MN House Environmental Committee Debates Wild Rice Protection

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The Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources committee made several changes to the Omnibus Environment budget bill yesterday, including funding research into climate change in northern forests.

Rep. Denny McNamara (R ) Backs Climate Change Research

Included in the omnibus bill is a list of projects funded by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Earlier, projects related to climate change were stripped from the bill. Today, Chair Denny McNamara (R – Hastings) offered an amendment to include funding for a University of Minnesota study on climate change impacts on northern forests and a National Eagle Center survey of Golden Eagle populations. These changes are a significant change in the earlier focus of the committee. Members had criticized the LCCMR for including too many research projects in their recommendations and expressed skepticism about any research into climate change.

Another point of contention in this morning’s hearing were provisions relating to water quality standards for wild rice waters. Wild rice is particularly sensitive to sulfates, and Minnesota law has a more restrictive standard (10 milligrams/liter) for sulfate releases into waterways with wild rice stands. Mining companies and some legislators have criticized the more restrictive standard, since proposed copper mines in northeastern Minnesota risk violating the wild rice standard.

The omnibus bill contains a provision that requires the Department of Natural Resources to study the impact of sulfates on wild rice. According to Rep. John Persell, this study duplicates a study that is currently being conducted at the behest of Governor Mark Dayton, and there was widespread agreement of the value of a study on the committee. However, the bill also contained a provision that would set a temporary standard for wild rice waters while the study was being conducted of 250 mg/l, 25 times the current standard.

Rep. David Dill (DFL – Crane Lake) offered an oral amendment to modify that temporary standard to 50 mg/l. This amendment passed, but not before strong criticism from Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL – Minneapolis) who called Dill’s amendment “lipstick on a pig,” and noted that the standard was a “political one, not a scientific standard.” Environmental groups have been strongly critical of any efforts to change the standard without a scientific basis for a change.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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