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.)

Legally, the Citizen’s Board IS the Pollution Control Agency:  “The agency shall consist of the commissioner and eight members appointed by the governor….”   My general impression is of a rather accomplished group of people; they ask good questions and seem concerned.  But their talents are mostly being wasted:  The MPCA brings them in, feeds them dog-and-pony shows, and tells them to sign off on resolutions endorsing whatever has been pre-decided.  Citizens show up, sometimes, to raise concerns, and get heard, but that rarely changes the decision.  The Commissioner of the MPCA chairs the board, and runs interference for the staff, greatly reducing opportunities for the Board to act independently.  If I were a Board member I’d resent being used in this way. (It is considered permissable for people lobby Board members.)

It would be far better for the Board to be chaired by a member who is NOT also the PCA Commissioner–apparently this has been so in the past–and for the Board to be presented with alternatives to consider.

A couple of positive developments:

The MPCA is working on “Environmental Justice” policies and procedures, has assigned a full-time staffer to this work (Ned Brooks) and posted another full time position.  I’ve been attending meetings about this, with some hesitation:  “EJ, ” as implemented by regulatory agencies, usually produces fine words but little to really empower polluted communities.  On the other hand John Stine, PCA Commissioner, has attended most of the meeting and seems to have a personal interest.  We shall see what comes of this.  A concern of mine is the refusal, so far, of the MPCA to consider incorporating Environmental Justice considerations into Environmental Review (EAW/EIS) proceedings.

On Aug 26, 2014, the the Citizens’ Board, after a solid lobbying effort by citizens, overrode the recommendation of the PCA staff and ordered an Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed feedlot, the Riverview Dairy in Stevens County.  This is the first time since I’ve been following the Board that it hasn’t rubber stamped the staff guidance.   Incredibly, this is being reported as the first time an EIS has ever been ordered for a feedlot.  Why is this incredible?  The project would be 9,200 “animal units”  Essentially, 9200 dairy cows.  Think about this:  Almost ten thousand cows pooping, peeing, and farting in one place.  According to this source, here are equivalent numbers of humans:

Total solids (dry poop):                    408,000 people

Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) 173,000 people

Total Nitrogen                                       263,000 people

Total Phosphorus                                281,000 people

So this one feedlot would produce more  poop than all the people in Minneapolis (pop. 400,070).  And, about twice as much Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) as all the people in Duluth (pop. 86,319).

These numbers aren’t anything new; feedlot opponents have been throwing them around for years.  For some general background see Environmental Impact of Industrial Farm Animal Production.  There are 25,000 feedlots in Minnesota and the regulations governing them were loosened earlier this year at the direction of the Legislature.

In Minnesota, coal ash, containing arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, and radioactive materials, is apparently allowed to be use in animal pens.

Can any reasonable person seriously argue that an EIS isn’t needed for a poop source bigger than Minneapolis?  That there is any question about “Significant Environmental Effects (Impacts)?”  No.  The Land Stewardship Project had this to say about the decision.

But big ag is an abusive special interest with huge clout in Minnesota, and is pushing back with threats to reduce citizen rights and permitting requirements.  The most visible tool for this is the Senate Rural Task Force, meeting Monday December 8th in St. Paul, and chaired by Senator Tom Saxhaug, DFL, who apparently has never heard of a pollution source he doesn’t like.

Bluestem Prairie has been covering this.

The Land Stewardship Project has an action alert out on this:

Calls Needed TODAY: Local Control & Environmental Review of
Factory Farms Under Attack Even Before the MN Legislative Session Begins

The Minnesota Senate Rural Task Force met on Nov. 12 to discuss rural Minnesota initiatives that could be brought up during the state legislative session that begins Jan. 6. On a short list of three agenda items was “Rural Permitting Discussion.”  This “discussion” focused on corporate ag advocates attacking local control of factory farms and the recent decision by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board to order an in-depth environmental review on an 8,800+ cow dairy in Stevens County.

Proposal for weakening local control laid out in detail. The Task Force heard a presentation from David Ward, lobbyist for the Cooperative Network, on why local control of factory farms needs to be gutted in Minnesota, just as it was in Wisconsin in 2004. Ward knows how that was done, as he is a former Wisconsin legislator who was a key author of the Wisconsin bill that created a system where state standards trump township and county local control. Ward went through a 39-slide detailed PowerPoint presentation without any legislator voicing strong concerns or standing up for local control.

Family farms dismissed and 8,850 cow dairy called “real ag”  The executive director of the Agri-Growth Council, the lobbying entity for the state’s largest corporate agriculture interests, bemoaned the MPCA Citizens’ Board decision to order an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement of a 8,800+ cow dairy. This dairy would use almost 100 million gallons of water a year and is strongly opposed by its rural neighbors. Even worse, comparing a 320-acre farm of one member of the MPCA Citizens’ Board who raises crops and beef to this mega-dairy, Task Force member Sen. Julie Rosen said, “That’s not real ag. This is real ag.”

Take Action! Contact members of the Senate Rural Task Force before Monday, Dec. 8. The next and last meeting of the Senate Rural Task Force before the legislative session is Monday, Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol Building in Saint Paul.

Members of the Senate Rural Task Force:

Suggested message: “I was disappointed to learn that the Senate Rural Task Force, of which you are a member, discussed weakening rural local control at your Nov. 12 meeting. Local control is especially important for rural Minnesota and needs to be kept strong. The Wisconsin livestock siting law where state-set standards trump township and county local control is wrong for Minnesota, where we believe in strong local democracy. Also, the decision to order an Environmental Impact Statement on the 8,800-cow mega-dairy proposed in Stevens County was a good one. This dairy would have used almost 100 million gallons of water a year. That issue alone needs an in-depth analysis. Water availability is an increasingly critical issue in rural Minnesota.” If you are a rural resident or farmer, be sure to say so.

More information:

LSP Applauds MPCA Citizens’ Board Ordering of EIS on Massive Dairy Factory Farm

The meetings of the Senate Rural Task Force aren’t broadcast or taped for rural citizens or others to listen to. However, Bluestem Prairie has done a series of investigative blogs on the Task Force, including these two: Senate Rural Task Force records no audio or video, keeps no minutes of meetings in St. Paul and MN Senate Rural Task Force November 12 meeting documents released to Bluestem Prairie.

For more information on this issue, e-mail the Land Stewardship Project’s Bobby King or call him at 612-722-6377.

In any event, the Citizen’s Board deserves credit for showing some collective backbone, if only on this one issue  In a worst-case scenario this could trigger a backlash than ends up making things worse.  Let’s hope people make their support for the Board’s action and for effective regulation of feedlots.  These are the emails for the Citizens’ Board members:,,,,,,  Maybe it would be good for them to hear from citizens more often.

Note: this list omits two Board members I don’t have emails for:  longtime member Daniel D. Foley, M.D., and new member Earnest Morgan.

Alan Muller



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