Letter from Alan Muller to Governor Dayton

[This letter pretty much summarizes my views on what’s going in in Minnesota./am]

Alan Muller

113 W. 8th Street

Red Wing, Minnesota, 55066



 January 24, 2010

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

via email

Dear Governor Dayton:

I write to express my disappointment with Executive Order 11-04, Establishing Goals and Procedures to Ensure that Certain Environmental Permits are Issued More Efficiently.1 This order is contrary to the best interests of the people and natural resources of Minnesota.

I do not see any provisions in this order that would tend to improve protection of human health and the environment. Nor is it likely that any real economic benefits would ensue. Instead, I expect harm to result if this order stands.

Minnesota has many strong environmental laws such as the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act, mostly passed in the 1970s. Since then, population has increased, while to the best of my knowledge that State of Minnesota remains the same size. Thus, pressure on natural resources has obviously increased, calling for stronger, not weaker, protections.

Hundreds of thousands of new chemicals have been introduced into commerce, and we have a better understanding of the harmful effects of many pollutants at low doses formerly considered acceptable. Thus, more careful environmental review and permitting is needed, not less.

US life expectancy has deteriorated to 49th in the world2. The reasons for this are complex, but include environmental exposures, unhealthy foods, inadequate health care delivery, etc. It is unlikely than any of these root causes can be addressed effectively without more aggressive and effective regulatory interventions into market-driven industrial activities.

The speed of environmental review and permitting in Minnesota has already increased, according to testimony from Minnesota regulators, while resources available to regulatory agencies have decreased. The consequences are obvious: one can point to many examples of harm done by inadequate and superficial environmental review and permitting.

For example, the “Fibrominn” poultry litter incinerator in Benson was permitted under political pressure. Environmental review was trivial. An air permit was issued in spite of findings that air quality standards would be violated. This facility has subsequently had a history of violations. The promoters of this facility, from the United Kingdom, had tried for years to build a facility in the US, but were rejected in Delaware, Maryland, and other places. Minnesota was the first state to be careless enough to allow such a facility. This hardly suggests an excess of regulatory zeal.

Another example is the corn-ethanol industry. These facilities were and are reviewed and permitted carelessly under political pressure, and almost every one has a history of environmental problems and violations. The bigger picture is that this industry almost certainly increases consumption of petroleum. Only corn growers and other special interests.

Lessons from these mistakes should be applied to the current controversy over sulfide mining in Minnesota. The applicants’ own documents make clear that severe environmental damage is inevitable if this industry is allowed to operate business-as-usual in Minnesota. It is obvious that the resource is localized in Minnesota (and to a certain extend in Michigan and Wisconsin). Thus, industries wanting to extract these resources would have to comply with an adequately protective regulatory regime. They can’t just go elsewhere. Why , then, is there so much pressure to give these notorious mining companies a free hand to pollute Minnesota? I have personally heard from professional staff of the MPCA who withdrew from involvement in mining review and permitting because they felt the integrity of the process had been compromised.

Similarly, we are seeing constant promotion of garbage and “biomass” incineration with little or no serious consideration of the real impacts of these facilities.

Conventional thinking often sees environmental protection and economic growth as a zero sum game, a balance to be sought between two fundamentally conflicting objectives. This view is promoted by those, such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, seeking to weaken environmental protections in Minnesota. But where is the evidence that Minnesota will benefit economically from weakened (“streamlined”) environmental protections?

Almost all economic analyses of regulatory programs show a high rate of economic return relative to costs. US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson addressed this in her 2010 Earth Day speech “Environmental Protection is Good for Economic Growth.”34

One example she cited was the $17 billion annual savings in health care costs from a 92 percent reduction in lead pollution, the equivalent of a 10-13 times the return on the original investment.”5

Jackson also noted:

“[Environmental protection] creates a need – in other words, a market for clean technology – and then drives innovation and invention – in other words, new products for that market. This is our convenient truth: smart environmental protection creates jobs…” 

List and Kunce wrote in 2000:6

…empirical evidence largely suggests that environmental regulations have little, or no, influence on manufacturing activity …. Since the majority of these studies suggest that environmental regulations do not significantly affect factor flows, one would presume that public officials would cease to offer environmental concessions in an attempt to stimulate job growth. This has not occurred; the persistent behavior of policymakers sacrificing the environment … continues….

Yes, it does. But many had hoped Governor Dayton would pursue more enlightened policies.

Paragraph 4 of the order suggests that you want to “…permit construction to commence before a water discharge permit is issued.This suggests that issuance of such permits is to be regarded as inevitable rather than the result of a considered process.

Paragraph 5 suggests opposition to Minnesota establishing environmental standards “… more stringent than similar federal standards….Again, this is right out of the big polluters’ national playbook but is bad public policy. Minnesota should be ready and willing to set standards as needed to protect the people and resources of Minnesota.

Overall, Executive Order 11-04 could hardly be less satisfactory and suggests a very disturbing servility to special interests.

I urge you to withdraw it immediately.

What Minnesota needs now is a process to consider what changes in public policies, regulatory systems and standards are needed to adequately protect and preserve Minnesota.

Regulatory agencies need to be insulated from political interference; they need adequate in-house technical resources, and sometimes the funding to hire outside assistance, in order that they not be overly dependent on information supplied by applicants. They need the time and resources to do their work.

Yours very truly,

Alan Muller

Copy: Sen. John Howe

Rep. Tim Kelly

Comm. Paul Aasen

Comm. Tom Landwehr







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