Minnesota Legislature Just Voted to Take the People Out of Pollution Control [UPDATE]

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UPDATE: On May 23, Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the omnibus ag, environment, and natural resources finance bill, writing in his veto letter that the bill "undermines decades of environmental protections." The fate of the Citizens' Board will be decided in a special session of the legislature.

While the rest of the Twin Cities slept Monday night, the Minnesota legislature quietly snuffed out local control over pollution from factory farms, industrial waste facilities, and mining.

See also: Governor Dayton, Democrats Wuss Out to Mining Interests Over Clean Water

The Citizens' Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is the last line of defense to ensure major development projects won't harm Minnesota's water, air, and land resources. If a project poses a threat to the environment, the board can order an environmental review.

That power was already in the crosshairs of the House agriculture finance bill this session; the bill would have stripped the Citizens' Board of the right to order environmental reviews.

But behind closed doors, a deal took the attack on the Citizens' Board one step further: They did away with the board altogether.

"The Citizens' Board is a way for citizens to get direct access to those who have input and decision-making authority at the agency," says John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "I'm disappointed."

This abrupt death blow to the board, which has been around since 1967, is largely seen as retaliation for an environmental review the group ordered in August 2014.

The subject of the environmental review was a proposed 8,850-cow dairy in Stevens County. The board mandated an Environmental Impact Statement before the project could proceed, and the dairy owner, Riverview LLC, withdrew its proposal instead. Riverview's flight from Stevens County raised a hue and cry from ag industry proponents.

"No other state agency has a citizens' board to make final decisions," the Minnesota Milk Producers Association wrote in April. "This is an extra cost to everyone involved."

As for how the agriculture finance bill changed from weakening the Citizens' Board to axing it completely, those arrangements were made off the legislative floor, far from the prying eyes of citizens and taxpayers. The decision to kill the board was presented to voting members of the House and Senate as a fait accompli. And so it was passed.

It remains to be seen whether Governor Dayton will sign it into law.

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