Conservationists praise funding

Published 9:29 am Thursday, May 21, 2009

More than $300 million in new projects dedicated to protect lakes, rivers and streams in Minnesota is being heralded by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

The statewide coalition of more than 80 conservation and environmental organizations calls the funding one of the major achievements of the 2009 legislative session.

However, the issue of what to do about sulfide mining remains a topic open for MEP debate.

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“The Legislature has fulfilled the promise of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment by authorizing one of the most comprehensive efforts to protect and restore Minnesota’s water; preserve natural areas and wildlife habit; and maintain state, regional and metro parks,” said Steve Morse, executive director of MEP, which claims a membership of more than 450,000 Minnesotans. “Last November more than 1.6 million Minnesotans voted to raise their own taxes to pay for what they treasure most about Minnesota. The Legislature’s actions put us well on our way to protect Minnesota’s future for our children and grandchildren.”

According to Merlene Stiles, MEP’s outreach specialist in Mower and Freeborn counties, the amendment allocations for the great outdoors contain:

$151 million for clean water projects including testing of all Minnesota waters in the next 10 years and implementation of clean-up programs.

A portion of the funds will be used to identify failing septic systems and help homeowners replace them.

$87.5 million to protect land and wildlife habitat, including the state’s largest conservation easement of 187,000 acres for the Upper Mississippi Forest.

In addition, there is $63.5 million set aside for further land and wildlife habitat projects to be identified and authorized in 2011.

$65 million to maintain and operate Minnesota’s state, regional and metro parks, according to Stiles.

The amendment funding also allocates $93.2 million for arts education and cultural heritage.

Morse also celebrated the announcement this week by the Obama Administration to enact a federal Clean Cars Standard as good news for Minnesota.

“Even though the governor and the Legislature failed to adopt clean car standards in Minnesota for the second year in a row,” Morse said, “this new federal initiative will save Americans money, clean up our air and reduce global warming pollution from tailpipe emissions in all states across the country.”

Stiles, who led a local effort to encourage passage of the legislation, was also elated at the federal legislation’s passage.

The new federal standards will reduce tailpipe emissions by 30 percent by 2016, the same goal as in the proposed Minnesota Clean Car Standard legislation, according to Stiles.

“With the new national clean car standard soon to be in place, we can now focus on other needed reforms to reduce global warming pollution here in Minnesota,” Morse said.

There was more to excite the MEP representatives.

The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim. Pawlenty took several steps to give Minnesotans more options about how they get around, helping to reduce global warming and air pollution, traffic congestion, and driving, the MEP spokespersons said.

At the top of the list is a change in school siting rules that gives communities more local control about where new schools are located. No longer will school districts be forced to build schools at the edge of town — sometimes in the middle of cornfields.

“School districts can now look at their long-term plans with additional flexibility about the location of new schools,” Morse said. “Building schools closer to where families live will save families and school districts money on transportation costs, as well as reduce global warming pollution.”

Still another legislative action being hailed will result in the Metropolitan Council helping communities determine how land use and transportation plans affect residents’ options about where they live and how they get around. “These are a good start in changing how we build our communities,” Morse noted, “but more can and should be done.”

A disappointment of the 2009 session was lack of action on a proposal to assure that new sulfide mines are operated in a way that protects our lakes, rivers and streams from acid mine drainage.

“Because sulfide mining has never been done before in Minnesota, existing state laws are not sufficient to protect our water or Minnesota taxpayers from the threats of sulfide mining pollution, including exorbitant clean-up costs,” Morse said. “With inadequate laws on the books and sulfide mining proposals looming on the horizon, we cannot afford to delay efforts to protect Minnesotans from the problems that have accompanied sulfide mines in other states.”

Stiles said the public can learn more about sulfide mining, when Bob Tammen speaks 7 p.m. Monday, June 1, in Austin.

Tammen is a former mineworker in northern Minnesota and will speak about the newly proposed sulfide mining and its threats to the environment.

Austin Izaak Walton League Chapter No. 10 will host Tammen’s June 1 visit at the Ikes cabin in Todd Park.

The public is invited to learn more about the issue.

Formed in 1998, MEP works with its member organizations to protect and restore Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, forests, wildlife habitat and natural areas.