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Minnesota has 109 toxic sites in waiting; Republicans want to swipe the cleanup cash

With $1 billion left after this legislative session, Republicans want to divert the entirety of the landfill maintenance trust to non-environmental projects.

With $1 billion left after this legislative session, Republicans want to divert the entirety of the landfill maintenance trust to non-environmental projects.

Back in 1991, the 225-acre Pine Bend Landfill in Inver Grove Heights started leaking decomposed trash into the groundwater of nearby neighborhoods. About 50 people within a one-mile radius were living off their wells and drinking water that had percolated through all sorts of nastiness.

The Environmental Protection Agency swooped in, gave everyone bottled water for a while, and eventually got them connected to city water lines. To this day, the groundwater near the Pine Bend Landfill is toxic, and regulators check in every once in a while to see where it's migrated.

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This is the fear of residents living near landfills.

Yet the final version of an environmental finance bill proposes raiding $66 million from the state's landfill emergency funds, $8.1 million of which would never be paid back.

That $8.1 million belongs to the metro landfill fund, an insurance policy for the state's two largest landfills, Pine Bend and Burnsville. The remaining $58 million would be "borrowed" for the general fund, where it could be rerouted for non-environmental purposes and returned in November.

That is, if it's not raided again, says Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. In 2010, when Minnesota had a budget deficit, some $40 million was removed from the emergency landfill funds. It was supposed to be paid back this year. Instead, Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), chair of the environment and agriculture committee, wants to take even more out.

"Why are we raiding funds that are dedicated for environmental protection and using it for other purposes?" Morse wants to know. "To us, it's a bigger problem of 25 percent of our environmental budget disappearing this year."

That emergency money was dedicated to fixing inevitable leaks, says Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). It's not a matter of if a landfill will fail, but when. In future years, the 109 closed landfills across the state will break down in some form or another. The liners will breach, the covers get worn.

"If there's some emergency that arises between now and when the fund gets paid back, that would be a monumental concern," Atkins says. "If there was some major fire or detected leak that was putting toxins in somebody's groundwater, there wouldn't be money to pay it."

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