Minnesotans are proud to live in the land of 10,000 lakes. We all want to protect our environment so that everyone can enjoy clean water to drink, swim, boat and fish in.

Clean water is something that concerns folks across our state, but local governments, cities and counties from Ely to Rochester have concerns about the new cost that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) regulations may have on local taxpayers. That is why I’m working on a bipartisan effort to increase transparency in the rule-making process, allowing legislators and decisionmakers to better understand the costs and impacts of environmental regulations.

The recent Star Tribune editorial “Keep politics out of water protection in Minnesota” (March 7) criticized two bills I am authoring, falsely claiming that economic development and politics are undermining the science that protects our lakes, rivers and streams. This is not the case.

If my legislation becomes law, the MPCA would still maintain full authority over rule making and the ability to set our state’s water-quality standards. But my bill would also insert a common-sense provision in statute to ensure that legislators and local governments know the cost and impact of new regulations, which can often be extremely expensive for city wastewater treatment facilities to comply with.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board contends that communities should use the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA) to take out low-interest loans and grants to help pay for mandated facility upgrades, helping to lessen the burden on taxpayers in small cities and towns that cannot afford to cover the costs. Upgrades for wastewater treatment plants can cost anywhere from $5 million to $50 million or more, and there are currently limited resources available to cover those sky-high costs.

For instance, Rochester city officials recently reported that upgrades to their wastewater treatment plant to meet new phosphorus limitation standards could cost the city more than $100 million over the next 20 years. That is a significant amount of money and worthy of further review.

In addition to implementing a cost analysis, I am also authoring a bill that would require an independent peer review of MPCA rules, as modeled after the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s peer-review policy. Doing so would ensure that new regulations are based on sound science.

The MPCA issues thousands of permits a year, and both of these bills would apply only when there was a significant cost to the permittees — $50 million or more in the first five years for a group or $5 million or more for an individual project proposer like a small city.

Making these changes would allow local governments, businesses, taxpayers and other stakeholders to work with the MPCA to come up with practical, effective ways to maximize the state’s efforts both in terms of pollution reduction and cost savings.

So when the Editorial Board claims that these MPCA bills are about inserting politics into the science of rule making and permitting, it’s simply untrue. These legislative proposals are about increasing transparency and balancing the needs of environmental protections with anticipated costs to Minnesota communities.

 

Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, is a member of the Minnesota House.