The CGMC’s main environmental efforts this year focused on improving and defeating legislation that could have had significant future impacts our cities. Working with other organizations, the CGMC achieved success by defeating several harmful pieces of legislation.

Rulemaking bill

Before the legislative session began, Governor Dayton declared that 2014 would be the “Unsession” in which the administration and legislature would work together to make government more efficient. One of the signature pieces of legislation for the Unsession was a bill that would have completely remade the rulemaking process in the state. The bill (HF 2724 and SF 2467) would have gutted the Minnesota Adminstrative Procedure Act by increasing the signature hurdle for requesting a hearing where an agency claims a rule is non-controversial, expediting many types of rulemaking that used to require a full process, and eliminating much of the analysis that the agencies would need to provide for rule changes.

A separate bill, SF 2276, would also have changed procedures pertaining solely to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) by eliminating the requirement that the state must analyze the differences between its proposed rules and the rules in other states and the federal government. The CGMC, working with Missouri River Energy Services, the League of Minnesota Cities and other organizations, lobbied the author of SF 2276 to amend the bill so that the comparison was still required. This bill was folded into the larger rulemaking bill, SF 2467 /HF 2724.

At the first Senate hearing on SF 2467, CGMC environmental lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel testified against the bill. A host of other local government and business groups also testified against it. The bill’s author then laid it over for further work.

Movement on the bill proceeded in fits and spurts throughout the legislative session. The CGMC worked with a stakeholder group to neuter many of the changes, but lobbying on the bill proved challenging as the language shifted frequently. During the last week of session, the administration came forward with a new version of the bill that made several unacceptable changes before it was to move to the Senate Floor. The CGMC worked with several business groups to lobby rural legislators to make a change. With this pressure, the author acceded to the proposed amendments which were included when the bill went to the floor. Although the CGMC and other stakeholders expressed neutrality on the bill once the changes were made, GOP legislators staged a filibuster on the floor. As a result, the bill’s author laid the bill on the table and it was not resurrected before the session adjourned.

Water Meter Bill

Early in the session, one of the CGMC environmental committee co-chairs contacted us about worrisome legislation on water meters, HF 2289 (authored by Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen). The bill would have required city water utilities who use radio water meters to offer customers the option of installing non-radio meters at no additional cost, to inform customers about the alleged health risks of radio meters, and to obtain administrative search warrants if a customer refused to allow the utility to repair a broken water meter along with other unnecessary requirements.

We had hoped the bill would go nowhere this session, but the committee administrator for government operations contacted us because Rep. Pugh wanted to move the bill forward. After we expressed the CGMC’s concerns, Rep. Pugh contacted Wefel to discuss our opposition. Wefel set up a meeting and invited the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) and Minnesota Municipal Utility Association (MMUA) to participate.

Armed with information from Waseca, New Ulm and other cities, Wefel explained the challenges this proposal would create for our cities. That information, combined with input from the LMC and MMUA, persuaded Rep. Pugh that her bill was not crafted to address the concerns that had been raised by one of her constituents. She agreed that her legislation went too far and decided not to pursue it at this time.

Regulatory Work

In addition to working on legislative issues, the CGMC pulled together local governments, businesses and farm groups to work on regulatory issues that will affect cities both on wastewater treatment facilities and storm water. Wefel, working with the attorney for CGMC’s sister organization, the Minnesota Environmental Science and Economic Review Board (MESERB), arranged meetings with representatives from the Minnesota Farmers Union, the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Council, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, LMC, MMUA and others to discuss the multitude of MPCA regulatory initiatives (including rulemaking and nutrient strategy creation) that were resulting in a water quality regulation tsunami head for cities and businesses.  In addition to raising awareness about the issues and the need for other groups to engage in some of these processes, the CGMC worked with MESERB to author a request to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board for an independent scientific review of the proposed regulations on Eutrophication and Total Suspended Solids.