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Eliminating MPCA Citizens’ Board is a loss for democracy and citizen engagement

Lawmakers’ action will make it easier for industrial agriculture, mines, pipelines and other extractive and polluting activities to be approved with little or no citizen participation.

Jim Riddle

For the past two years, I have served on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board. During the recent “special” session, leaders of the Minnesota House and Senate eliminated the Citizens’ Board, which has existed since the 1960s.

During my time on the board, I have witnessed its importance. We have done our homework, asked tough questions of staff and project proposers, provided scientific insights, listened to and conveyed input from citizens, made tough decisions, and consistently strengthened the legal basis for rulings made by the MPCA.

The Citizens’ Board came under fire from corporate agribusiness interests last fall, after we required an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed confined animal feeding operation (CAFO).

As shown in the public record, the owners of the facility did not have access to sufficient land to spread even half of the manure that would be generated. They did not have data on how their proposed massive water draw down would impact existing crop and livestock farms in the area. They did not have an agricultural mitigation plan in place for their proposed 12-mile pipeline to carry water from a well that had been permitted 7 years earlier for an unbuilt ethanol plant, to the CAFO. In addition, the owners were already sitting on two previously approved permits for huge dairy confinement facilities in Minnesota.

Required more information on impacts

Corporate ag interests, led by the Agri-Growth Council, have given the impression that the Citizens’ Board “stopped” construction of this CAFO. We did not stop anything – we simply required that more information be provided on the environmental and economic impacts of the proposed facility, in order to demonstrate that Minnesota’s laws would be followed and the health and safety of area residents and the environment would be protected.

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The Citizens’ Board process has worked well since its inception, under Republican and Democratic administrations. We provided public access and transparency to the workings of the MPCA. We provided a broad range of expertise and perspectives, at almost no cost (per diem) to taxpayers.

All of our meetings have been open to the public, and all records of our proceedings are available online.

Protection and participation

The Citizens’ Board is part of Minnesota’s proud heritage of environmental protection and citizen participation, both of which bring business to Minnesota and make this state a great place to live, work, recreate and raise families.

Elimination of the Citizens’ Board is a loss for democracy and citizen engagement, making it easier for industrial agriculture, mines, pipelines and other extractive and polluting activities to be approved with little or no citizen participation.

Minnesota senators and representatives who voted for elimination of the Citizens’ Board should be ashamed. They have given a green light to corporate interests and a red light to citizen engagement, while further degrading our air, water, land and quality of life.

Jim Riddle is former chair of the USDA National Organic Standards Board and serves on the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Advisory Committee. Jim coordinates organic research grant programs for Ceres Trust, a charitable organization that distributes $2M/year for organic research in the Upper Midwest. He and his wife own and operate Blue Fruit Farm, a diversified fruit farm in southeast Minnesota.

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