Guest Column: Senate says no to gas gouging, yes to clean water

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 14, 2006

By Dan Sparks, state senator, DFL – Austin

This weekend’s fishing opener probably means many of you are &045;&160;or already have &045; headed out to take advantage of one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. But when you pick up your bait and tackle, don’t forget to also grab the information on just how many fish you can safely catch to eat. According to Minnesota’s Department of Health, high mercury levels in our lakes and rivers have made it a health risk to eat more than a few fish per month. Some species are off-limits all together.

Thanks to recent action by the Legislature, however, we hopefully will not have to worry about counting our fish intake in a few short years. This week, a bill to reduce the amount of mercury pollution in our waters was signed into law after unanimously passing the House and Senate. The bill requires the state’s largest coal-fired electric power plants to reduce their mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015. By doing so, we will eliminate at least a third of the mercury pollution in our environment, which eventually falls into our waterways and seeps into the tissue of the fish we catch. Studies in other states have shown cutting down on local sources of mercury can restore water quality in just a few years. Every Minnesota lawmaker agreed that this is the right thing to do in a state that boasts a thriving outdoor recreation industry.

The Senate tackled another issue this week that is no doubt on everyone’s mind: gas prices. We passed a bill Thursday that targets the practice of gas gouging and makes sure Minnesota retailers don’t think they can get away with the practice. I was a coauthor on this bill that would make it a misdemeanor for refiners, wholesalers or retailers to sell gasoline at a price that &8220;grossly exceeds their cost,&8221; with a penalty that could include 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. This makes Minnesota one of 29 states that have passed laws to protect consumers from gas prices getting too out-of-hand.

It’s no doubt you’ve heard about the Gophers, Twins and Vikings stadium proposals in the news. This week, the Senate kept the three bills moving by passing our own versions of the bills and began meeting with the House in a conference committee to sort out the differences. The Senate’s Vikings/Twins bill increases metro-area sales taxes by 0.005 percent to pay for the facilities, but we also give taxpayers a vote on whether they want to approve this additional money. Our bill would have both stadiums paid for within a decade, as opposed to spending 30 years paying millions in interest, and we dedicate some of the money toward transit to relieve congestion in the metro area. The Senate’s Gophers’ bill would build a new on-campus stadium for the team without using student fees or allowing corporate naming rights, instead calling the arena &8220;Veterans Memorial Stadium&8221; to honor Minnesotans who have fought and died defending freedom.

The bonding bill is also making steady progress in the legislature. Despite a recent story about &8220;sparks flying&8221; between Rep. Dorman and me, I believe the conference committee is on track to finish its work very soon. I was frustrated by the House’s inaction a few weeks ago, simply because I did not want to see the bill become an end-of-session bargaining chip. It looks now that the committee members are prepared to create a balanced, fair bill and I can happily say that Rep. Dorman and I continue to work together for our local projects.

The Legislature will adjourn on or before May 22, which is little more than a week away. If you have any questions, please contact me at sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; 651-296-9248; or G24 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.