Addressing unprecedented declines in bee populations, finding ways to improve municipal wastewater treatment plants, and slowing the spread of invasive carp are among the top priorities in a $28.9 million environmental spending package approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.
As expected, the committee hewed to the recommendations of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which earlier winnowed the original 192 proposals down to 71 projects. The programs are funded by proceed from the Minnesota Lottery.
“Pollinators came out the big winners,” said Nancy Gibson, the chairwoman of the LCCMR.
Concerns about declines among pollinators — and the dire implications for agricultural production and natural systems — have captured the attention of lawmakers over the last two years.
All told, six pollinator-related projects garnered about $2.25 million in funding under the LCCMR recommendations. The largest grant — $864,000 — is dedicated to enhancing habitat for European honey bees and other native pollinators. That project will be spearheaded by the University of Minnesota’s renowned entomologist and bee expert, Marla Spivak.
A separate U of M proposal, which will examine the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on native bumble bees, garnered $326,000.
The recommendations also include a $625,000 grant to help out another group of imperiled pollinators, prairie butterflies. That money, which will be divvied up between the U and the Minnesota Zoo, will fund a captive breeding program for two species on the verge of extinction, the Powesheik skipperling and the Dakota skipper.
Finally, with the aim of fostering greater awareness about the importance of these insects’ welfare, the package provides $615,000 for a $3.5 million Pollinator Education Center to be developed at the U’s Landscape Arboretum.
“We were interested in not just protecting bees but also our native pollinators,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, the vice chair of the LCCMR. “The next biggest thing was to make our wastewater treatment systems more effective.”
The largest of those appropriations,
$1 million, will go to a University of Minnesota research and development project that aims to convert scum — particulate substances skimmed from wastewater plant settling tanks — into biodiesel. Currently, such residues are either buried in landfills or incinerated.
In a similar vein, the U will receive $400,000 for a pilot project in Waseca to transform two environmental liabilities from farm country — pig manure and wastewater from sugar beet processing plants — into a high-quality biofuel called biohythane.
Other projects related to wastewater account for about $1.7 million in the proposal, including a $300,000 triclosan study. A bill to ban triclosan, a common antibacterial agent in soaps and other household products that can turn into dioxin after passing through wastewater treatment, has stalled at the Legislature this session.
In an effort to slow the further spread of invasive carp, the LCCMR allocated $854,000 to the U’s Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. The first phase of the project calls for the immediate installation of an “acoustic deterrent system” at Lock and Dam No. 8 on the Mississippi River.
It is hoped that bighead and silver carp, which have been steadily moving up the Mississippi River into Minnesota waters, will be repelled by the five high amplitude transducers placed in the lock chamber. Other parts of the project will focus on the best methods to manipulate the water flow at the locks and dams to discourage further upstream movement of the fish.
Last month, the House of Representatives approved the LCCMR package by a vote of 100 to 31. Wagenius said she expected it would pass the Senate with little trouble.
“I don’t think there is going to be any fighting over the bill,” said Wagenius, noting that LCCMR spent “a huge amount of time” weighing the proposals and coming to agreement.
“When it was finally voted on, it was voted on by consensus,” she said. “That hasn’t always been the case.”
The LCCMR will now scrutinize 152 projects that have been submitted for 2015. Those proposals, totaling $126 million, will compete for an estimated $44 million in available dollars.
Among the wide-ranging requests:
$40 million for land acquisition, $24 million for projects targeting invasive species (including $14.9 million to establish a Terrestrial Invasive Species Center at the University of Minnesota), and $12.9 million for projects related to climate change, air quality and renewable energy.
Bee advocates and carp-haters will be back, too. The U is seeking $790,000 for a Minnesota Native Bee Atlas to recruit citizen-scientists for a statewide survey, as well as $225,000 to foster the development of pollinator-friendly habitats in cities and towns. The DNR, meanwhile, is requesting $4.9 million for its invasive carp action plan.
McLeod County, meanwhile, is seeking $3.4 million for a regional mattress recycling program.