Earth Day marked with environmental bills

Published 3:55 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thursday was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Hopefully, many of you had the opportunity to participate in local activities or celebrations to mark the date. Minnesotans have a strong tradition of showing support for our environment and outdoor resources, probably because our state is so rich in these assets, and much of our economy and general way of life depend on our natural resources.

In November 2009, Minnesotans showed their support for our outdoor heritage at the voting booth: On election day, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that will permanently dedicate revenue from a 0.375 percent sales tax to, “protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.”

This year, the Minnesota Legislature is working on a package of legislation that dedicates $59 million of the new revenue collected. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, consisting of appointed lawmakers and citizens, have poured over funding requests for the past year and presented their recommendations to the Legislature earlier this session.

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Now, the omnibus environment bill includes the package of recommendations — that bill was passed by the full Senate this week and is expected to go to conference committee with the House committee in the coming days.

The recommendations are targeted at 25 programs or projects, and projects are located in 82 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Collectively, the recommended projects protect 16,471 acres, enhance 42,635 acres, and restore 4,709 acres in Minnesota. Examples of larger projects include: Accelerated Prairie Grassland Restoration and Enhancement Program on DNR lands; the Accelerated Shallow Lakes and Wetlands Enhancement, Restoration and Protection Program through the DNR and Ducks Unlimited; and the Reinvest in Minnesota Wetlands Reserve Program.

I passed a bill this week that also has a substantial environmental impact. On Monday, the Senate approved my bill to help Peoples Cooperative Services and Dairyland Power Cooperative, which provides energy to Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, tap into a potential new source of renewable energy. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has chosen a site near Oronoco to build a solar array, and our local energy cooperatives will be able to buy into the renewable energy created at that site. However, it’s quite expensive.

The bill I passed helps cushion the cost a bit by allowing the solar power captured to count toward Conservation Improvement Program energy-saving credits that power companies must obtain. Current law doesn’t allow energy savings from solar projects to count toward the minimum energy savings goal required by law. By changing this law, purchasing the solar power becomes much more cost-effective and realistic for our local companies.

The Senate passed yet another bill this week to dedicate additional funds to outdoor and environmental projects. This legislation dealt with dedicated revenue raised from Minnesota Lottery sales — money that is handled by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. This years’ LCCMR bill is a $26 million package providing money to 48 natural resources projects located across Minnesota.

Examples of some of these projects include acceleration of Minnesota’s County Geological Atlas Program, which provides essential information statewide for sustainable use and protection of groundwater; research into protecting Minnesota’s waters from emerging contaminants, such as endocrine-disrupting compounds, that threaten both human and aquatic health; advancement and demonstration of renewable-energy options that may be able to help Minnesota reduce its reliance on fossil fuels; and new and continued efforts to prevent and control the spread of invasive species, such as European buckthorn, garlic mustard, emerald ash borer, and round goby.

If you have any questions on these bills or other legislative issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me at; (651) 296-9248; or Room 317 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.