Environmental groups ask for veto, get cookies

Environmental advocates upset about a budget bill that includes several controversial policy provisions today picketed the governor’s mansion to demand a veto.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton surprised them all by coming outside with cookies and a listening ear. He said he is still looking at all the budget bills and hasn’t decided whether to veto the environment and agriculture budget bill. But he reiterated the same doubts he raised on Wednesday during a news conference.

“Those items that you find offensive — and I agree with you — they didn’t get in there by accident. They got in there because we have a Republican-controlled House and DFL-controlled Senate,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to come back with a DFL bill … We’re in an era where we’re going to have to deal with some of these things we don’t like.”

Bobby King, a policy program organizer with the Land Stewardship Project, responded that some of the provisions, such as the elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board, were inserted in closed-door meetings without a public hearing.

“That bill barely passed off the Senate floor,” King said, referring to the 29 DFLers and one Republican who voted against it. “That’s because people were learning about what was in it. I understand what you’re saying, and it it’s a real concern, but I think if this were to go back to the Legislature with the light of day, people knowing what’s in there, we would have a very good chance of fixing it.”

Dayton asked the crowd, if he did veto the bill, which issues to focus on getting out. The elimination of the MPCA Citizens’ Board rose to the top of the list, but the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, which represents a coalition of groups at the Capitol, had sent Dayton a veto request letter outlining many objections. Dayton has until Saturday to veto the bill but said his goal is to make a decision by late Friday.

“We’ll work with you,” said Don Arnosti, conservation program director for the Izaak Walton League.

Afterward, Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said he’s hopeful Dayton will use his veto authority.

“It’s clear the governor is weighing the pros and cons and the risks and the benefits. But the governor really holds the trump card,” he said. “If the governor stands up and says ‘these things, these five things are intolerable. Send me a bill back without them,’ the Legislature is going to have to do it.”

Morse noted that nobody wants the agencies funded by the bill — including the Department of Natural Resources — to have to shut down on July 1.

“Everybody wants the state parks to be operating on the Fourth of July,” he added.