Despite Constitution, legislators attack environment Times Editorial Board 8:01 a.m. CT April 22, 2017 CLOSE The report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that the Mississippi north of St. Cloud is relatively pristine. But past St. Cloud, polluted runoff from farms and cities have degraded the river's water quality. (Photo: AP) In the past 60-plus years, Minnesotans have been asked five times through constitutional amendments if and how much they value the state's natural resources. Every time their answer has been loud and clear and the same: Yes, a lot! Yes, we want to establish (and financially sustain) a Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Yes, we want to guarantee our right to hunt and fish. And most recently, yes, we will even raise our own taxes for 25 years to protect water resources, enhance natural habitat and support parks and trails. The collective message to legislators is crystal clear: Preserving and protecting Mother Nature is a — perhaps even the — top Minnesota priority. That's why it's both puzzling and stunning so many legislative proposals this session are directly contrary to that priority. Obvious attacks Make no mistake. Proposals rooted solidly in Republican House and Senate majorities undoubtedly aim to weaken, even remove, scores of rules, regulations, public-input processes and funding put in place to uphold the very values Minnesotans have placed through the state Constitution on the state's natural resources. Among the easy-to-see examples: • Weaken water quality standards. A multitude of proposals eat way at measures improving water quality. They come even though at least 40 percent of the state's waterways fail to meet water quality standards because of pollution. And, again, they stand squarely against what voters approved in the 2008 Legacy Amendment, which has allowed $759 million in public money to be spent addressing water quality. • Use courts, not science. As MinnPost recently noted, part of the attack on water quality standards includes taking key decisions out of the hands of scientists and giving them to judges in courtrooms. Yes, judges are very smart. But they are not experts in scientific fields. Nor are most scientists' jobs dependent on re-election. • Repeal the buffer law. This measure — passed in 2015, amended last session and moving toward implementation — aims to protect resources by requiring natural buffer strips between farmland and water sources. Think ditches, creeks, wetlands, etc. What's needed with this law is reasonable accommodation, not a complete repeal nor a one-size-fits-all solution. • Mess with Legacy Amendment funds. Voters approved these sales tax funds for clean air, water and land, helping parks and trails, and cultural amenities. Legislators this session, though, don't seem to care. Proposals seek to do everything from raid the funds for road projects to override the process used to decide how and where funds are spent. • Put profits above protections, public input and transparency. One proposal (courtesy of Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud) allows mining and industrial permit applications to be fast tracked. Really? A majority of voters are constitutionally steadfast on a clean environment yet lawmakers want to fast-track permits for operations that don't just take nonrenewable resources, but can scar the land and pose pollution risks for centuries? Another proposal makes it easier to double the size of a proposed feedlot before an environmental assessment is required. Yet another keeps certain parts of environmental assessments private. Plus, there's apparent disdain for everything from protecting pollinators to acquiring more public land and public access to waterways. Indirect attacks The intent at the Legislature to reject voters' constitutional mandate to protect and sustain natural resources runs much deeper than direct legislation. Despite a $1.6 billion surplus, Republican majorities are touting budget proposals that cut funds to the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and others. There also is a push to curb or even eliminate the Environmental Quality Board, which for almost a half-century has served as a centerpoint for managing water resources while ensuring the public has a voice in those issues. Could that board be reformed or made better? Probably. Should it be neutered or eliminated? No. Buy Photo Major fishing and hunting groups want legislators to raise license fees to help the state provide better outdoor experiences. Those calls are making little traction from key legislators. (Photo: Jason Wachter, firstname.lastname@example.org) And then there is this: Powerful groups representing hunters and anglers are urging legislators to raise their own license fees a minimal amount so the state has the resources to ensure they have a good experience when they pursue their constitutional right to hunt and fish. Republican leadership, apparently oblivious to those five constitutional amendments, is having none of it. Instead, they're trying to use that grassroots push as political leverage in crafting the DNR's budget. What's it going to take to show these legislators Minnesotans value — and are willing to pay for — clean air, water and land? We'd say a constitutional amendment. But that's already been done — five different times! — and these legislators apparently don't think those votes matter.