The first committee meetings of a new session are often simply for the purpose of making introductions of members and staff, and setting forth committee protocol. After introductions, Chair Jean Wagenius (D-Minneapolis) of the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, asked the committee members to share issues of concern. Members cited ground water/drought, invasive species, reduced federal funding to the State for some agriculture programs, out-of-date State agriculture materials and the lack of a communication and data system for conservation officers to use with repeat violators. Particularly noteworthy was Representative David Dill (D-Crane Lake), who chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, who commented that the State’s largest private land holder, unhappy about recent tax decisions, was threatening to cut off public access to its 300,000+ acres of timberlands.
Chair Wagenius indicated that the next committee meetings would deal with water quality and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and that members could expect a heavy load of hearings. She also informed the committee that there would be joint informational meetings with the Capital Investment and Legacy committees.
Some political rancor, which may be a harbinger of things to come, was evident at last week’s House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee. Several committee members actively farm (such as Representatives Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), Rick Hansen (D-South St. Paul) and Paul Torkelson (R-Nelson Township)) and others, like Representative Jeanne Poppe (D-Austin), coming from heavily agricultural districts, were clearly unhappy about agriculture and environment/natural resources being combined into a single committee, and being chaired by an urban legislator. To make the point, during the meeting Representative Jeanne Poppe (D-Austin) publicly corrected Chair Wagenius for using the acronym FAA (“Federal Aviation Administration”) when she should have used FFA (“Future Farmers of America”). In addition, Representative Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) confronted Chair Wagenius about a Republican member who had been removed from the committee, and Representative Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), who chaired the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee for the last two years when the Republicans held the majority, questioned Wagenius' involvement in creating the Governor's natural resource budget.