Wastewater Investment Protection Bill Moves to House Floor

A law passed last year to change state wastewater permit rules was not implemented, so a new bill would amend state statutes to put the change into effect.
(Published Mar 5, 2018)

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The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee on Feb. 28 passed HF 2802 (Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitken), a bill that will protect a city’s investment in wastewater infrastructure. The bill will now go to the House Floor to await consideration.

The League-supported bill is necessary even though the same language was passed into law last year. The law enacted last year made changes to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) wastewater permit rules, but those changes were not put in place by the Office of Administrative Hearings. This new bill is essentially the same as the law that was enacted last year, but it makes the change to state statute instead of to state rules.

More protection for city investments
The concept is an extension of regulatory certainty language that was passed into law in 2016. That change allows up to a 20-year period during which improvements are not needed if a wastewater plant adds biological phosphorus removal and includes nitrate/nitrogen removal in their system. The League supported that legislation.

This bill (and the 2017 law) expands on that, saying that if a municipal wastewater treatment facility upgrades or builds a new facility to meet current standards that exceed its previous performance, that significant investment of resources would be considered adequate for 16 years. Currently, if the state updates an environmental standard, municipal wastewater facilities must meet those new requirements relatively quickly, even if they just upgraded their facility.

Largest infrastructure investment
Wastewater and drinking water systems are by far the largest infrastructure investment most communities ever make. To finance these, water and wastewater rates for a residence are often required to be $50-60 per month for each.

A community needs time to pay off that debt before being faced with additional related projects. The language supported by the League extends this infrastructure investment protection to city wastewater facilities, but only if they have made environmental improvements to meet more stringent standards.

Water standards not weakened
This change does not weaken water standards or prevent the state from adopting new standards. If a new environmental standard is approved, facilities that have qualified for this program would need to develop a compliance schedule to meet those limits when their 16-year window expires.

Facilities not under this plan would have a compliance schedule arranged by the MPCA. This bill assures that a sudden change in a standard would not immediately create a new unfunded mandate for unanticipated changes to a city wastewater system that has recently been upgraded.

The Senate version of this bill, SF 2807 (Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne), is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee on March 7.

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