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Political Fight Poses Threat to Environmental Funding in MN

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Funding for Minnesota state parks and aquatic invasive-species management have been catapulted into the debate over tougher auto-emission standards. (Adobe Stock)
Funding for Minnesota state parks and aquatic invasive-species management have been catapulted into the debate over tougher auto-emission standards. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen - Producer, Contact
May 6, 2021

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As Minnesota lawmakers hammer out differences over the state budget, a major wrinkle has surfaced, which environmental groups said could result in long-term harm to natural resources.

During a recent hearing, a key Senate Republican said the upper chamber would essentially withhold funding for an environmental omnibus bill if the Walz administration kept pursuing clean-car standards.

The demand would cut off money for state parks, as well as conservation work.

Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said political gamesmanship could derail efforts to combat aquatic invasive species.

"Coming off of last year, where AIS programs were hobbled by COVID, and then to further restrict it this year, is a two-year hit where basically we have little or impaired protection for our lakes," Forester contended.

It's unclear whether the GOP demand will ultimately restrict environmental funding this summer.

But Republicans and the Democratic governor have been deeply divided over the tougher auto standards, which are meant to help reduce harmful emissions. Opponents, including the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, argue it could provide economic harm, saying there isn't a strong market right now for electric vehicles.

But Forester argued differences over that issue shouldn't spill over into spending talks for wide-ranging programs and services. Even if a short-term impasse were to halt research and other work, Forester predicted it could set the state back at a time when more water recreation is expected, exacerbating the spread of invasive species.

"This would be a terrible mistake and a terrible lost opportunity to protect our lakes and the lakes that become infested because of reduced inspection, or programs that are cut," Forester asserted.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, about 8% of Minnesota's lakes are on the infested-waters list when it comes to aquatic invasive species. Forester noted the figure includes all the state's largest lakes, which translates to nearly 30% of surface water.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have until May 17th to finalize a budget. The two chambers have been about $1 billion apart in spending.

Disclosure: Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Public Lands/Wilderness, Sustainable Agriculture, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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