Category archives
Environment

With mere hours to go until tonight’s midnight deadline, the Minnesota Legislature is hard at work trying to negotiate and pass a state budget and other key pieces of legislation. At this point it appears we are likely headed for a short special session to complete the state budget.

Legislators were holed up in St. Paul over the weekend and managed to pass a few budget bills out of the House and Senate, including the environment and jobs bills. A number of bills are still on the agenda for today including taxes, transportation and bonding.

Since most of the negotiations have been going on behind closed doors – leaving the public, the media and lobbyists out of the legislative process — we have little indication of what will be included in the final bills.

If you have not done so already, now would be an excellent time to respond to this CGMC Action Alert by contacting your legislators and Gov. Dayton to urge them to include a significant increase in Local Government Aid in the final tax bill.

The environmental bill is one of the few bills that passed on Sunday and is now expected to be signed into law by the Governor. Unfortunately, due to continuing opposition from the Governor and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, many of the significant environmental reforms sought by the CGMC were stripped from the final bill, including our call for independent peer review of proposed rules and a prohibition against the enforcement of unadopted rules. On the plus side, the bill includes our request to extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days (up from 30 days) and also includes some policy changes regarding the Impaired Waters List.

As for the jobs bills, which passed early this morning and is also expected to be signed by the Governor, it contains several priorities that are important to rural communities:

  • The Job Training Incentive Program is funded at $2.7 million per biennium for 218-19 and 2020-21
  • The Border-to-Border Broadband Broadband Development Grant Program is funded at $20 million
  • A workforce housing grant program within the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority will receive $4 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure program (BDPI) gets $1 million for the 2018-19 biennium (excluding a $1.6 million earmark in FY 18) and approximately $3.6 million for the 2020-21 biennium. The BDPI program is funded in the proposed bonding bill as well.
  • The Minnesota Investment Fund is funded at $25 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Job Creation Fund receives $17 million for the 2018-19 biennium and $16 million for the 2020-21 biennium

For updates as this final day of session proceeds, please follow us on Twitter (@greatermncities), Facebook and our website (greatermncities.org.)

Below is a guest column by Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams and Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges, who also serve as co-chairs of the CGMC Environment Committee. As of April 28, it is has been published in the Fargo Forum and the Owatonna People’s Press.

Let us be clear: It’s possible to support regulatory reform and the environment at the same time.

Some interest groups, lawmakers and government officials have tried to paint municipal groups seeking to reform Minnesota’s regulatory process as anti-environment and anti-science, greedy penny-pinchers bought and sold by corporate interests. That picture couldn’t be further from the truth.

In actuality, we are city leaders who represent our communities, as well as dozens of others in Greater Minnesota, and are dedicated to protecting our state’s precious waters. Greater Minnesota cities have invested billions in clean water efforts in the last 30 years, and as practical environmentalists we are deeply troubled by some of the recent actions by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

We are advocating for reasonable regulatory reform not because we want to ignore science — to the contrary, we are doing so because we strongly believe that sound science and public input is vital to an effective clean water regulatory framework.

While numerous environmental reform proposals have been introduced this legislative session, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) has determined three top priorities that will help improve the wastewater permitting process and ensure that our limited financial resources are spent wisely to implement regulations that will provide measurable benefits to water quality.

The first reform local government officials are seeking is the ability to request an independent scientific review of MPCA’s application of science through wastewater regulations. When new regulations will require cities to spend billions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure, our citizens and businesses deserve an independent second opinion.

There is currently no meaningful way for cities to obtain an independent scientific review of MPCA’s regulations. In recent years, cities have been forced to enter into litigation when the MPCA has ignored legitimate concerns about the underlying science and its application.

The MPCA should welcome independent peer review of their science because it will confirm that water-quality rules are scientifically sound, help to avoid costly litigation and ultimately improve environmental outcomes.

City leaders also have serious qualms about the MPCA’s habit of imposing water-quality restrictions — under the guise of “policies” or “guidance documents” — that are more stringent than adopted during rulemaking. To address this concern, the CGMC is pursuing legislation that prevents the MPCA from imposing regulations that were not properly adopted through the rulemaking process.

By forcing cities to comply with unadopted rules, the MPCA imposes requirements that have not gone through the proper vetting process and ignores the due process rights of the public. Not only does this practice make it very difficult for cities to strategize and plan for how to adhere to regulations, it also breaks down trust between the MPCA, cities and the public.

The CGMC’s third regulatory reform proposal would extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days. This minor change is especially important to small cities where city councils meet less frequently and there are fewer staff members. The current 30-day comment period does not allow enough time for cities to adequately analyze and make decisions about MPCA requirements that could have multi-million effects on their communities.

All three of the CGMC’s top environmental regulatory reform proposals — independent peer review of MPCA science, prohibiting the enforcement of unadopted rules and extending the public comment period — remain in play at the Legislature. The House and Senate deserve credit for putting these provisions in their omnibus environment bill, which is currently being reviewed in conference committee.

We want our legislators and Gov. Dayton to know that we are looking out for the best interests of the constituents we represent and the environment, just like they are. Greater Minnesota city leaders — from along the Red River in the north to the Minnesota River in the south and everywhere in between — are willing to continue to invest money and work with the state to clean and protect our waters. However, recent overreach by the MPCA has resulted in an onslaught of regulations that will be extremely costly to implement and have dubious environmental benefit.

We are hopeful that these common-sense reform measures, which aim to protect our communities’ natural and financial resources, will be signed into law this session.

 

The Legislature’s Easter/Passover break begins this weekend and lasts until April 18. Since many legislators head back to their home districts during the break, it is an ideal time to touch in with them and make your voices heard!

As the House and Senate prepare for conference committees and negotiations during the final seven weeks of the legislative session, it is critical that Greater Minnesota city leaders continue to speak up. Let your legislators know that CGMC priorities are important to your community and that you expect them to fight for these priorities to be included in the final deals.

Please take the following actions as soon as you can:

1. Pass a resolution urging the Legislature and Governor to return LGA to its 2002 level. See this sample resolution that you can customize to your own city’s circumstances. In addition to the decision-makers named at the bottom of the resolution, also send a copy to CGMC staff member Shane Zahrt at sazahrt@flaherty-hood.com. We will keep a running list of cities that pass a resolution.

2. Meet with your legislators. Call your senator’s and representative’s office this week to set up a meeting with them during the legislative break. If you are unable to meet in person, schedule a phone meeting instead. You can find contact info for your legislators here.  Please address the following topics during the meeting:

  • The Legislature and Governor must pass a tax bill this year that includes an LGA increase of $45.5 million. Despite significant growth in the state’s budget since 2002, LGA still lags behind. LGA plays an important role in restraining property taxes and helping cities provide important services to residents and businesses.
  • The Legislature and Governor must agree on a bonding bill that funds critical infrastructure across the state. With the failure to agree on a bonding bill last year, work on critical infrastructure has been stalled. The CGMC strongly supports $167 million for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs, as well as $15 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program that helps pay for the public infrastructure needed for private business growth.
  • Fund city streets. The CGMC strongly supports $50 million in funding for city streets, with $25 million for cities with populations under 5,000 and $25 million for cities with populations over 5,000.
  • Pass at least $200 million a year in funding for the Corridors of Commerce program with cash as well as bond proceeds. Corridors of Commerce helps fund expansion of critical interregional corridors whose bottlenecks inhibit the flow of goods and services important to the economy of the whole state.

If you have any questions about these action items, CGMC priorities or the legislative session, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911. 

The CGMC-supported environmental regulatory reform bill, SF 695 (authored by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson), was heard Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. The bill addresses concerns that current law that gives too much deference to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) without allowing for valid objections to water quality rules and the MPCA’s practice of relying on unadopted rules. 

CGMC lobbyist Marty Seifert, Flaherty & Hood environmental attorney Daniel Marx and Mankato Public Utilities Director Mary Fralish testified in support of the bill at the hearing. Several environmental groups spoke against the bill, but their comments did not really address the substance of the proposed legislation. Due to the complex nature of this bill, it will need to pass through several committees. The committee voted to pass it along to its next stop, the State Government Finance Committee.

Please be aware that were has been some misleading information distributed about SF 695. If you hear opposition to this bill from your residents, please contact Tim Flaherty at 651-224-8840 or tpflaherty@flaherty-hood.com to receive more information about the bill. We also encourage you to read this informational handout that describes in more detail what the bill does and its purpose.

A second bill CGMC-supported bill, SF 672, was also scheduled to be heard on Monday, but the meeting ran out of time. It will likely be heard next week.

Below is statement from CGMC President and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson regarding Gov. Dayton’s $1.5 billion bonding proposal, which was unveiled this morning. A PDF version of Carlson’s statement is available here.

“We absolutely agree with the Governor that there should be a robust bonding bill this session. Our cities cannot wait until 2018 to make these critical investments.

“We are particularly glad that the Governor’s bonding proposal includes $167 million for grant and loan programs that help cities pay for necessary repairs and upgrades to their water treatment facilities. Clean water is an essential part of a healthy community and we are pleased the Governor recognizes that cities need more financial assistance from the state to ensure that all Minnesotans continue to have access to this fundamental need.

“Another positive inclusion in the Governor’s bonding plan is $21 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program. With the help of BDPI grants, more than 100 cities in Greater Minnesota have been able to welcome new businesses and see others expand, all while adding new jobs and increasing the tax base.

“The clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs and the BDPI program have received strong bipartisan support in the past and were included in last year’s final bonding bills. We hope this support continues and that the Legislature makes passing a bonding bill this year a top priority.”

###

On Dec. 1, the CGMC, in cooperation with MESERB, sponsored a webinar presentation regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) unlawful implementation of new water quality standards. The presentation was given by Flaherty & Hood environmental attorney Daniel Marx and Washington, D.C.-based environmental engineer and attorney John Hall of Hall & Associates. The presentation provides a specific legal and technical description of the MPCA’s flawed approach, the negative impact it will have on Greater Minnesota cities, and ultimately proposes a solution to addressing the problem that will benefit both cities and the environment. The full presentation can be viewed here.

Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center! Due to the forecast predicting a blizzard for much of the state, the CGMC Board made a last-minute decision to condense the two-day conference into one action-packed day on Thursday, Nov. 17. Despite the threatening weather, more than 85 city leaders representing 44 cities attended the conference. We appreciate everyone’s flexibility and patience as we juggled agenda items around to fit almost everything into less than eight hours!

Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle kicked off the conference Thursday afternoon with a presentation on the transportation needs facing our state and the ways city leaders can work together to help convince the Legislature to invest more money into transportation. You can watch video of his speech here and read his Power Point presentation here.

After Zelle’s presentation, CGMC lobbyist Bradley Peterson provided an in-depth analysis of the 2016 election and what it could mean for Greater Minnesota issues this legislative session. Peterson then moderated a panel discussion on the topic of legislative reform featuring legislators Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park). Later that afternoon, University of Minnesota educator Ryan Pesch gave a presentation on “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” and led small-group discussions on ways communities can welcome and attract newcomers.

In the evening, attendees were treated to an entertaining and informative presentation by Washington Post reporter Chris Ingraham. Ingraham is the reporter who got Minnesotans riled up last year when he wrote an article that named Red Lake County “America’s Worst Place to Live” (based on data from the “national amenities index”) and then further raised eyebrows when he decided to move to Red Lake Falls in May of this year. Ingraham talked about his transition from living in an urban area near Washington D.C. to small-town Minnesota and the challenges and opportunities it has afforded him and his family. He also shared ideas about how communities can attract more residents by promoting benefits such as short commutes, job openings, telecommuting options and low home prices. You can read more about Ingraham’s presentation in this article from the Alexandria Echo Press.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting in which members discussed and voted on the 2017 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas: Annexation & Land Use, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, LGA & Property Taxes and Transportation. You can also read more about the top priorities for the upcoming legislative in this CGMC press release that was sent to the media at the conclusion of the conference.

Thanks again to everyone who attended the conference – it was a great event despite the shortened time! Please check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page to see pictures from the conference.

CGMC Executive Director Tim Flaherty and environmental attorney Daniel Marx led a webinar on Sept. 8 to provide information about the challenges Greater Minnesota cities face in regards to water quality regulations and to discuss strategies to help cities address these challenges. Those who were unable to watch the webinar during the live steam can view it here: greatermncities.org/cgmc-tools/environmental-challenges/. A PDF version of the Power Point presentation used during the webinar can also be found here.

The presentation covers the following topics:

  • A brief overview of the water quality regulatory history
  • Discussion of the current pending regulations and cost implications that cities should be prepared for
  • Information on cities’ legal rights with respect to wastewater permitting (for more detailed information on this, read this “Know Your Rights” handout)
  • Discussion of the CGMC Environmental Action Fund priorities and agenda

We encourage our members to watch the webinar and share it with other staff members and elected officials in your city. If you have any questions about the webinar, the CGMC’s Environmental Action Fund or how current or proposed water quality regulations may affect your city, please contact Daniel at dmmarx@flaherty-hood.com.

Each election season, the CGMC provides background information to help candidates become familiar with issues affecting Greater Minnesota communities. The CGMC does not endorse candidates running for political office, but we think candidates should be well-informed about issues are important to Greater Minnesota cities.

Therefore, we have prepared “Elections 2016: Greater Minnesota’s Top Issues” to provide information about several key issues: property taxes & LGA, state budget, transportation, annexation & land use, economic development, and environment & energy. This informational packet was mailed to all of the registered candidates who are running to represent Greater Minnesota districts in the Minnesota House or Senate.

If you have any questions about the information provided in the packet, or if you would like us to mail a hard copy to you, please contact Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com.

Below is a CGMC press release that was sent to media outlets across the state. A PDF version is available here.

For Immediate Release: July 22, 2016
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

Greater Minnesota city leaders renew push for special session
At annual meeting, CGMC members call on Governor, legislative leaders to keep focus on rural priorities when Legislature reconvenes

AUSTIN, MINN.—At an annual gathering of city leaders from Greater Minnesota, officials from across the state renewed their push for a special legislative session this summer to address the failed tax and bonding bills.

Mayors, city council members and city staff from all over Greater Minnesota convened in Austin this week for the annual Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) Summer Conference. With news that Gov. Dayton and legislative leaders appear to be inching closer to an agreement on a special session after they resumed negotiations July 15, CGMC conference attendees were cautiously optimistic that Greater Minnesota needs could still be addressed this year.

“The regular session was a huge letdown, but there is still a chance for lawmakers to get something positive done,” said Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson, who was elected president of the CGMC for 2016-2017 at the organization’s membership meeting Friday morning. “Now that special session talks have started up again, we are hopeful that the Governor and legislative leaders can set aside their differences and pass bills that will help communities in Greater Minnesota and throughout the state.”

At Friday’s membership meeting, the CGMC adopted a resolution in support of a special session that addresses critical Greater Minnesota needs that had been included in the final versions of the failed bills. The CGMC’s top priorities for the special session include:

  • $20 million increase in funding for the Local Government Aid (LGA) program
  • $133.5 million for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs
  • $12 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program, which helps cities pay for public infrastructure needed to encourage private business growth
  • $200 million for the Corridors of Commerce program
  • $50 million for city streets, divided between cities with populations of 5,000 and above and those with fewer than 5,000 residents

“The tax bill and bonding bill each contained several provisions that would benefit Greater Minnesota,” Carlson said. “If there is a special session, we urge Gov. Dayton and the Legislature to keep focus on top priorities like an LGA increase and funding for water treatment facilities, highways and city streets. These issues remain extremely important to rural communities. We want to make sure they aren’t overshadowed by other matters when the Legislature reconvenes.”

###