The bizarre case of the $2 million MESERB bill
Every so often, a bill starts moving at the Capitol that defies rational explanation. One such bill this year (SF 2878 & HF 3065) aims to give $2 million in state taxpayer funds to regulated parties to allow them to provide “oversight” of their own state regulators. Welcome to the "MESERB" bill.
What or who is MESERB?
The bill is being brought forward by the Minnesota Environmental Science and Economic Review Board. MESERB has been a leader in efforts to roll back bedrock environmental regulations in Minnesota in recent years and has filed a series of (ultimately unsuccessful) legal challenges to state water quality standards at taxpayer expense.
MESERB is a municipal joint powers organization that focuses on water quality issues affecting communities in Greater Minnesota. Many of its executive committee members oversee wastewater treatment facilities.
What’s this all about?
The explicit goal of this bill is to allow regulated parties greater oversight over their regulators. MESERB talking points on the bill state that they should receive this money and review agency science and regulatory processes because otherwise “…there is no effective oversight of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)”.[i]
Fox…meet hen house. Providing taxpayers funds to a regulated party for the purposes of enhancing its “oversight” over its own MPCA regulators violates the basic premise of environmental management.
What’s in the bill?
The two-part bill directs taxpayer funds to MESERB to assist their efforts to study state water-quality standards, clean-up plans and wastewater treatment permits, and make recommendations to the Legislature on how to change them to their liking.
- Part 1: $1 million to re-review state environmental science
This portion of the bill provides a $1 million open-ended appropriation to MESERB to “review the scientific validity and technical accuracy” of water quality standards, clean-up plans and wastewater treatment permits.
- Part 2: $1 million to re-review wastewater treatment plant permits
This portion of the bill provides a $1 million open-ended appropriation to MESERB to analyze the costs, impact on user rates and environmental impacts of compliance with draft water-quality permits issued in Greater Minnesota by the MPCA.
FMR testimony in opposition
FMR’s Molly Pederson testified against the bill at Wednesday’s Senate hearing, expressing our concerns that a review by MESERB poses a significant conflict of interest because the organization’s members are regulated by the MPCA.
MESERB has already challenged state water quality standards in court and lost repeatedly, and now wants taxpayer funds to challenge the state all over again. The only way to ensure credibility is by having a neutral third party, with no stake in the outcomes, conduct a review.
Molly also pointed out that the bill compels the Department of Administration to award the grant to MESERB, and is silent on what, if any, application and approval process MESERB must follow in order to receive the funds. The bill allows no discretion to deny the funds if MESERB doesn’t provide an appropriate budget and work plan. This is in sharp contrast with the careful, deliberate vetting of projects and studies that are funded by the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Lastly, the bill is totally unnecessary. MESERB justifies this funding by claiming that the state currently does not “analyze the costs and environmental impacts of proposed regulations and permitting changes.” Such claims are false. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency always considers costs, impact on ratepayers, environmental benefits and a host of other factors as part of a substantial public engagement process when establishing pollution permit requirements for all wastewater treatment facilities.
Outcome & next steps
The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the Senate’s environment budget and may be included in the Legislature’s final Omnibus environmental budget. FMR will be working with legislators and stakeholders to address our concerns.
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Water Action Day: May 2, 2018
Perhaps the best way to help stop these bad environmental bills this session is to join us for Water Action Day!
Water Action Day is the environmental communities’ day of public action and advocacy to let lawmakers know we care about our water. This all-day event will include free breakfast and morning briefings on Minnesota's water issues and how to actively engage with our legislators about them.
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