Legislation has little chance of passage; Range legislators say they’re making a point
ST. PAUL - Several northern Minnesota legislators have co-authored a House bill that would nullify all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the state. But they don’t expect the measure to pass.
The bill (House File 3094) does not have a companion measure in the state Senate and has been referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee in the House.
Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, doesn’t even want the bill approved even though he is a co-author of the legislation.
“This is just about sending the EPA a message,” said Anzelc. “We just want the EPA to be more cooperative and communicative. We don’t want to roll back all EPA regulations.”
Anzelc cited the EPA’s resistance to changing Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard as part of lawmakers’ frustration with the federal agency. The standard, enacted in 1973, limits sulfate pollution to 10 milligrams per liter in waters used for the production of wild rice during times when wild rice is susceptible to harm.
State lawmakers introduced proposals to raise the standard to 50 and even 250 parts per million, but were thwarted when the EPA signaled it would reject any legislatively-imposed standard without science to support the move.
Instead the Legislature funded new studies of the sulfate standard. A preliminary analysis of the study was released earlier this month, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said more data analysis is needed before it makes any recommendation.
Other Iron Range legislators who have signed on to the bill include David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, and Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia.
Environmentalists expressed concern over the legislation.
“This seems to have PolyMet written all over it,” said John Doberstein, a volunteer with the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club. “The mining proponents aggressively attack any regulations, state or federal, that are going to harm this project.”
Both Metsa and Dill say PolyMet didn’t motivate the bill. The legislation is simply intended to send a message to the EPA. Dill, who chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, added it’s unlikely the bill will be heard this session.
The bill’s chief author Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, is an outspoken critic of federal regulation. Republican co-authors are Rep. Joe McDonald, Delano, and Rep. Bud Nornes, Fergus Falls.
Franson claims she introduced the bill because she’s concerned that new EPA standards that will require wood stoves to burn cleaner emissions could hurt Minnesotans.
“It’s a gesture to the public and to the EPA,” she said. “Washington doesn’t understand our way of life.”
The EPA says the new regulations won’t impact wood burners already in use.
Franson’s bill isn’t the first to attempt to usurp the EPA’s authority. Both Arizona and Idaho state legislators introduced similar legislation this year. Idaho, however, unanimously agreed to return its bill to committee after an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion found that the bill was clearly unconstitutional.
Legislators cite the Tenth Amendment in making their case for denying the EPA’s authority. The amendment, which grants state governments all powers not expressly given to the federal government, has frequently been championed by conservatives on issues ranging from health care reform to gun control.
But that argument has failed in the courts. Although the Tenth Amendment gives states any powers not given to the federal government, two sections of the Constitution grant the federal government wide-sweeping powers.
The interstate commerce clause gives the government the right to regulate commerce. Meanwhile, the necessary and proper clause allows the federal government to pass any laws necessary to carry out its other powers.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that view in several cases in the early to mid-20th century, stating that the Tenth Amendment was a promise that the federal government would respect the states, but that it had essentially no legal power.