ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House and Senate passed bills Tuesday that would fund a study of safe sulfate levels in wild rice waters, allocate state lottery funds toward environmental projects and create a fund that will help with management of state-owned lands.
The Senate bill spends $204 million of state tax money on the environment over the next two years while the House opted for $196 million.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he thinks during a difficult economic time the House bill balanced maintaining the state's resources with getting spending in order.
"We had to bring forward a budget bill that is going to live within our means," said McNamara, who chairs the House environment committee. "All in all I think it does a good job."
One amendment nixed a proposal by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, that would have required the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to harvest black walnut and other trees from Frontenac and Whitewater state parks.
Democrats opposed the bill, which they say spends lottery funds on projects that should be funded by tax money, cut general fund spending to the Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency after requiring those agencies to speed up permitting and puts the state's outdoors at risk by reducing regulations on water quality.
"This bill has so many problems it is hard to know where to begin and where to end with what we are doing to the environment," said Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the Senate's bill balances the need to protect the environment with balancing the budget, said.
"Minnesotans around our state expect us to do well and preserve it for the future generations to enjoy," said Ingebrigtsen, who chairs the environment committee.
However, some senators lamented the lack of funding for Lake Vermilion State Park, which was approved last year. Money needed to develop the park is not in either bill.
"We need to actually follow through and build a state park there," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
The bills will now be reconciled in a conference committee before going to Gov. Mark Dayton. McNamara said he expects conference discussions will start next week.
Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer working for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.