Speak Up Minnesota: 2021 Environmental Issues Guide
Follow this guide to learn about conservation issues and speak up for nature!
In Minnesota, where we've been able to enjoy gifts like abundant freshwater, rich biodiversity and productive working lands, we also have a tremendous responsibility. We have a responsibility to cherish, respect and take care of the nature that sustains us, so it can sustain future generations as well. That’s why we’re speaking up for nature in Minnesota—and we invite you to join us!
What We're Speaking Up About
Updates from the Capitol
May 13, 2021
With the Minnesota Legislature quickly approaching the constitutionally-directed end of session and a budget deal still out of reach, many Capitol-watchers are speculating that legislators will require a special session. This would continue negotiations beyond May 17 as legislators work to pass the state budget. In the meantime, conference comm...
May 13, 2021
With the Minnesota Legislature quickly approaching the constitutionally-directed end of session and a budget deal still out of reach, many Capitol-watchers are speculating that legislators will require a special session. This would continue negotiations beyond May 17 as legislators work to pass the state budget. In the meantime, conference committees continue to meet and hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of each omnibus bill.
The Legacy omnibus bill—a legislative package that appropriates funds generated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment (including the Clean Water Fund and Outdoor Heritage Funds)—was reviewed by members of the conference committee last week. Without top-line budget guidelines from House and Senate leaders on the total amount the final bill can spend, conferees have not yet started to work out the disparities between the two versions in detail.
Partisan disagreement over the Pollution Control Agency’s vehicle emissions standards (aka ‘Clean Cars’) rule has led to an impasse that creates uncertainty for other proposals in the environment and natural resources omnibus bill. In addition to the Department of Natural Resources budget and spending from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the bill contains an important opportunity to grow Minnesota’s investment in soil health funding and policy.
Conference committee meetings will intensify this week as the regular session deadline draws near. Due to disagreements over omnibus bills, there is a slim possibility of the legislators developing an agreed-to bonding bill (which is often seen as ‘extra’ in budget sessions) before session ends. With many unresolved differences between the House DFL and Senate GOP, legislators seem to be preparing to go into overtime to continue their negotiations.
May 4, 2021
Now that each omnibus bill has received a vote in its house of origin, small groups of select legislators are beginning to meet in conference committees to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of each bill. These committees, made up of five members of each body, are having their first meetings to walk through their assigned bill and identify the differences that must be addressed.
While conference committee members can start reconciling policy differences now, they will be delayed in starting negotiations to settle their differences over funding proposals until they receive budget targets (caps for how much money their bill can spend) from House and Senate leaders. This forthcoming guidance will provide guardrails for the conversations and let conferees know whether they will need to reduce spending in their omnibus bill or if they will be able to put additional resources toward top priorities—like protecting land and water and tackling climate change. Make your voice heard during this process by urging your legislators to speak up for nature!
April 27, 2021
With less than one month before the end of the regular legislative session, lawmakers spent hours in floor sessions that ran late into the night last week to debate and vote on omnibus bills. These bills now move on to conference committees, in which a subgroup of legislators works to reconcile the differences between similar House and Senate bills.
Conference committees will deal with a variety of incongruities between the two versions of each bill. For example, the Legacy omnibus bill committee will need to address different proposals regarding funding for wetland restoration, the adoption of soil health practices, funding for soil and water conservation districts and more. Similarly, conferees for the environment omnibus bill will settle competing ideas on how to appropriate the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (which is money generated by the Minnesota State Lottery).
As legislators meet in conference committees, they’ll negotiate controversial issues, hopefully find compromises and elevate priorities in the final bills. This will be an important time to stay informed and tell lawmakers why investing in conservation and tackling climate change matters to you. Legislators will have to prioritize which causes will ultimately receive funding from limited resources, and public input will be extremely important to make sure nature is a top priority. Sign up for alerts below on key opportunities to speak up for nature!
April 19, 2021
Both the Senate and House successfully passed all omnibus funding bills to their respective finance committees last week, the last step before each bill receives a floor vote—but that’s far from the end for these massive bills. After floor votes on omnibus bills, a few senators and representatives will be selected to form what’s known as a conference committee for each omnibus bill to work out the differences between each body and craft a revised version for consideration.
The House passed its Legacy omnibus bill on a floor vote last week to await conference committee negotiations. Like its counterpart in the Senate that will soon receive a floor vote of its own, this bill allocates dollars from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Clean Water Fund as well as parks and arts funding.
In a bonding package released by the House last week, we were particularly glad to see three items included: $5 million for reforestation, $3.6 million for state tree nursery capacity and $4 million for scientific and natural areas. Reforestation has huge potential in our state as a natural climate solution, so we hope the House and Senate can work together to increase this investment.
Outside of the omnibus bills being considered, the House passed the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act to expand a program that helps Minnesota businesses and households use electricity and natural gas more efficiently. The ECO Act has received bipartisan support in both chambers and is expected to receive a vote on the Senate floor.
This week, the House and Senate will each spend long days on the floor having debates and taking votes on the key omnibus bills. Once they’ve finished this process for a bill and start up conference committees, it will be an important time to speak up and make sure investments in nature survive the negotiation process
April 12, 2021
This week was one of the busiest of the session as legislators rushed to consider omnibus funding bills ahead of Friday’s deadline for committees to act on budget bills. We've picked out a few key takeaways from this jam-packed week.
Spending from the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) and Clean Water Fund (CWF) was included in each chamber’s Legacy omnibus bill. The House and Senate both kept intact the recommendations of the citizen council that reviews requests submitted for the OHF. As for the CWF, senators removed recommended investments in wetlands and cover crops to invest in other priorities in addition to $24 million to fund soil and water conservation districts out of the CWF, rather than the general fund or a new revenue source.
Each body’s Environment omnibus bill invests in forest management technology, but the Senate’s version does not include much-needed funding for tree planting to address Minnesota’s demand for reforestation. We hope to see lawmakers increase funding for reforestation and state tree nurseries in the final bill. The House bill includes some positive steps for soil health, including a goal to see 30 percent of cropland acres in soil health practices by 2030, in addition to funding for farmers to apply such practices.
Several other omnibus bills also included provisions for clean energy and reducing emissions. These bills will now move to their respective chamber’s finance committee before receiving a floor vote. Be sure to contact your legislator to let them know what matters to you. Thanks for speaking up!
March 29, 2021
Legislators are on a weeklong recess for Passover and Easter but before they left, we caught a glimpse of the first omnibus spending bills to come out of the House. Specifically, Representatives unveiled their Legacy funds bill, which would direct dollars from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Clean Water Fund to support conservation projects around the state over the next two years. With a few exceptions, these proposals largely reflect the recommendations of the citizen councils that review requests submitted for each fund. The Clean Water Fund proposal in the House would add several programs benefitting soil health and create a local funding option for soil and water conservation districts. When legislators return on April 6, committees will be working quickly to introduce their omnibus bills ahead of an April 9 deadline for spending legislation.
In addition to these two major sources of funding for conservation, there are several key pieces of legislation we expect to see more of this session. The House and Senate will each be putting together bonding bills, and we’ll continue to elevate the importance of investing in nature through bonding. The House heard a proposal to change and expand the use of the Critical Habitat Match funds, which come from Minnesotans via license plate donations. The Nature Conservancy and many conservation partners submitted a letter highlighting the accomplishments of the Critical Habitat Match program to date, how it works, and the need to continue habitat protection and improvement. The Department of Natural Resources also have a proposal to change and expand the use of funds in the Governor's budget proposal, and we are keeping a close eye to ensure that the funds continue to be used appropriately. The Senate is also considering a bill regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s rulemaking authority. Legislators will convene again on Tuesday, April 6 when their recess concludes—in the meantime, enjoy this spring weather!
March 19, 2021
In light of Minnesota’s rosier-than-anticipated budget forecast for the next biennium, Gov. Tim Walz issued a supplemental proposal last week to tell legislators what he thinks should be done with the $1.6 billion surplus. The Governor’s proposal would use Clean Water Fund dollars to fund for Soil and Water Conservation Districts for two years, instead of a permanent source outside the Clean Water Fund like we'd hoped for. The Governor’s proposal also calls for giving SWCDs the ability to raise funds locally. His proposal notably also includes funding for increased tree planting, technology to improve forest coverage data in the state, and a bonding investment in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which will protect environmentally sensitive lands in the southern and western portions of the state. You can expect more budget news in the coming weeks, as there will be plenty of movement before the end of the session!
After passing the first deadline for policy bills back on March 12, legislators last week were focused on meeting the second deadline by considering bills that had made it through their house of origin. (In other words, the House had to act on bills that met the first deadline in the Senate—and vice versa.) Lawmakers have begun to roll these bills into larger legislative packages known as omnibus bills, which will contain policy changes and appropriations for a wide variety of programs that address our water quality and climate challenges. Following a weeklong spring break starting March 26, these omnibus bills will become the focus for the next phase of the session. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our email list to learn about opportunities to make your voice heard.
March 16, 2021
The House Capital Investment Committee heard proposals to invest in nature last week. Conservation staff from The Nature Conservancy testified in support of three bonding bills to address our climate and water quality challenges by enhancing conservation in our forests, grasslands and other natural areas.
March 8, 2021
As the midpoint of the legislative session approaches, policy discussions are narrowing and top priorities for the rest of the session are emerging.
Lawmakers now have increased flexibility in budget discussions following an updated revenue forecast that projects a surplus of $1.6 billion during the next two-year budget cycle. This could be an opportunity to provide reliable funding to Soil and Water Conservation Districts without diverting resources from the Clean Water Fund, and your voice is crucial to make sure lawmakers spend taxpayer dollars as voters intended. We’re also working to pass legislation that would maximize the impact of the Clean Water Fund by ensuring funds go towards restoring high-priority bodies of water.
Stay tuned later this week when we’ll be testifying in support of three bonding proposals that would help tackle climate change and protect clean water through forests and grasslands. Things can change quickly this time of year, so follow along on Twitter to catch the latest updates.
February 19, 2021
The pressure is on for bills to be heard as the first legislative deadline approaches on March 12! Governor Walz’s updated February forecast will be announced next Friday, which will set the tone for budget conversations the rest of session.
Our team is continuing to work hard on behalf of Minnesota’s forests and soils! Our forest bonding bill—which would invest in crucial forest management practices—was introduced this week in the House and Senate, with Rep. Todd Lippert and Sen. Dave Senjem as chief authors. If you haven’t yet reached out to your own lawmakers about investing in our forests, you can easily do that here.
Soil health remains a hot topic at the Legislature for a variety of reasons, namely for its importance to water quality, carbon storage and reducing land-use emissions. With such widespread support for soil health initiatives, there are understandably a lot of differences in how to approach these proposals. At The Nature Conservancy, we believe that a strong soil health proposal will include cost-share measures, ambitious yet attainable goals, and input from all necessary stakeholders.
We’re advancing nature’s agenda at the Minnesota Legislature and will continue to be your eyes and ears on the inside! We expect we’ll have more to share on soil health next week but for now, head over to nature.org/soil to start familiarizing yourself with the science. And if you're not signed up for action alerts yet, make sure to do that below!
February 5, 2021
The Minnesota Legislature has been busy this week reviewing Governor Walz’s budget proposal in committee hearings. We are especially excited about the natural climate solutions tools funded in the Governor’s proposal. These tools include tree planting for climate action, clean water and climate resiliency, and sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. Going forward, it will be important to maintain momentum on these proposals, so the legislature adopts them in their budget discussions.
The House bonding committee dedicated two hearings this past week to highlight the intersection of climate change and infrastructure funding. Referencing our recent natural climate solutions report, our Government Relations Manager Stephanie testified in Thursday’s hearing on the important impact nature-based bonding projects can have on Minnesota’s changing climate.
An unresolved issue in the Governor’s budget proposal is how the state will fund Minnesota’s network of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs). These are critical conservation partners doing on-the-ground work in clean water, and their funding source is unclear in the Governor’s proposal. Check out an opportunity below to speak up in support of stable funding for SWCDs!
January 30, 2021
We were excited to see that the Governor’s proposal included some important natural climate solutions tools: $2.6 million for Minnesota DNR tree planting, $5.5 million for the Board of Water and Soil Resources to help farmers access cover crops, $3 million for a climate program to store more water on land and $3 million to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for a climate adaptation and resiliency program. While we know that we’ll need much more investment in nature-based solutions to achieve long-term sustainability, this is an important first step and we applaud the Governor for it!
Some items we think are especially important:
Tree Planting for Climate Action
Of the many items included in the Governor’s proposal, we at The Nature Conservancy were especially pleased to see $2.6 million allocated for tree planting, with the explicit goal of storing more carbon in the ground. This represents a big shift in how our state responds to climate change, as many of our lawmakers are starting to realize how natural climate solutions can benefit Minnesota. Plus, tree planting = healthy water! While we know stronger investments will be needed, we’d like to give Walz a virtual high-five for including this important funding in his budget proposal.
Clean Water and Climate Resiliency
We were also pleased to find $3 million in the proposal for a water storage program as severe rain events become more common in our state, and $3 million to help cities plan to be more resilient in the face of climate change. Issues with water quality and quantity are on the rise and we need to leverage nature as a tool for climate resiliency. Leveraging our lands and preparing cities to be ready to handle more stormwater is a big win for Minnesota! We’d like to see these figures increase, but for now, we’re just celebrating this made it into the general fund. We are glad the Governor recognizes the importance of resiliency as Minnesota adapts to climate change.
Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture
We know that in order to get cover crops and other soil health practices on more farms across the state, incentives that make it easier for farmers to adopt practices is crucial. That’s why our team was glad to see $5.5 million proposed for cost-share programs that would incentivize farmers to plant cover crops. We’re especially pleased to see this included in the proposal because we know that soil health practices benefit both water quality and carbon storage—and helps farmers improve their soil.
While a lot can happen between now and the end of the session in May, we are encouraged by these climate-focused proposals and are hopeful our legislators can work together to make a greater investment in Minnesota’s nature a reality.
January 21, 2021
The 2021 Minnesota legislative session began quietly earlier this month, but things are now picking up!
Right now, we know that the legislature’s focus will be on pandemic response and passing a state budget. And we’re hopeful we’ll have a say in how much of that budget can be invested in nature and in our future. Governor Tim Walz is expected to release his proposed state budget early next week, at which point we’ll be digging through the details and looking for investments in natural climate solutions, clean water protection and Forests for the Future. Make sure you’re signed up for alerts below to get the latest info on environmental policy in Minnesota.
December 22, 2020
The year is soon coming to a close and so, too, is the Our Mississippi Our Future campaign. Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere! But we are thinking bigger for 2021 and the years ahead, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of remaining committed and resilient in the face of big challenges. The future that we desire and deserve depends on us getting and staying engaged with the civic process, whether it’s election season or not. And while we recognize we’re living in pretty divisive times, we know that nature has the power to unite us!
We also know that nature has the power to help solve some of our greatest challenges which is why, starting in 2021, you can expect to hear from us about an even wider range of environmental topics and how you can speak up! We hope you’ll stay tuned and join us as we learn about and advocate on behalf of these important issues.
But for now, I hope you’re taking a well-deserved rest. Sit back, relax and reflect on all we accomplished despite a challenging year, because we’ll need more of that energy in 2021. More to come!
Tackle Climate Change
Climate change is here and already impacting Minnesota communities, lands and waters. And despite our warming winters and severe storms, Minnesota is leading the Midwest through its state emissions reductions targets. We have already reduced emissions by more than 10%— but it’s not enough. We failed to meet our 2015 target, and we’re not on track for 2025, either. The Nature Conservancy is taking firm action to reduce our emissions while helping nature and communities adapt.
Because nature is our first line of defense against many climate impacts, we are working to create systems that store more carbon through natural processes. We are working to incentivize public and private landowners to use practices that store more carbon. This includes activities like tree planting, soil health practices on agricultural lands, and protecting and restoring our grasslands, wetlands and peatlands.
We are also encouraging the state to enable greater resiliency through nature-based adaptation. These practices will prepare natural landscapes for climate change, as well as buffering communities from the worst floods, droughts and other climate impacts.
More on Climate Change in MN
How is climate change affecting Minnesota?
Climate change is already having an enormous impact on our waters, lands, wildlife and people. It's showing up in the form of droughts and dying trees, extreme weather and flooding events, and the compounded effects of both in far too many Minnesota waterways. Read more about climate change in Minnesota.
What are natural climate solutions?
Natural climate solutions are conservation, restoration and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in landscapes and wetlands across the globe. Combined with clean energy and other decarbonization efforts, natural climate solutions offer some of our best options in the response to climate change.
What is nature-based adaptation?
Nature-based adaptation (NBA) refers to nature-based tactics to facilitate adaptation in nature for both biodiversity and people who rely on these systems. These can take the form of a rain garden at your neighborhood park or an assisted migration planting in a local forest. Check out a cool example of NBA in this story about climate-proofing our prairies.
Build Sustainable Food Systems
Farming is a proud Minnesota tradition, and it’s important that we protect our farmland and retain our leadership within the industry. Where state funding is required, it is critical that we maximize our return on investment towards protecting our air, water and soil, as well as our communities and agriculture economy.
We’re working with state agencies to develop innovative projects that will improve impaired waters and prevent further degradation, as well as make sure farmers have the resources they need to implement solutions.
We know that soil health improves productivity, water quality, biodiversity and public health outcomes, but many farmers experience financial and technical barriers to implementing these practices. We need lawmakers' help to drive incentives that will improve soil health on agricultural lands.
Dig Into Sustainable Ag in MN
What is the current footprint of the agriculture industry?
More than half of Minnesota's lands are currently in agricultural production, and the vast majority of them don't employ practices that regenerate the health of the soil. That means an outsized risk of erosion and runoff to Minnesota's waters. But it also presents an opportunity to leverage these agricultural landscapes to work better with nature's systems. Learn more about sustainable agriculture in Minnesota.
What are soil health practices?
Practices that sequester carbon, increase organic matter and ultimately improve the biological, physical and chemical function of the soil are generally referred to as soil health practices. These include cover crops, reduced tillage, diversified crop rotation, improved nutrient management and edge-of-field strategies that help farms more efficiently hold water and carbon dioxide.
How can we better support farmers and rural communities?
Agencies like the Board of Water and Soil Resources, National Resources Conservation Service, local soil and water conservation districts and partner efforts like All Acres for Our Water all support farmers and ranchers who want to make their operations more sustainable. We must ensure adequate funding for these important players!
Protect Healthy Lands and Waters
Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, forests and grasslands are critical for wildlife habitat, water quality and carbon storage. They're also important for the activities we treasure, such as camping, hunting and birding.
We know that these resources can’t protect themselves, they need our help! The Nature Conservancy is helping to protect dedicated state investments in natural resources (like the Legacy Amendment), and we're working to increase state investments in natural resources through other funding sources.
The Nature Conservancy has long been in the business of protecting important natural areas. As Minnesota's climate changes, these places will become even more important as wildlife increasingly rely on these natural highways and neighborhoods to move away from climate threats.
Learn About Protection Work
Does protected land contribute to the economy?
Yes! Many of Minnesota's more remote and rural communities depend on hikers, hunters and birders passing through their towns, buying fuel, eating at taverns and purchasing those oft-forgot last-minute supplies. We cannot have healthy, prosperous societies if we don’t protect the natural systems on which they depend. Read more in Closing the Nature Funding Gap.
Isn't our water pretty clean already?
A lot of people are surprised to learn that more than half of Minnesota's waters are considered impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The Mississippi River headwaters area is one of special concern for The Nature Conservancy, as this region provides drinking water for about 2.5 million Minnesotans.
What is the Legacy Amendment?
In 2008, voters in Minnesota passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which continues to provide supplemental funding for clean water, parks and trails as well as the arts. Explore places we've protected using Outdoor Heritage funding through the Legacy Amendment.
Actions You Can Take Right Now
Sign up to receive action alerts from TNC in Minnesota so you can stay in the know about issues you care about. We’ll send you timely alerts about what’s happening at the Capitol and how you can speak up for nature!