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Minnesota environmental projects in limbo over political dispute

Associated Press

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Dozens of projects benefiting Minnesota’s natural resources are now in limbo because of a political dispute at the state Legislature.

The disagreement among state lawmakers over whether the state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund should be used to pay for wastewater treatment plant improvements instead of funding has left many researchers and conservation officials uncertain about the future of their work.

The projects at stake include efforts to control invasive species, improve pollinator habitat, protect native prairie, buy land for parks and trails, teach students about the environment and study wolves in Voyageurs National Park to learn how they spend their summers.

Steve Morse, executive director of the nonprofit Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said projects waiting for funding have already gone through a complicated and competitive selection process and would be “grossly unfair” if they couldn’t go forward when the money is available.

“There will be people (who) will be laid off and projects that will be lost in mid-course, if they decide not to proceed,” he said.

The root of the dispute is Republicans now want to use some of the trust fund money to pay for wastewater infrastructure to improve water quality, especially in rural cities currently facing expensive improvements to aging treatment plants.

“What better way to clean your water than to help these small towns who can’t afford funding the whole thing, fixing their pipes now that are 60, 70 and sometimes 80 years old, that are going to start leaching into our lakes, rivers and streams?” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio News.

If the Legislature doesn’t pass a bill appropriating money for the fund, it will delay many environmental projects that impact the state in positive ways, according to U of M professor Lee Penn.

Lawmakers have until May 18 — when the spring legislative session ends — to reach a resolution on the trust fund spending bill.

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