Gov. Mark Dayton’s move to bring an influential environmental citizens’ board back from its hastily dug grave merits support and applause. Doing so is in keeping with Minnesota’s venerable tradition of good governance, public participation and careful stewardship of treasured natural resources.
Killing off the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s decades-old Citizens’ Board was one of the lowlights of the 2015 legislative session. Bowing to wealthy agribusiness and mining special interests, lawmakers stealthily undercut many important pollution safeguards. Abolishing the board’s legal standing and authority was part of that reckless agenda.
The eight-member board had served since 1967 as a way to allow citizen input and transparency in critical decisions before the state agency. But critics had dubbed it an “activist board” after its members voted in 2014 to require an environmental-impact statement from a proposed 9,000-head dairy operation, spurring outrage from agricultural interests. The board’s elimination also removed a potential hurdle to permits for controversial new copper mines proposed in northern Minnesota.
Dayton acquiesced to the board’s demise as part of the end-of-the-session dealmaking. But he announced earlier this month that he would establish through executive order a new, eight-member MPCA citizens’ advisory committee. The committee will make recommendations to the commissioner, but not have decisionmaking authority. The previous board could require more environmental-impact information than the agency’s staff had designated, for example.
The previous board also served as an important channel for public input. The new group has the potential to be that, but it needs informed and conscientious members. The deadline for applications is Thursday. It’s hoped that the new committee will meet for the first time before the end of the year.
Minnesota has long placed high priority on public engagement. The influential role of citizens on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which are entrusted with spending recommendations for hundreds of millions of public dollars, are proof of that. Resurrecting the public’s official role in environmental decisionmaking is in step with state values.