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Energy, agriculture and commerce conferees size up contrasts in House, Senate bills

Rep. Patty Acomb and Sen. Nick Frentz confer May 14 before convening the agriculture, commerce, energy, utilities, environment and climate conference committee. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)
Rep. Patty Acomb and Sen. Nick Frentz confer May 14 before convening the agriculture, commerce, energy, utilities, environment and climate conference committee. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)

As conference committee reports go, the one dealing with energy, agriculture and commerce is quite the combo platter. Not only will it send appropriations from multiple funds into projects in three different subject areas, but it doubles as a policy bill.

On Tuesday, the conference committee putting together the agriculture, energy and commerce finance and policy bill compared the House and Senate versions, and heard testimony from stakeholders who often expressed preferences for one approach over the other.

The 10 conferees are entrusted with finding common ground between HF4975, sponsored by Rep. Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka), and SF4942, sponsored by Sen. Nick Frentz (DFL-North Mankato).

In comparing the spreadsheets for energy, commerce and agriculture, the numbers are fairly comparable, with each body clinging closely to the agreed-upon budget targets for their areas. But policy choices will have to be made, especially in the areas of permitting reform for electric transmission, seeking a federal waiver to create a health care public option, and use of fertilizer fees.

Climate and energy

The House bill includes $1.1 million more in appropriations than the Senate, most of it coming from the Renewable Development Account. That state-administered account is designed to support renewable energy projects and is made up of money that Xcel Energy pays to the state for being able to store nuclear waste at its Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear power plants.

Conference Committee on S.F. 4942 - Omnibus Ag, Commerce and Energy supplemental - Part 1 - 05/14/24 (Video courtesy Minnesota Senate Media Services)

The House recommends spending $14.2 million from that account for the current biennium, the Senate $13.6 million. The two chambers agree on the biggest-ticket items, but the Senate wants to channel $6 million to a geothermal energy system for Minneapolis’ Sabathani Community Center, while the House calls for $5 million. The House and Senate have identical $5 million appropriations for an anaerobic digester energy system for Ramsey and Washington counties that will be located in Louisville Township, although the Senate bill calls for $5 million in the next biennium.

The House bill would allocate $2.5 million from the account for geothermal energy system grants, while the Senate would instead apportion $1.5 million for geothermal heat exchange rebates. The House would also use $1.7 million from the Renewable Development Account plus $500,000 in General Fund dollars to promote a Solar APP+ software program designed to help municipalities transition to solar energy.

The House bill would also send $588,000 from the General Fund to the Public Utilities Commission to facilitate permitting reform measures designed to streamline the process of getting renewable energy projects hooked up to the electrical grid, something absent from the Senate bill.

[MORE: View side-by-side comparisons for energy policy, transmission and environmental review]


In this area, the monetary difference between the two bills is relatively slight, as the House and Senate come in $29,000 apart in total allocations.

The two chambers agree on providing in the current biennium:

  • $5.5 million to the Department of Health for substance use treatment, prevention and recovery grants;
  • $2.7 million to the Office of Cannabis Management for enforcement purposes, product testing and a reference lab; and
  • $1.85 million from a special revenue fund to beef up the Commerce Department’s insurance fraud efforts.

The chief appropriation differences between the two bills occur in the tails.

In the 2026-27 biennium, the House would like to allocate $1.7 million to the attorney general’s office to enforce the Minnesota Consumer Data Privacy Act, while the Senate opts instead for $1.6 million. And the Senate bill includes $94,000 in the next biennium for copper metal licensing and enforcement.

Both bills contain new regulations on consumer data privacy. And the House bill contains language that would set in motion a request for a federal waiver to begin implementing a public option health care plan.

Conference Committee on S.F. 4942 - Omnibus Ag, Commerce and Energy supplemental - Part 2 - 05/14/24 (Video Courtesy Minnesota Senate Media Services)

[MORE: View the side-by-side comparisons for commerce policy and consumer data privacy]


Both the House and Senate versions would direct about $3 million to help communities in southeastern Minnesota affected by nitrate contamination in their drinking water, with the House working primarily through the Department of Agriculture and the Senate through the Department of Health.

There would be additional money for soil health equipment grants in both bills.

A big difference between the bills is the use of a 40-cent per ton fee on fertilizer. About $1.3 million raised by the fee funds the Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Council, whose purpose is to offer research and education on soil fertility.

Some argue the council promotes clean water by helping farmers reduce fertilizer use. However, House members in favor of redirecting the funds say the council focuses on improving production, not necessarily the environment.

The House would continue funding the council through fiscal year 2026 and then redirect the fertilizer fee to a new private well-water assistance account. The Senate would extend the council through fiscal year 2035.

The Senate bill would also appropriate $300,000 for grants to get equipment that could help prevent the spread of avian flu, $75,000 for elk damage payments, and $50,000 to study agricultural land trends.

House-only policy provisions would limit reselling or leasing soil health equipment bought with help from state grants and require recipients to receive water quality certification. Others would increase limits on Rural Finance Authority Loans by $100,000 and require more stringent labeling on honey.

Senate-only policy provisions would expand the definition of sustainable aviation fuels; require the Agriculture Department to establish anonymous ways to report violations of corporate and alien farm law; and require a report on labeling cell-cultured meat.

[MORE: View the side-by-side comparisons for agriculture policy and broadband]

The committee has plans to meet again on Wednesday.

— Session Daily writers Margaret Stevens and Tim Walker contributed to this story.


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