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Why do Minnesotans put up with this?

On June 23rd, the MPCA “Citizens’ Board” held its last meeting, the board having been abolished by the Minnesota Legislature with the consent of Governor Mark Dayton.

Some very smart, well-informed people must have written the environmental laws of Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Citizens’ Board seems to have been designed to keep the MPCA from becoming overly bureaucratic, self-serving, and too closely tied to the interests it was supposed to regulate.  These, of course, are the normal evolutionary tendencies of a regulatory agency, kept down only by constant effort.  No wonder the Chamber and “big-ag,” etc, wanted the Citizens’ Board gone.

Back to the June 23rd meeting, in the basement boardroom of the MPCA, beginning at 9:00 am and ending about 6:30 pm. What I observed, having been there all day, seemed rather different from the media reports I have seen.  No need, however, to take my word for anything.  You can see many of the documents and watch video of the meeting here. Continue Reading →

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Why the Minnesota Legislature does not care (much) what you think

Devil[1]This is NOT a photo of Senator Tom Bakk

The title is from press coverage of a paper by Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University.  It’s written in dense political science lingo but the bottom line from the abstract is clear:

“…economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Is the picture different in Minnesota and other states and localities?  Doubtful.

The current session of the MN Legislature is supposed to wind up Monday, May 18th, at midnight.  At least from an environmental perspective, this has been one of the most miserable sessions one can imagine.  Environmental protections are being rolled back left and right, with relatively little public awareness.  Do Minnesotans *want* more pollution in their air and water, and the resulting death and disease?  Do they *want* accelerating climate change?  Not likely, but nobody is asking the people, and only a few are informing the people.

Still, negotiations continue, and will continue at least up to midnight on Monday.  The time is now to call Governor Dayton (651-201-3400), your Senator, and your Representative.  Find their contact info here.   It could be that the best way to reach the Governor is his Facebook page: .   Also, contact one of his policy advisors at, or call, (651-201-3400), or use this email contact form.

Corporate media minimizing public awareness

Example from this weekend:  It is announced that mining interests on the Iron Range are getting one of their key objectives — legislative blocking of enforcement of the Clean Water Act.  Both sides have reason to cover their tracks by calling it a “compromise.”  But it’s not a compromise.  It is a rollover.  Minnesota Public Radio reports it this way “Iron Range legislators, Dayton reach compromise over sulfate standards for wild rice.”  But this is a lie.  An honest lead would say something like “Iron Range legislators prevail, Dayton rolls, Clean Water Act not to be enforced….”  How much does this matter?  By itself, maybe not so much.  The Clean Water Act is rarely enforced in Minnesota.  But considering that MPR misrepresents events as a matter of course, and many people likely regard MPR as a reliable source, the cumulative damage has got to be substantial.   Why?  Darkside interests have worked for a long time to reduce public funding for “public” broadcasting, to make it more dependent on industrial funding.  There are probably few bad actors interests who don’t throw a little money at the “public” broadcasting system in order to buy favorable coverage.

For another take on this, see “Establishment Journalists Pride Themselves on Staying on the Official Rails.”

Now, what about reporting on the Legislature?  People and orgs who lobby, and reporters who depend on sources being cooperative, tend to be economical with truth that might piss people off.  If one lobbies legislators–and I’ve done my share of that–naturally one doesn’t want to annoy them, or to give the impression, however true it might be, that the Legislature is a pay-to-play setup where citizens voices mean little much of the time.   People, likely starting out with the best of intentions, get drawn into the system.  (This is not to say that lobbying isn’t useful.  It is.  But not usually for informing the public.)

Bad examples close to home

“My” two legislators, Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Matt Schmit, get dishonorable mention here, because they treat me with disregard and contempt anyway, so what-do-I-have-to-lose?  Neither, to my recollection, have ever responded to an email, a letter, or a phone call.  Kelly got into office, defeating an incumbent, by bombarding the district with “independent” mailings saying different versions of “She voted to raise your taxes!!!!”  That was bullshit, but he got in with it, and incumbents have so many advantages they are hard to get rid of.  Matt Schmit, Senator, moved into the district to run and got in by defeating another incumbent, John Howe.  Howe was likely one of the few reasonable Republicans left in office.  Neither Schmit nor Kelly are the worst members.

In this session, Kelly, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, has distinguished himself by blocking action to protect Minnesotans from the dangers posed by unit crude oil trains (“bomb trains”) that run through Red Wing, through his district.  Schmidt has been one of the few DFL senators to vote for “dirty water” bills and amendments.  Both have been involved in promoting the City of Red Wing’s garbage incineration scams.  Schmit, in his emails, has been promoting SF 2101, a bill intended to promote more ethanol production and more forest incineration.  It’s the single worst bill I’ve ever seen in Minnesota.  Pathetically, mainstream “enviro” interests are also supporting it. Why?  Do they really think Minnesota needs more ethanol plants?  More polluting “biomass” burners.  Are they insane?

But the most telling thing was to see Kelly and Schmidt appearing side by side at a Town Hall Meeting a few weeks ago.  Dodging, weaving, and bullshitting, Schmidt gabbing and Kelly mostly silent, they didn’t tell the audience anything accurate or useful, and gave observers the impression that the Republicans and the DFL present a united front against the people.  These two, like so many, are political operatives, not representatives.  Of course, not all members of the Legislature are like this, many of both parties do try to represent the best interests of their constituents, and are responsive to communications.

Did you vote for higher utility bills? Most of “your” legislators did.

There are bills to gut regulation of electric utilities–SF 1735 (Marty) and HF 843 (Garofolo).  Attorney General Lori Swanson writes (read the whole letter here):

I am a proponent of strong regulatory oversight for public utilities.  This Office has testified against this bill (as well as telephone deregulation initiatives) in multiple committee hearings in both the state Senate and the House this year. … While my Office can testify in opposition to legislation–as we have repeatedly done here–I do not get to vote on such initiatives….I strongly encourage you to share your views with members of the state legislature.”

I heard three people testify against this: Utility regulatory attorney Carol A. Overland (Legalectric), James Canaday from the AG’s office, and myself.  Most of the funded, lobbying, “environmental” and “energy advocacy” orgs were present, and they were silent.  SILENT!

Only four senators voted against this obscenity:  Bruce D. Anderson, David M. Brown, Julianne E. Ortman, and Dave Thompson.

In the House, HF 843 passed 73 to 56.  The vote is here.

Closing with this action alert from Land Stewardship Project (lightly edited):

We need Governor Mark Dayton to ready his veto pen to stop backroom deals adopted late Saturday night.

The Minnesota Legislature decided that instead of weakening the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board, it will outright ELIMINATE it. This outrageous idea, which was not introduced as a bill or heard previously in any legislative committee, was unveiled late Saturday night and promptly adopted in conference committee in a backroom deal. The Citizens’ Board was established in 1967 with the creation of the MPCA, to ensure the agency serves the public interest and to establish an open and transparent decision making process. It has worked well and is a model the state should be proud of. [Not so.  The Citizens’ Board is 90 percent rubber stamp, but that doesn’t justify getting rid of it.  That ten percent is worth something.]

This effort to eliminate the Citizens’ Board is driven by corporate interests who want to make it more difficult for citizens to have their voices heard. This language is included in the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill, along with many other bad provisions, including a sham buffer strip proposal that puts off addressing the serious issue of agricultural runoff polluting our water. […]

Calls are needed to Governor Dayton at 651-201-3400 or 800-657-3717. The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at midnight on Monday, May 18, so calls must be made immediately. Negotiations are ongoing and around the clock, so make this call after you read this e-mail.

SUGGESTED MESSAGE: “The Agriculture and Environment Budget bill ELIMINATES the MPCA Citizens’ Board. […] This entirely new outrageous proposal was adopted late at night in conference committee. I know officials from the MPCA have made it clear to the Legislature that they oppose this provision, yet the Legislature persisted. The Legislature was fairly warned, and for the good of Minnesota you should veto this bill.”

OK, so it’s noon on Monday and the Legislature has 12 hours to go.  Time to get on the horn…..especially to the Governor.  With the Leg gone to Hell, Dayton’s veto powers are the main hope.  Bills especially needing veto:  SF 2101 (“bioeconomy”), and SF 1735/HF 843 (electric deregulation).

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Citizens’ Board does a good thing; Powers of Darkness push back; Action Alert

Feedlot Action Alert, and: Update: “Strange nonsense at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (and the MPCA)”

In June I did a post critical of the MN Environmental Quality Board and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, suggesting that the environment of Minnesota isn’t being protected very well.  The email of this post had a higher readership than any other I’ve written.  One friend called it “very depressing.”  It garnered me some disapproving looks from EQB and Citizens’ Board members.  What’s happened since?

(The rest of this post relates to the MPCA and it’s Citizens’ Board.  In my view the EQB is looking like a train wreck, but that’s for another post.) Continue Reading →

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Reminder: TODAY – Greenhouse gas hearing Thursday, August 30th, 2:00, at the MPCA


At least 43 people asked for this hearing; the requests, from around the state, make very clear that Minnesotans know what’s at stake and what needs to be done. One of my favorites is one of the shortest, from David Luce: “People, I add my voice to the request for a hearing. We are already way late on this and the longer we delay the worse it will surely get. Forget the difficulties, think of the kids. Thank you.”

An irony of all this is that many people in the Pollution Control Agency also know what needs to be done. The MPCA has a climate change page with a lot of information. Last year the PCA had a good global warming exhibit at the State Fair. (I heard that some Republican pols complained about it.) This year, I am told, “we didn’t back off at all” and the info is beefed up. (Haven’t yet been to the Fair myself this year.)

Minnesota has a Next Generation Energy Act, passed in 2007 with strong bipartisan support: “Effective Aug. 1, 2007, the law calls for cutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 2005 base levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. (Art. 5, Sec. 2)”

So if the people know what needs to be done, and the MPCA knows what needs to be done, and state law calls for it to be done, why is the MPCA proposing a regulation so weak as to throw out a key opportunity to regulate greenhouse gases?

For one thing, many of the activities officially promoted by the Legislature and the PCA as climate change solutions really accelerate climate change. These include garbage incineration, “biomass” burning, turkey poop burning, and corn ethanol distilling. These are high-carbon-emitting processes that can’t stand up to examination either in environmental review or permitting. (Wind power is probably the only politically-favored industry that does tend to reduce carbon emissions,but anyone following this industry in Minnesota knows it has plenty of issues of its own.)

The other approach that has proven politically possible involves various sorts of “offset” and emissions trading schemes. Some of these, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of some Northeastern states, may have a small beneficial effect. In general, though, years of experience clearly shows that these schemes mostly serve to enrich speculators and manipulators while creating a false illusion of progress.

The budgets of the MPCA and other regulatory agencies have been slashed, and they attempt to operate without sufficient staff or resources. Increasingly, MPCA staff are being expected to function less as regulators and more as skid-greasers for politically favored industries….

Minnesota politics, like US national politics, have largely descended into idiocy, with the likes of the Koch Brothers and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce calling the tunes for both parties.

In any case, there is little hope of reducing climate changing emissions if we don’t use existing laws such as the Clean Air Act and related state laws and take action. These laws and programs are hard to understand in detail–the lingo is obscure, there are numerous interlinked Federal and Minnesota statutes, rules and regulations, policies and procedures….citizens are at a great disadvantage in disputing the fine details. But the bigger picture is clear enough, and that’s what we should focus on.

A little background:

The Clean Air Act wasn’t written with greenhouse emissions in mind, but rather to control the traditional, health-damaging pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and ozone. The common breakpoint for being considered a single “major source” of such pollutants, and requiring “permitting” of same, is 100 tons per year. (This, by the way, is why so many Minnesota air permits have limits of 95 tons or so!) The conventional argument goes that this number is too low for carbon dioxide, or carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) which tries to factor in emissions of some other climate-changing gases such as methane. That CO2 is emitted in much larger amounts than other air pollutants (true enough) and a 100 ton limit would include heating systems for small commercial buildings, large homes, etc. The US EPA swallowed this argument whole and went for a limit one thousand times higher: 100,000 tons. Minnesota already adopted this number for environmental review, largely taking the Minnesota Environmental Policy out of play as a tool for controlling global warming. Now, the Dayton administration wants to adopt this same number for air permitting, taking the Clean Air Act out of play.

So the challenge for those of us wanting a future is to figure out what numbers we favor at this time, and how to advocate for them successfully.

EPA requires some reporting of greenhouse emissions. “Facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHGs are required to submit annual reports to EPA.”

Data for Minnesota are here, but presented such that it is hard to analyze. It appears that 132 facilities reported 2010 data. Of those, 18 reported emissions below 25,000 tons, leaving a total of 114 facilities reporting emission above 25,000 tons. Of these, 46 reported emissions above 100,000 tons. (These, of course, include only large “stationary” sources. “Mobile” and “area” sources, such as cars and trucks, are a big part of the picture but not included here.)

“Permitting,” or “environmental review” for that matter, in no way ensures that CO2 emissions would have to be reduced. That depends on how the rules are written. In some cases, like an existing coal powered generating station, there are no practical ways to substantially reduce CO2 emissions other than to shut it down or run it less. It only implies that some consideration will be given to CO2-e emissions.

My own thinking, at the moment, is that the 100 ton limit ought to remain for CO2-e as for other pollutants, but permitting attention should be phased in, starting with the higher emitters. Facilities emitting 25,000 tons should receive immediate attention by means of reopening their air permits. Other existing permitted facilities could get attention as their permits come up for renewal, in a timely manner. (This is a crucial point because the MPCA air permitting program is generally ignoring expired permits.) New facilities likely to emit 100 tons per year would be next in line. Existing facilities emitting 100 tons per year, but not now permitted, would come after then. But these are only Muller’s thoughts and discussion is needed.

Additional resources would be needed to carry this out, but, again, as Mr. Luce said: “We are already way late on this and the longer we delay the worse it will surely get. Forget the difficulties, think of the kids. Thank you.”

The hearing this afternoon will not be an end point, but it could be a beginning. The Minnesota Administrative Rules for rulemaking hearings allow good opportunities for the public to participate, to ask questions, to get more information…. If the Administrative Law Judge follows these rules, if the PCA answers questions in good faith, if citizens show up and participate–these are all big IFs!–we may have a beginning of something very important.

Thanks again to Ken Pentel for his prodding about this.

Alan Muller


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