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has received advice from a Citizen’s Board that was created to take politics out of the important work of environmental protection. Despite an unblemished record of quietly doing the work of the state, the conference committee chose to add language to eliminate the board in the final hours of session. Decisions like this, if they are needed, deserve a full and proper debate, and that did not happen this session.

* In a year of budget surplus, another provision in the bill pertaining to landfill cleanup seems equally ill advised. The bill raided nearly $60 million from an account that was created to handle the expense of cleaning up pollution created by closed landfills. Raiding a dedicated account is bad governance in tough economic times. It is even harder to justify in times of budgetary surplus. 

* The bill also includes a gift for polluters by requiring that the state give companies a three-week notice before initiating an environmental review. This provision would allow companies with potential violations to seek the proper permits for their level of pollution in an effort to head off the planned review of their actions.

* And for polluters who self-report violations of state environmental regulations, the bill would provide amnesty by delaying enforcement and waiving penalties for the regulated parties. This is a large new loophole for polluters that never had a full hearing in the Legislature. The MPCA strongly opposes this provision.

* Finally, the bill requires the MPCA to conduct duplicative peer reviews of water quality standards, and expensive additional cost analyses of existing and anticipated water quality standards. These provisions would significantly delay implementation of work to clean up our lakes and rivers.

This legislative assault on the state’s ability to protect water quality stands in stark contrast to the Governor’s insistence that we begin cleaning up polluted water with enforceable buffer strips along all of our waterways.  From their votes for the Legacy Amendment in 2008 to their overwhelming support for the buffer legislation this year, the people of Minnesota have made it clear which direction we should head.  Legislators of both parties should follow their lead.   

Paul Austin: And the Environmental Initiative Award goes to …

Neil Patrick Harris didn’t show up to do a magic trick and Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t there to break Twitter with a celebrity packed selfie, but the Environmental Initiative Awards last week was still jam-packed with big name environmental leaders and superstar projects.

The recent “Conservation Oscars” honored 18 projects from across Minnesota at the 2015 Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony in Minneapolis. Environmental Initiative, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing people together to solve problems, celebrates environmental success stories from across the state through this annual program.

From Morris to Minneapolis, here’s a glimpse at the winning projects in each category and the great work people are doing in partnership to protect the land of 10,000 lakes we all love.

Morris Engaged: Planning and Action for Climate Resilience »
Morris Engaged is a community-based program incorporating education, deliberation, and citizen-led planning and action to enhance community resilience in the face of climate change.

Project Standing Sun »
Project Standing Sun has increased access to clean and affordable heating and electricity for 61 low-income households across 4 states, which is projected to offset more than 70 metric tons of carbon annually

Master Water Stewards »
The Master Water Stewards program recruits, educates and certifies community leaders who work to increase water infiltration on private properties and educate neighbors about practices that reduce runoff.

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program »
The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is a voluntary approach for producers and agricultural landowners to become certified through a whole-farm evaluation that assesses the operation’s risk to water quality and management of that risk.

Manston Slough Restoration »
State agencies, federal agencies, a nonprofit organization and more than 33 private landowners collaborated over many years to restore the roughly 7,000 acre Manston Slough wetland in Wilkin County, Minnesota. Manston Slough Restoration was also awarded the evening’s highest honor, 2015 Partnership of the Year.

Tiny Diner »
Tiny Diner is a Minneapolis Powderhorn neighborhood restaurant with a dedicated-structure solar array covered patio surrounded by permaculture-designed gardens.

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