The MPCA Citizens’ Board may yet live, as the Governor’s Committee to Advise the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
As you may remember, the 2015 legislative session ended in near chaos. Last-minute provisions were slipped into omnibus budget bills (to such a degree that former state senator and appellate judge Jack Davies questioned the constitutionality of the legislature’s actions). Three of these budget bills were then vetoed by Governor Dayton, including the troublesome Ag-Environment Budget Bill.
A Special Session Gone Awry
Thus began a flurry of negotiations to settle on compromise bills everyone could live with, and on June 11th, just a few days shy of the deadline to begin government shutdown proceedings, the Governor and the four caucus leaders announced they had signed a deal. However, as the next day’s special session slid into the afternoon, it became clear that the deal signed by leaders was not one all legislators agreed with.
A contingent of DFL Senators broke ranks and voted against the Ag-Environment Bill. They were concerned because the bill agreed to in negotiations still included a several bad environmental provisions. These votes were enough to prevent the omnibus Ag-Environment Budget Bill from passing, threatening a government shutdown if the conflicts were not resolved.
Several hours later, the Senate agreed to amend the bill to remove two problematic clauses: the abolishment of the MPCA Citizens’ Board and a provision that exempted mining companies from the rules governing solid waste disposal. This time the bill passed with 6 votes to spare. However, the House refused to accept the amended bill, pushing Minnesota ever closer to a shutdown. In the wee hours of the morning, both chambers finally agreed to pass the “original” budget bill, without the Senate’s amendments and with the dirty water clauses. This was the bill Governor Dayton signed, to the chagrin of many of the state’s environmentalists.
The Unexpected Ending
However, once again, the Governor has surprised us all with his mettle: at the MEP Annual Meeting on August 4th, he announced that he was using Executive Order to reinstate a Committee to Advise the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This new Committee bears many of the trappings of the original Citizens’ Board, though it only serves in an advisory capacity, as the Committee lacks the authority to make decisions as the Board did.
Regardless, it still provides a space for citizen input to MPCA decisions, and, perhaps more importantly, it keeps the basic infrastructure of a citizen-based advisory group in place at the MPCA, easing possible reinstatement of the full Board in coming years.
The Governor’s announcement is also a reminder that in the messy game of politics, it’s important to stand your ground, even if it seems your side is losing. To those observing the rogue DFL Senators just days before shutdown proceedings would begin, the Senators’ actions seemed crazy and unpredictable. Nonetheless, we have to thank those Senators, led by Sen. John Marty, for continuing to challenge the wisdom of passing a bill with so many anti-environment provisions. Their backbone, supported by an action alert coordinated through CURE partners, no doubt reinforced to the Governor that the Citizens’ Board issue was a priority for many Minnesotans.
So, thank you, Senator John Marty and your colleagues in the Senate, and thank you, Governor Mark Dayton, for not letting the opposition overwhelm you. In a time when polluting interest groups are so well-funded and well-organized, it’s incredibly important to have leaders in government that stand up for what is best for the state and its residents. We will continue to stand behind you in the uphill struggle ahead.
Blog post by Ariel Herrod, Water Program Coordinator.