Poppe, Sparks support new ag, environmental omnibus billPublished 11:02am Monday, April 22, 2013
DFL lawmakers in the Minnesota House of Representatives passed the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture omnibus bill Thursday on a vote of 69-61. The Minnesota Senate also passed its own version.
The House bill invests an additional $1.7 million in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, strengthens the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to address shrinking groundwater and surface water supplies and uses resources in the Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovation fund to increase economic development.
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, chair of the Agriculture Policy Committee, said the bill takes responsible steps to improve the economic vitality of communities in rural Minnesota.
“Minnesota’s farmers, ranchers, livestock producers, and agri-businesses depend on reliable supplies of water,” Poppe said. “This is a strong ag bill that gives us the tools to address shrinking water supplies in rural Minnesota so we can solve this problem before it’s too late.”
Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish lauded the bill for making a commitment to family farmers and investing in agriculture.
“We appreciate the strong commitment and investment to agriculture that we are seeing from the legislature in this bill,” said Wertish, “Our state depends on family farmers across Minnesota, and we’re pleased to see that the House bill recognizes that.”
The omnibus package also includes a provision authored by Poppe that adopts the NextGen Board’s recommendations regarding Minnesota’s biofuel policies.
Right now, state law requires all gasoline sold in Minnesota to be “E10,” which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol derived from corn and 90 percent gasoline. The NextGen Board proposal allows for other biofuels to enter the market by allowing fuel blenders to use ethanol or other biofuels to satisfy the 10 percent requirement. Instead of relying solely on traditional ethanol produced from corn, this proposal expands the law from requiring only ethanol to a law that requires biofuels generally.
“In order to continue to be industry leaders, we need to support the growth of emerging biofuels while protecting the investments we have made in the ethanol industry,” Poppe said. “This will encourage more companies to consider making investments in Minnesota, building on the strong ethanol foundation already in place and driving economic growth and jobs for middle class families.”
The bill uses AGRI fund resources to strengthen local economies in rural Minnesota by expanding the Farm-to-School program, providing state grants for the start-up, transition, and expansion of family farm livestock operations, assisting with the start-up of any farm, and exploring development of renewable forms of energy.
In addition, the bill addresses growing groundwater and surface water shortages across Minnesota by providing the DNR with resources to effectively gather data needed to find a solution. To pay for better water monitoring capabilities, the bill includes a modest fee increase on heavy users of water. If cities pass the costs on to residential users, an individual water bill would go up about $1-$2 in the first year.
Details of the Senate bill include $30 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund, $25 million for a job creation fund, $1.5 million for a global competitive initiative and $15 million for a housing and jobs growth initiative. The funding comes from a competitive grant program last year.
Senator Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), chair of the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and co-author of this bill, said, “Ensuring Minnesota’s continued lead in the agriculture industry depends on the investments we make in research and education today. Our rural economy also benefits from the bill’s emphasis on increasing high-speed Internet access, adoption and use. This expansion is vital to diversifying Minnesota’s rural economy and keeping our businesses competitive.”
Differences between the two pieces of legislation will be ironed out before a final package goes to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.