The Minnesota Legislature is in the middle of deciding what it really wants its environmental policy to be, and two Brainerd area legislators are in the middle of that decision-making process.
Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, were both tapped to serve on the conference committee for the omnibus environment and natural resources bill. When the House of Representatives and the Senate pass different versions of the same bill, it's up to a conference committee to work out the discrepancies. That means Heintzeman and Ruud are deeply involved with negotiating what goes in the final version of the bill-and a lot of hot-button environmental issues lurk around in the weeds among the proposed bill language. In interviews, Heintzeman and Ruud expressed positions that stretched apart from each other.
For example, Ruud opposes a measure that would delay Gov. Mark Dayton's buffer law from being implemented. Although the areas of the state that need help complying should receive assistance, she said, the Brainerd lakes area was already 90 percent compliant with the buffer requirements.
"We come from a district that has over 800 named lakes, and I really appreciate the water quality that we have," she said. "The water buffers help with the quality."
If the Legislature wanted to give Dayton a bill he could sign, it would need to change the buffer delay language first, she said.
However, the areas of the state that have a high number of farms that might be affected by the buffer law, a different approach might be better, Ruud said.
Heintzeman, by contrast, said the agricultural industry was concerned with "the taking of land that the current buffer bill is executing." He supported a delay in order to better understand the ramifications of the buffer requirement.
The measure is in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, although the dates are different. The House delays it a year, until Nov. 1, 2018, and the Senate delays it two years, until 2019 for public waters and 2020 for public drainage.
A measure in the House version of the bill would allow counties to adopt policies of "no net gain" of state lands within their borders. If it becomes law, the language would force any state agency that buys land in a particular county to sell an equal amount of land in that same county. The rule would serve for any county north of U.S. Highway 2 that had filed the right paperwork.
Heintzeman was in favor of the idea and said people in his district felt state resources would be better directed to improving the land the state already owned rather than than buying up more.
Ruud, however, "absolutely" opposed the measure.
"I think it may be unconstitutional," Ruud said. "I think it's unnecessary."
There was no equivalent language in the Senate version.
Ruud also had strong words for her Senate colleagues regarding a provision that would bar the Department of Natural Resources from issuing new rules restricting lead shot. Ruud chairs the Senate's environmental policy committee, and the lead shot bill never was run through her committee to receive scrutiny and discussion in a hearing. She said the "trickery" of fellow senators resulted in an end run around her committee.
"I think that's very dishonest," she said.
Another part of the bill appropriates $20,000 for a study on the effects of lead shot on wildlife that live in state lands. While Ruud supported the study-she said the existing data on lead shot is outdated-she opposed the Legislature banning the DNR from banning lead shot before the study was implemented.
Heintzeman also thought there was an end run in progress on lead shot-but in his case, he said it was the DNR usurping the authority of the Legislature. An existing lead shot ban in waterfowl hunting was legislated by state lawmakers in 1987 but the DNR wanted to expand that ban unilaterally, he said. And if the lead shot ban were to come before the Legislature, it would be voted down, he said.
"I don't think there's any support for it," he said. "I don't think even a lot of (DFL legislators) would be interested in that, if it came down to a vote."
"Lead is a naturally occurring mineral, it's in the soil, it's mined just like anything else," he added later.
The DNR's proposed non-toxic shot rule would expand the ban to all small-game hunting, but it would count only for shotgun shells with shot in them, not single-projectile loads-so rifle bullets and shotgun slugs could still be made of lead. It would also be limited to Minnesota wildlife management lands from Highway 210 in Brainerd to the southern border.
Animals like eagles and loons can be poisoned if they ingest lead shot, the DNR said.
DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr appeared before the conference committee on Thursday to ask them to approve a request from the DNR-the majority of which wasn't in either the House or Senate bills yet-to increase fee licenses. By increasing hunting, fishing, and park fees a couple of dollars, the DNR would stave off a budget crunch due to inflation that would threaten dozens of positions.
Minnesota sportsmen had said over and over again that the increases were necessary, Ruud said.
"If we don't increase the fees, we will be in very grave trouble in a lot of (DNR funding accounts)," she said.
Heintzeman was less sympathetic to the DNR's plight.
"In a time when we have a pretty significant (budget) surplus, does it make sense to be raising taxes, raising fees?" he asked. "And I think most people are pretty clear on that."
A constituent told Heintzeman that median household incomes had fallen to the same level they were at in 1999, he said. A 2014 Washington Post analysis corroborated that point, and said median income peaked in Crow Wing County in 1999 at $52,418.
"The people of Minnesota, they haven't seen an improvement in their bottom line since 1999," Heintzeman said. "So when agencies start talking about (adjusting budgets for inflation), regular folks get frustrated, because they're thinking, 'Wait a minute, nobody really made an adjustment to my income. I've had to tighten the belt.' And when you see a brand new Duramax diesel truck going by with a pretty nice boat and it says 'State of Minnesota DNR' on the side, you wonder 'That's a $120,000 unit, aren't there places where the agency find a way to do the work they're required to do with the resources that are available?'"
Ruud also opposes a part of the Senate version of the environment bill-even though it came from her colleagues-- that would allow two-line fishing. She feels it might threaten the character of Minnesota's fishing culture.
"I have concerns on limits," she said. "I think we have a culture of sport fishing, not sport harvesting."
In addition, Ruud supports minnow importation into the state, despite opposition to the idea.
"That's controversial, but we are short of bait in Minnesota," she said.
She said the minnows can be obtained from a bio-secure facility, an option she prefers to the risk of potentially spreading around minnows from aquatic invasive species-infested waters in the state.
Contact Ruud by calling her office at 651-296-4913, and contact Heintzeman's office at 651-296-4333.