DFL members of the Minnesota House ag policy committee last week issued a minority response to their Republican colleagues’ actions to halt implementation of the proposed Minnesota Groundwater Protection Rule.
The minority report, written by state Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, Minn., DFL House Agriculture Finance Committee lead; and state Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, Minn., DFL House Agriculture Policy Committee lead, responded to “unprecedented actions” of Minnesota House Republicans to stop the proposed Groundwater Protection Rule.
According to a DFL news release, this is the first time in Minnesota’s history that a committee used Minnesota Statute 14.126 to bypass the executive branch and the process governing state agency rule-making.
“Minnesotans play by the rules, and they expect the Legislature to do the same,” said Poppe. “That nine members out of 134 can circumvent the democratic process and halt the implementation of rules that are legally and properly created, based on science, and formed via countless amounts of public input, is harmful not only to the way we govern, but to our communities and the people we represent. In this particular situation, there was plenty of time to resolve the issues between the legislative and executive branches in a more constructive manner, rather than resorting to an unprecedented process that has the potential to divide communities and destroy legislative relationships. There’s no question about it: This could have been avoided.”
The rule being delayed is intended to limit nitrate contaminants in Minnesota’s drinking water. Elevated nitrate levels in drinking water, which many Minnesota communities are facing, can pose serious health concerns for humans, including what’s known as blue baby syndrome. The goal of the rule is to work with local farmers and regulate the use of nitrogen fertilizer in areas of the state where soils are vulnerable to leaching, and where drinking water supplies have high nitrate levels. The proposed rule was released after years of work, including months of stakeholder input. The rule-making process is supported by a number of agriculture groups, as well as municipalities who are required to treat contaminated drinking water in public wells.
In their minority report, the lawmakers noted:
• The Agriculture Policy Committee’s decision to invoke the M.S. 14.126 delay is unnecessary. In proposing the Groundwater Protection Rule, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is acting under the full authority granted to it in the 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, Chapter 103H.275.
• MDA took additional multiple steps to ensure adequate participation. More than 1,500 people attended 17 public meetings held around the state. Plus, MDA received more than 820 written comments which were reviewed and taken into account when the draft was developed.
• Since release of the proposed rule, the MDA has scheduled informational meetings this summer.
• Established committees of the House had ample time to hold a public hearing on the proposed rule since its release on April 24. It chose not to provide an opportunity for public comment during the 2018 legislative session.
DFL committee members also have concerns about public involvement in the M.S 14.126 proceedings, noting that meeting times were given inadequate notice and that improper use of power was used by the House ag committee chair.
“The issue of clean water extends beyond how it impacts farmers to every person in our state,” Bly said. “While many farmers and agriculture organizations lead the way in preservation of the land and research into how we can do better, when problems are identified, all members of our community pay — and we need everyone at the table to develop solutions. Delaying [the Groundwater Protection Rule] further and with no purpose identified other than intimidation is not in the best interest of our state.”
When committees with jurisdiction take action using Minnesota Statute 14.126, any proposed rule is delayed until the conclusion of the next legislative session. With control of the Legislature, implementation of this or any other proposed rule could be delayed indefinitely with a majority vote of the committees in both the House and the Senate that oversee a subject area — in this case, agriculture.
The minority report was published in the Minnesota State Register June 18.
The Republican-supported resolution to halt implementation of the proposed rule was published in the June 11 Minnesota State Register.
Source: DFL House of Representatives