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Dry cleaners would have first crack at funding under bill

Minnesota dry cleaners could have an easier time accessing a state fund they contribute to each year to cover environmental cleanup projects.

On Thursday, the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee approved HF91, which would give dry cleaner owners and operators the first crack at those funds.

Currently, owners and managers of properties who lease to dry cleaners have an equal shot at accessing that money, even though they do not pay into the fund.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee. Its companion, SF167, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandra), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.

The dry-cleaning process can include chemicals that can pollute and contaminate air, soil and ground and surface water.

A 1995 state law requires the Pollution Control Agency to collect $650,000 annually from dry cleaners to pay for cleanup projects. Dry cleaner owners and operators, and property owners who have leased to dry cleaners, can receive up to $100,000 annually and are reimbursed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Dry Cleaner Fund, which is a special account located within the broader state Remediation Fund, has $213,000 in it, according to Kirk Koudelka, PCA assistant commissioner for land policy and strategic initiatives.

Current reimbursement requests total about $620,000, he said. Just under $200,000 of those requests are from dry cleaner owners and operators.

In addition to changing the funding prioritization for the Dry Cleaner Fund, the bill would use money from the broader Remediation Fund to help dry cleaners. One appropriation would cover reimbursements for dry cleaner owners and operators, and another would create a cost-share program to reimburse cleaners transitioning from perchloroethylene, a likely carcinogen, to environmentally preferable solvents.

The bill would ban the use of perchloroethylene, which is in use at about 20 Minnesota dry cleaners, according to Keith Aune, president of the state Dry Cleaners Association, starting in 2026.

Aune said most cleaners who still use perchloroethylene support the ban, provided they have financial help making the switch to equipment that doesn't use the solvent.

Koudelka said the PCA favors prioritizing the applications of dry cleaner owners and operators but added he doesn't believe that using the broader Remediation Fund to cover dry cleaner projects is necessary.

Lawmakers also said they want to talk about restructuring the Dry Cleaner Fund to take some of the burden off dry cleaner owners and operators. State law requires that dry cleaners pay $650,000 into the Dry Cleaner Fund each year regardless of the number of businesses in operation.

Aune said there are currently about 70% fewer dry cleaners in operation than there was in 1995.

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