Strange nonsense at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (and the MPCA)

Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB), and it’s Climate Change Subcommittee, held a meeting on June 18, 2014.

“The mission of the Environmental Quality Board is to lead Minnesota environmental policy by responding to key issues, providing appropriate review and coordination, serving as a public forum and developing long-range strategies to enhance Minnesota’s environmental quality. The Environmental Quality Board consists of a Governor’s representative (by law the board chair), nine state agency heads and five citizen members. Minnesota Statutes, Chapters 103A, 103B, 116C, 116D and 116G (Statutes and Rules of the EQB)”

The EQB is supposed to address environmental issues that are “cross cutting” in the sense of involving the turf of more than one executive agency.  Thus, it is made up of the heads of the Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Department of Health, and so on.  It is not clear if the “citizen” members play a substantial role, or if they are tokens.  Members and contact info listed here.

So, this body is essentially the heads of the executive (controlled by the governor) agencies and represents Governor Mark Dayton’s agendas.

Several years ago, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and other darkside interests decided to get rid of the EQB, or at least pull its teeth by getting rid of the staff and gutting the environmental review process.  (It seems to be a basic darkside objective to prevent Minnesota from being able to address environmental problems effectively.)  Governor Dayton went along with this agenda, and the EQB staff was mostly gotten rid of.  There was push back, and it seems to have been decided that at least minimal staff are needed.  So the EQB again has a staff, but this staff is located in the MPCA and seems to lack the independence it once had.  Contact information for the staff.

There are also “tech reps” from the agencies whose role is not entirely clear.  Contact information for tech reps.

For some more background see Comments on the “Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card,” and “Governor Dayton Moves to Simplify Minnesota’s Environmental Review Process.”

Frac Sand mining

When frac sand (“silica sand”) mining reared an ugly head in Southeastern Minnesota, people went to the EQB for help.  They asked in proper form for a “Generic Environmental Impact Statement,” to evaluate the consequences of letting this industry loose in Minnesota.  Comments were heard at many meetings from citizens, industry reps, and state agencies.  The board members listened politely but nothing happened.

Eventually, the citizens were shuffled off to the Legislature, their GEIS petition forgotten. A Session–literally–at the Legislature yielded a weak bill related to frac sand mining–not surprising given the clout mining interests have in Minnesota–and the citizens were shuffled back to the EQB to comment on several assignments given the EQB by the legislation:

The EQB was told to develop Tools to Assist Local Governments in Planning for and Regulating Silica Sand Projects: .  Early staff drafts of these seemed to have been written–likely they were–by industry reps.  They improved moderately with multiple iterations of public comment, but a key public demand was ignored:  People said, over and over again, that they wanted a spectrum of “tools” that counties and towns could use to implement *their* policy objectives, especially that of banning frac sand mining.  What they got was verbiage on regulating the industry, but no help in keeping it out entirely.

The EQB adopted the “ toolkit” on March 19th at a meeting in Rochester.   From my comments to the Board at that meeting:  “These ‘tools’ have improved since the first draft, but we aren’t there yet…. People living in this part of Minnesota have gotten a lesson in how easy it is for industrial interests to be heard, and how much harder it is for the concerns of residents, for the public interest, to be heard.  I hope, when you are done, that people will have reason to feel that their interests have prevailed over the special interests…”  

Before adopting the ‘tools’ the EQB made one substantive change:  Industry reps said they didn’t want to have to store their sand in buildings to prevent it blowing around.  Like a jack-in-the-box, MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine popped up with weakening amendments, unanimously adopted by the Board, including the “citizen” members.

Take a little break now from this serious stuff and watch Pop Goes the Weasel:

Another EQB assignment is a “Silica Sand Rulemaking Advisory Panel” being run in cooperation with the MCPA and the Department of Natural Resources.

This group is supposed to help develop Minnesota Rules for regulating air pollutants from frac sand mining and processing, and for “reclamation” of old mines.  It has met five times and is scheduled to meet three more times.  The committee, supposedly, is made up of equal numbers of “Local government representatives,” “Citizen representatives,” and “Industry representatives.”  In fact, however, the committee seems effectively controlled by state bureaucrats, primarily from the MPCA and DNR, who are orchestrating make-work meetings with little of substance getting done.

Looking at the air pollution side, more my area of expertise:  In the “rulemaking resources,” on the site, if one digs into them, one can find out that “The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has recommended that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) use a long-term exposure limit of 3 [micro grams per cubic meter] of crystalline silica.” But the MPCA presentations to the committee make no mention of a “standard” lower than a National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM 2.5 of 35 micro grams per cubic meter.

A document entitled “ Silica Sand Air Rule Concepts” from the “MPCA Silica Sand Air Rule Team” (who are they?) doesn’t even mention the MDH proposed “long-term exposure” limit.

In short, the proceedings appear to be a farce.  But I have not been to the meetings or watched all the recordings, so it is possible that some members are trying.  I have not heard from any committee members, nor seen an email from any member reporting on the committee’s activities, so it would be hard to feel that the public interest is effectively represented.

In truth, it’s very hard for citizen members of advisory groups to be effective, no matter how sincere they may be.  Some reasons:  (1) They are amateurs up against professionals; (2) people invited to participate are chosen for a presumed willingness to be controlled, to “be reasonable,” to not rock the boat; (3)  To further control the process, the bureaucrats often bring in “neutral facilitators” who are not, of course, neutral, but pursue the agendas of those who hired them.

Carol Overland is having a lot more to say about this, including her June 22nd post Bogus Silica Sand Rulemaking Advisory Panel



“Bogus?”  Yes, bogus, because a Rulemaking Advisory Committee is “to comment, before publication of a notice of intent to adopt or a notice of hearing, on the subject matter of a possible rulemaking under active consideration within the agency.“  That is NOT happening. What is there to show for the YEAR since the statute was passed and signed to trigger this rulemaking?  What is there to show for the SIX MONTHS of monthly meetings of the Rulemaking Advisory Committee?  Here it is ­ the agencies’ “DRAFT concepts” document that they passed out at the May 18 meeting (note it’s not even close to a DRAFT rule):

140516 Air Rule Concept Document

I was told that it would be posted on the Advisory Committee page, well, that was over a month ago and it’s still not posted in preparation for or after the June meeting.  Looking at that Advisory Committee page, there are no materials published for the May meeting, nor are there any for June:

Silica Sand Rulemaking Advisory Panel

This is not public involvement, and this is not providing an opportunity for review of the draft rules.  This committee has been meeting for six months now, and there’s a statement that the proposal will go before the EQB in September…



The most recent (June 18th) EQB meeting was an even worse performance on an even more important matter:  climate change.

Mark Seeley, from the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate of the University of Minnesota, made clear that Minnesota is above average in speed of climate change and resulting consequences.  The state is under the gun.

The rest of the presentations were from utility industry and MPCA people focused on how Minnesota might try to dodge the already minimal requirements of the recently-proposed EPA regulations for carbon emissions from power plants.

Details forthcoming.

It is hard to avoid a sense that the EQB and the MPCA, at least in their upper ranks, are utterly politicized, controlled by the interests they are supposed to be regulating, and disconnected from their responsibilities to the people of Minnesota.

Alan Muller

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