Legislators seek revenue from state lands

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By Stephanie Hemphill

The House Environment Committee is passing a slew of amendments to an omnibus spending bill.

They may sound minor and geeky, but they’re part of a trend that’s fairly clear: a push of the pendulum away from science and conservation, and toward boosting revenue from state lands and encouraging recreation.

The most controversial move happened when the committee voted strictly on party lines to change the state limit on sulfate in wild rice waters from 10 parts per million to 250 parts per million. State Rep. David Dill, DFL-Orr, sided with Republicans in a lopsided vote to prohibit the Pollution Control Agency from requiring businesses to invest in equipment to control sulfates until a study is completed on the issue. The study is expected to take at least two years, which could delay several mining projects.

Here’s a roundup of other amendments:

Amendment A8 says land purchased with Environmental Trust Fund (otherwise known as lottery) money will be designated as recreation areas, instead of scientific and natural areas. Recreation areas have fewer protections and allow many more human activities.

The same amendment cuts in half the amount of money to be spent on acquiring these lands, and designates the money to a new account set up to manage state lands.

Amendment A7 requires the state Department of Natural Resources to harvest black walnut and other trees in Whitewater and Frontenac State Parks and put the proceeds in the state’s general fund.

Amendment A11-0168 would take money from an account dedicated to repairing environmental damage from off-highway vehicles and put it in the ATV grants-in-aid program, helping clubs build more trails.

The committee also agreed to remove language requiring the DNR to manage school trust fund land “with sound natural resource conservation and management principles.” Some legislators think this will result in bigger profits from logging on school trust land.

Meanwhile, Denny McNamara, chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, continued making substitutions in the list of projects to be funded with lottery money. McNamara, R-Hastings, removed research on the pesticide used to control Emerald Ash Borer and the statewide count of breeding birds. But McNamara supports research projects on the golden eagle and the boreal forest.

State Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, expressed frustration with these last-minute alterations, saying she worries that in the future Minnesota’s best scientists might not want to deal with such a politicized process.

Reporter Stephanie Hemphill covers the environment for MPR News

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