Environmental agencies feel cuts

by Nathan Hall

Local environmentalists contend Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 14 percent cut in state environmental and agriculture spending until 2005 might come at the expense of environmental quality, such as clean water.

“Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unalottment equals out to roughly $40 million,” Sara Dietrich, a Minneapolis city communications officer said. “This could potentially affect things like the watershed program, the wetland projects and protection of the chain of lakes.

“This also could potentially impact the Clean Water Partnership, the cleanup of Superfund sites and the enforcement capabilities of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,” Dietrich said.

Drinking water would not be affected, Dietrich said, because it is funded primarily by user fees that are not affected by inflation.

In his initial proposal, Pawlenty recommended an “environmental fund simplification” for the MPCA.

Founded in 1967, the MPCA employs 750 people and is the first to take action against state water polluters.

“There will be some consolidation in these funds,” said Jim Anderson, a University soil, water and climate professor who is also the Water Resources Center director. “(These measures) will result in less money for implementation of practices that will help clean up the waters.”

Anderson sits on Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources, a department for which Pawlenty recommended a 25 percent grant reduction.

“This is a huge loss to local water management programs where citizens closest to the resource can identify problems and solutions,” Anderson said.

However, the new budget forecasted “a limited number of fee increases” for the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources and the MPCA.

“Fee increases are good but do not go far enough,” said Marie Zellar, state director of the nonprofit Clean Water Action Alliance. “We have advocated for many years that those polluters or developers who are requiring permits and agency services need to cover the costs of issuing and managing (them).”

“The people of Minnesota want clean water Ö and this is a priority for them,” Zellar said. “We already are failing to meet our basic environmental regulatory needs.”

Don Arnosti, Minnesota Environmental Partnership campaign coordinator, said in a prepared statement “under Governor Tim Pawlenty’s proposal, general fund spending on conservation and environment from 2001 to 2005 drops a stunning 33 percent.”

“Under proposed cuts to the Board of Water and Soil Resources, an estimated 1,500 local projects will be lost in 80 nonmetro counties,” Arnosti said.

Court upholds standards

On Feb. 25, the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that set strict limits on the amount of radium allowed in the nation’s drinking water. The petitioners fighting the EPA included two trade associations and several municipal water systems.

Hennepin County last violated the EPA’s surface water treatment rules in April 2000. Minnesota received a public notification of excessive contaminant levels on May 17, 2000.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]