If you’re reading this, you are likely already aware that after a contentious end of session, Governor Dayton vetoed three omnibus budget bills, which created the need for a special session of the Minnesota Legislature. While he clearly had his reasons for vetoing the bills, the media reports seem to be rather light on details.
I want to tell you why I support Governor Dayton’s decision to veto the Agriculture and Environment bill.
* Since 1967, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has received advice from a Citizen’s Board that was created to take politics out of the important work of environmental protection. Despite an unblemished record of quietly doing the work of the state, the conference committee chose to add language to eliminate the board in the final hours of session. Decisions like this, if they are needed, deserve a full and proper debate, and that did not happen this session.
* In a year of budget surplus, another provision in the bill pertaining to landfill cleanup seems equally ill advised. The bill raided nearly $60 million from an account that was created to handle the expense of cleaning up pollution created by closed landfills. Raiding a dedicated account is bad governance in tough economic times. It is even harder to justify in times of budgetary surplus.
* The bill also includes a gift for polluters by requiring that the state give companies a three-week notice before initiating an environmental review. This provision would allow companies with potential violations to seek the proper permits for their level of pollution in an effort to head off the planned review of their actions.
* And for polluters who self-report violations of state environmental regulations, the bill would provide amnesty by delaying enforcement and waiving penalties for the regulated parties. This is a large new loophole for polluters that never had a full hearing in the Legislature. The MPCA strongly opposes this provision.
* Finally, the bill requires the MPCA to conduct duplicative peer reviews of water quality standards, and expensive additional cost analyses of existing and anticipated water quality standards. These provisions would significantly delay implementation of work to clean up our lakes and rivers.
This legislative assault on the state’s ability to protect water quality stands in stark contrast to the Governor’s insistence that we begin cleaning up polluted water with enforceable buffer strips along all of our waterways. From their votes for the Legacy Amendment in 2008 to their overwhelming support for the buffer legislation this year, the people of Minnesota have made it clear which direction we should head. Legislators of both parties should follow their lead.