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House passes environment bill
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The St. Croix River is on the list of 'impaired rivers.' (MPR file photo/Matt Thueson)

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) An environment and natural resources bill passed the House 81-50 Wednesday after a provision involving changes to all-terrain vehicle rules was removed.

The ATV provision had been the most controversial portion of the legislation and is likely to be debated in the future as a separate bill.

Several media outlets have recently done stories and editorials ciritical of the House proposal.

"It's yet to be debated, but it's interesting that they didn't want to tackle it today because it's such a contentious issue," said Matt Norton policy analyst for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dennis Ozment, said simply "these are the controversial policy issues" before asking that the provision be removed. In the meantime, the House passed the underlying environment bill that would cut $1.8 million from various agencies and programs for fiscal year 2005.

Among the proposed reductions is $281,000 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, $179,000 from the Zoological Board and $127,000 from the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

Only a handful of initiatives would get new funding, including $70,000 to create a Clean Water Council to coordinate impaired waters activities in Minnesota.

Democrats, however, said that's not enough, much more needs to be done to clean up the state's waters.

"Minnesota is now the land of 10,000 polluted waters," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis. "This bill makes sure we stay on that course."

Republicans say it's the best they can do in a year when they're trying to rid the state of another budget deficit, this time $160 million.

"A vote no on this bill means you do not want to make any progress in Minnesota," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount.

He scolded Democrats for saying his legislation was bad without offering alternatives or saying how they would pay for additional water monitoring.

Other provisions in the bill would:

-Require the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources to continue studying park issues, including operation and maintenance funding.

-Appropriate $50,000 to the Department of Natural Resources to study snowmobile use and funding.

-Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from issuing more turtle sellers licenses in the future than the number issued this year. Experts believe turtle populations recently have been dropping in the state and it takes years to rebuild a turtle population if adults are removed.

The Senate's environmental bill contains different provisions, meaning the two will need to be reconciled in a joint House-Senate conference committee.

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