Restoring public oversight of major MPCA decisions

A flurry of hands in the air, fingers pointed up as if wanting to interject in an important conversation.

The public has been without a seat at the table for major environmental permitting decisions since 2015.

It wasn’t too long ago that the public had an opportunity to directly influence major decisions made by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the state’s primary environmental regulator. 

When the agency was created in 1967, it included a“Citizen’s Board.” These members were charged with providing oversight and ensuring the agency served the public interest in an open and transparent manner. 

The board:

  • Ensured the environmental review process was democratic.
  • Gave Minnesotans an opportunity to express their concerns about proposed large-scale industrial projects that threatened their communities.
  • Served as a check and balance on the actions of the agency’s staff and commissioner.
  • Ensured that agency decisions were made in full daylight and public view.
  • Promoted public engagement in the political process and in the environmental review process.

In 2015, that oversight disintegrated under last-minute political pressure.

Legislation to abolish the Citizens’ Board was among the most controversial of that year’s legislative session. The language was inserted into the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill by the conference committee chairs in the session’s waning hours, thus avoiding meaningful public hearings.

This was a huge loss.

It’s well past time to give the public back their seat at the table.

Reinstating a revised and improved board — renamed the MPCA Community Board — would bring more transparency to the environmental review process and help rebuild trust between the public and Minnesota’s environmental regulators. 

This re-envisioned board would also include better representation of Minnesota’s many communities.

It’s the MPCA that determines how much pollution anyone can put into our environment. And it’s the MPCA that implements larger legislation for decisions related to our air, land, water and groundwater. 

All of Minnesota benefits from community oversight of this agency and from having direct public input into its final decisions.

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