Dayton Uses Executive Authority to Preserve Citizen Input into MPCA Decisions

Governor Mark Dayton announced on Aug. 4 that he would use his Executive Authority to create a Governors’ Citizens Committee to fill in for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board. Earlier this year, despite a huge outpouring of opposition from rural people, the Minnesota Legislature abolished the 48-year-old Citizens’ Board.

“As regulators make decisions, and enforce our state’s environmental protection laws, Minnesota citizens need and deserve a seat at the table,” said Gov. Dayton, who made the announcement at the annual meeting of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP). MEP is a coalition of over 70 environmental and conservation organizations, including LSP. “I am proud to sign this Executive Order today, and look forward to appointing a group of qualified, committed citizen leaders to carry out this important work,” he added.

The Committee will provide recommendations and advise the MPCA commissioner in four main areas, including:

• Reviewing scoping and adequacy of environmental review documents, including environmental assessment worksheets and environmental impact statements.

• Issuance, reissuance, modification, or revocation of certain permits.

• Adoption or revision of agency rules.

• Requests for a variance from an agency rule.

Land Stewardship Project member and Renville County dairy farmer James Kanne was present for the announcement.

“Governor Dayton knows that rural people want and deserve a say on controversial projects that will impact their community,” said Kanne. “We want decisions made in public by a citizens’ board that isn’t beholden to corporate special interests.”

The legislation to abolish the Citizens’ Board was among the most controversial of the legislative session. The language was inserted into the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill by the conference committee chairs in the last hours of the regular legislative session, thus avoiding meaningful public hearings.

After a public outcry, Dayton vetoed the bill and called for removal of this provision and other significant rollbacks on environmental protection during the special session. The bill initially stalled in the Senate with a strong majority of DFL Senators voting against it. In the end, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was forced to line-up Republican votes to secure passage of the bill during the special session.

The public anger over this issue was apparent just two weeks later on June 23 at the last meeting of the MPCA Citizens’ Board. Over a hundred citizens, farmers, legislators and members of environmental and conservation organizations staged a rally and protest at the MPCA headquarters in Saint Paul.

LSP member Kathy DeBuhr of Chokio attended that protest as well as testifed several times at the capitol on the importance of the Citizens’ Board to rural Minnesotans. Along with her neighbors, she had successfully appealed to the MPCA Citizens’ Board to order an in-depth environmental review on a massive 8,850-cow factory farm dairy in Stevens County.

“I traveled to the state capitol many times from Chokio to tell the Legislature why the Citizens’ Board is important for rural people and that it gives us the chance to have our concerns heard,” said DeBuhr. “Governor Dayton gets it. He’s listening to rural people and I am very grateful for his actions today.”

Governor Dayton also stated during the MEP meeting that he wants to work to restore the statutory authority of the Citizens’ Board during a future legislative session, in effect giving back its ability to approve or reject permits on major developments.

Dayton took questions and addressed a wide range of topics at the MEP meeting, including issues related to water quality and agriculture, as well as frac sand mining. The Governor’s full remarks are available on the UpTake: Dayton Puts Citizens Panel Back In Environmental Policy Decisions.

LSP organizer Bobby King can be reached 612-722-6377 or bking@landstewardshipproject.org.