DeBuhr to Legislators: Protect the Citizen's Right to be Heard & Informed

Good afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to testify. Some of you may recognize me as I have been here to testify before. Each time as I request my time before your committee, and I am discouraged by staffers from testifying or my time allotted is minimalized, I am reinvigorated in my opposition to the movement to neuter the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens' Board. On several fronts, there are serious flaws to this proposal.

Financially, this move would be a waste of taxpayer’s money as the MPCA Citizens' Board would then be paraded around the state of Minnesota to hear proposals and opposition. Throwing money at this procedure to fix any so-called problem with the Citizens' Board is not a solution. In this bill, the Board will have no decision-making power.

Who benefits from testifying before a board that cannot make a decision one way or the other? This bill is bad for our environment and bad for the state of Minnesota. Please don’t patronize the citizens of the state by creating an expensive, drawn-out process that can have no meaningful outcome. And if you favor small or family farms, then this portion of the bill is not for you. These huge corporate farms are squeezing out and eliminating the smaller and beginning farmers’ chances of having their own operations. The current trend toward locally grown and responsibly raised farm products is gaining momentum with more and more of our citizens. Huge operations and their many expansions do not fit that model.

The citizens of our great state deserve to speak directly to the officials making the decisions that affect the lives of their families, neighborhoods, communities and the entire state. Responsibility for the decisions rests in elected or appointed representatives and these folks have to get the information directly from those affected by the outcomes. Transparency is the latest “buzzword” in politics, but rarely is there true transparency in how decisions are made. The Citizens' Board of the MPCA is a great example of transparency and should be emulated by other state departments, not made into a pacifying front for what is going to be a single person decision, affecting so many aspects of our citizens’ lives.

I have testified several times before the House and Senate Environmental Committees and have traveled 3 ½ hours to and from Saint Paul at my own expense each time, have taken unpaid time off work and from my family, and braved the daunting task of speaking in front of these two committees. Until I began this struggle to save my home and community from the addition of a huge mega dairy factory farm one mile upwind from us, I hadn’t been to the Capitol since my 6th grade class trip. I am awed by the process, the accessibility of lawmakers and the beauty of our Capitol buildings.

On the other hand, my integrity has been questioned by Senators who left just before hearing my testimony, described our family farm as “not real ag” and who questioned the truth of my statements. I have basically been accused of lying about conditions which we currently experience, living six miles from a huge, mega dairy factory. It was implied that I lied about the huge dust problem around the mega dairy by a member of this committee. I submit these photos for your consideration regarding the dust situation.

The proposers actually stated in their Environmental Assessment Worksheet that they mitigate the dust problems during their haylage and silage harvest. I took these pictures last summer during the haylage gathering operation of the mega dairy factory. I sat at a corner near my house and timed five trucks in 32 minutes of the roughly two days it takes to harvest this feed, raising dust and creating a health and safety hazard for all other area residents 24 hours-a-day. And don’t even consider having your windows open on a day like this. This provides an example of how this distant operator has little regard for the people, neighborhood or communities that are affected by the addition of a huge mega dairy.

The two aquifers beneath this area of Stevens County would have a safe life span of no more than 15 to 30 years. Where will the residents get water at that time, and for that matter, where will the huge mega dairy get water for the cows at that time? Please look at the long-term aspects of near-limit hydrogen sulfide exposure, as the Citizens’ Board did in our situation. This is another example of the Citizen’s Board effectively working for the “citizens”—all citizens, not just wealthy corporations posing as family farms.

By the way, the information that I have testified to can be found on the MPCA website under Citizens' Board Minutes from the August meeting.

Thank you again for allowing me to testify. Please keep the Citizen’s Board just as it is. Remember that if it isn’t broke, it doesn’t need to be fixed. This board did just as it should have: examining the effects this proposal would have on the environment and requesting more information. This particular proposal isn’t denied, but more information is being requested.

So I ask you, how can more information before allowing such a large corporate expansion to proceed be a negative thing?

Land Stewardship Project member Kathy DeBuhr lives and farms in Minnesota's Stevens County.