Sparks: Buffer bill ‘unworkable’

Published 10:36 am Friday, April 3, 2015

ST. PAUL — State Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, recently called Gov. Mark Dayton’s buffer bill “unworkable” and said it wouldn’t be able to make it through a Senate committee.

“Obviously, we’re all for clean water,” said Sparks, who chairs the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. “But we need to make sure that agriculture has a seat at the table and is very much a part of the solution.”

Dayton’s proposal calls for farmers to create a 50-foot buffer zone of unplanted land around rivers has had difficulty gaining traction. Dayton says the buffer zones are needed to protect the environment from pesticide and fertilizer runoff. But Dayton’s proposal is just one of several agriculture environmental issues being discussed in St. Paul.

Email newsletter signup

Proposals to weaken environmental laws tied to agriculture are making their way through the Minnesota legislature.

The bills include ones that would exempt farmland from some school levies and others that would alter existing state regulation on pesticides. Certain members of both parties support rolling back environmental laws for the ag industry.

Republicans took control of the state House after gaining seats in rural districts in the November election. Officials representing agricultural interests say they’re not trying to use their new political clout against environmental groups in urban areas.

“We have one thing in common and that is everybody eats,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap. “Food is agriculture and we want to make sure everyone is at the table.”

But state Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said politics are at the heart of the ag lobby’s recent efforts. He’s concerned that legislators’ competition for the support of rural business interests will hurt environmental regulations.

“The money is the pollution in the system here in the Minnesota Legislature,” Hansen added. “And it’s getting worse.”