The 2010 legislative session ended in the early morning hours of May 17 after a brief special session was called by the Governor. Fights over the state budget and funding for health care and education dominated the atmosphere at the Capitol, making it a tough year to pass meaningful environmental legislation. However, once again Clean Water Action was able to celebrate several legislative victories this session. In addition to passing another bill to keep toxins out of our environment, we were able to stop attempts to weaken current environment laws and move Minnesota towards dirty energy options.
One of our legislative priorities was promoting cleaner manufacturing methods. As a member of the Healthy Legacy coalition, we worked on a bill to add the definition of green chemistry into the current green economy statute. Green chemistry is a process which reduces or eliminates the use toxic substances when manufacturing products. This method also reduces energy consumption, uses renewable feedstocks, or reduces or prevents waste or pollution. The current statute allows businesses to access economic development funds, such as the Minnesota Investment Fund. Adding green chemistry to the list will incentivize businesses that create non-toxic products in an environmentally friendly manner. The bill, carried by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and Representative Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton) was signed by the Governor on May 15, 2010, as part of the economic development omnibus bill.
Once again nuclear proponents were back at the Capitol attempting to repeal Minnesota’s moratorium on the construction of new nuclear reactors. And once again, they were not successful. Clean Water Action has remained firmly against the expansion of new nuclear reactors in Minnesota since 1994. We believe the extreme costs of construction, the unknown future of permanent waste storage and the enormous water use requirements of these facilities are proof of why the moratorium was established and must remain in place. Minnesota should instead focus on the clean energy path we have set for ourselves in wind and solar energy development.
Attempts to lift the moratorium came from all angles this session. In March, the Senate Energy Committee heard a bill to lift the moratorium only to see the bill withdrawn after an amendment was placed on the bill to protect ratepayers from large fees and ensuring the safe long-term disposal of nuclear waste. A repeal amendment passed on the House floor with the ratepayer protection language, but was never adopted in conference committee. The fact that nuclear proponents are unwilling to address these legitimate concerns of nuclear power should be a signal to all Minnesotans this is the wrong direction for our state’s energy future. We must continue to lead the way by investing in clean, cost-effective and long-term renewable energy solutions.
Another bill we championed as a member of Healthy Legacy was a bill to phase in the use of green cleaning practices in schools and public buildings. Children and janitorial workers are exposed to toxic cleaners every day. These cleaners can cause respiratory problems and burns leading to increased sick days or potentially chronic conditions like asthma. Unfortunately, the bill only passed a few committees in the Senate and could not make the policy deadlines. The bill was carried by Senator Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) and Representative Sandra Peterson (DFL-New Hope).
Minnesota Safe Disposal Act
The presence of pharmaceuticals in Minnesota’s surface and groundwater has become an increasing problem. One way we can start addressing this problem is to create a framework for the proper disposal of used pharmaceutical products. A bill introduced by Senator John Doll (DFL-Burnsville) and Representative Paul Gardner (DFL-Shoreview) created this structure that required drug manufacturers to establish a commercial collection program, paid for by the manufacturer. Not only are used pharmaceuticals a threat to our water, they also create a public safety concern due to adolescent drug abuse. The bill in the House moved through several committees; however, the lobbying strength of the pharmaceutical industry proved too great. All of the disposal framework language was deleted from the bill and the scaled-down version was eventually signed by the Governor. This bill has started an important conversation about additional safety concerns threatening our water that is sure to continue in future legislative sessions.
Other Legislative Actions
Cadmium in Children’s Jewelry
Stores in Minnesota will no longer be able to sell children’s jewelry that contains cadmium in excess of 75 parts per million. Cadmium is a known toxic metal. The language was signed by the Governor as a part of the economic development omnibus bill.
Lead Certification Requirements
All construction workers, contractors and remodelers will now need to be lead certified before working in older buildings. This law will protect workers and the public by reducing lead exposure rates.
Protection for the Mt. Simon Hinckley Aquifer
This bill was introduced to protect the Mt. Simon Hinckley aquifer, a pristine and fragile groundwater source which sits below most of the metropolitan area, by limiting commercial and industrial water withdrawals. Although the bill was passed by wide margins in the Senate and House, the Governor vetoed the bill stating it would hinder current and future business development in the area.
Although we had our ups and downs this year, the 2010 legislative session was another success for Clean Water Action. Thank you for all your support. It is because of your generosity and your willingness to contact your legislators that we are able to celebrate these successes year after year.