ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Hundreds gathered at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday to hear Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton push for stronger water quality protections in the state, a marquee issue for the governor in his final term.
At the same time, a small group of lawmakers, eight Republicans and two Democrats, met across the street from the Capitol to begin work on an environmental budget bill that blends the Senate and House versions passed earlier in the session.
The bill could include several measures that evoked strong responses from environmentalists and Democrats when they were first introduced, including provisions that would make it harder for the Department of Natural Resources to buy land for conservation efforts and a northern Minnesota replacement pipeline that Dayton has already said he would veto.
The canceling of the proposed Sandpiper pipeline project — which Republicans said was opposed by "environmental extremists" — has become a GOP talking point to highlight what they say is the governor's practice of hiding behind state regulatory bodies and rules to push his environmental agenda. Republican lawmakers believe shutting down projects like Sandpiper is robbing rural Minnesota residents of vital property taxes and jobs.
Republicans are also working on the suspension of water quality standards and want to remove money from the clean water fund. Those two pieces of legislation came into direct conflict with the hundreds of Minnesota residents who gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to support water quality standards.
"The voices being heard here at the state Capitol do not represent all the voices of Minnesota," Dayton said, adding that business interests and lobbying groups have hijacked the conversation on environmental issues.
Democratic Rep. Rick Hansen said the diverse crowd from all over state at the event was encouraging. When lawmakers debate environmental issues, he said, they often divide Minnesota residents by saying that rural residents are hurt by stronger environmental regulations.
The South St. Paul lawmaker said GOP legislators want to limit citizen input on environmental issues.
Dayton's strong opposition to regulatory rollbacks means it's likely that many of the environmental provisions that Republican legislative leaders bring to negotiations with the governor could face the threat of a veto.
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