A Legislator’s View of Minnesota’s Proposed Coal Tar Sealant Ban

Legislation for another state ban of coal tar pavement sealants has now been introduced by the State of Minnesota.  This is the third ban of its kind currently being considered in the US during this legislative season.  Earlier this year, bills were introduced in New York and Michigan.  To date, there hasn’t been a lot of action on these bills, but Minnesota, after a late start, has made some initial progress.

Minnehaha Falls, part of the Minnehaha Watershed District whose 
representative spoke this week in favor of the statewide ban.

This week the proposed ban (HF 1423) was heard by the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.  More on that later.

We had a chance to get some feedback from the lead sponsor of the bill, Representative Rick Hansen.

1.    As the author of this legislation, what or who prompted you to introduce it?
I represent several first-ring suburban Twin Cities communities (Mendota, Lilydale, Mendota Heights, West Saint Paul, and South Saint Paul) where lakes may be negatively impacted by PAHs. I have supported past legislative action that I represent [to] reduce PAHs, which are damaging our environment and are detrimental to public health.
2.    You were formally trained as a biologist and a soils scientist. Has your education enhanced your understanding of the problem of coal tar sealant pollution?
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology from Upper Iowa University and a master’s degree in soil management from Iowa State University. Prior to being elected to the MN House in 2004, I served on the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District.

A major daily paper in the Twin Cities, the Pioneer Press, has cited my education and technical expertise on environmental issues when endorsing me for re-election. So from a scientific perspective I probably have a little a better understanding of the problems that coal tar-based sealants can cause than most state legislators. My experience in local government also gives me a better appreciation of what cities and counties are dealing with on a regular basis.
3.    What economic impact do you expect if this legislation were to pass?
The State of Minnesota first took action to begin reducing the use of coal tar-based sealants in 2009. We passed legislation directing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to study the environmental risks of coal tar-based sealants and develop guidelines for their usage. I also supported legislation that provided grants to local government interested in developing better water management practices and identifying ways to reduce coal tar-based sealants.

Due to the work of local governments and the MPCA coal tar-based sealants generally aren’t sold anymore by Minnesota retailers and many contractors have moved to other types of sealants as well. Certainly, there will be some sort of economic impact, but because of this previous work to discourage the use of coal tar-based sealants I wouldn’t expect there to be a huge impact.
4.    Some jurisdictions around the country have found that the enforcement portions of a ban are a key component of its success. However, the bill, HF 1423, as it is currently written, does not have any enforcement penalties for violators of a ban. Could you explain why this was omitted? Would you consider including it?
As I mentioned in a previous answer, Minnesota retailers and commercial applicators have already begun to move away from coal tar-based sealants. This was change was based on bans by local governments and prodding by the MPCA, my legislation, HF 1423, builds on these efforts to create a consist and uniform ban for the entire state.

In addition to this voluntary move away from coal tar-based sealants by businesses, the MPCA already is empowered in state law to enforce environmental policy, which makes the need for an additional mechanism specific to PAHs unnecessary.
5.    The Minnesota Legislature adjourns at the end of May. Do you see a way for this bill to pass by the end of this session or do you expect it to roll over to the 2014 Session? If so, what are the major roadblocks to overcome?
I am hopeful that HF 1423 will pass this session. My bill already has MN Senate companion bill (SF 1401) has both DFL and GOP sponsors. My guess is the coal tar-based sealants ban that will be included in a larger environmental omnibus bill later this spring.
6.    Additional comments?
I have attached a resolution of support from the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts and some supplemental information from the MPCA. 

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