Gov. Mark Dayton’s self-described “unbound” approach has manifested itself in different ways as he navigates his second term as governor. On Tuesday, it appeared in the form of an executive order.
The order makes way for an eight-member board led by the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that will advise the agency on everything from rule-making and permitting decisions to whether a project needs more environmental review.
Dayton said the whole point of the order, at least “in spirit,” is to partially undo an action from the Legislature last session to abolish the nearly 50-year-old Citizens Board of the MPCA. Dayton butted heads with a DFL-led Senate and Republican-controlled House over the provision in a special session but ultimately agreed to sign an environmental budget that included the change to avoid a government shutdown.
“These are the trophies they can take back their extreme ideologues and say, ‘See, we are demolishing government,’ ” Dayton said after a meeting of environmental and conservation groups in St. Paul, where he announced the order. “This is putting it back to where it should be so citizens can have a direct participation in environmental matters and decisions affecting their lives.”
To be clear, the new advisory committee won’t have the teeth of the old Citizens Board, which could approve or disapprove of decisions made by the MPCA. It was one of those disapproving votes by the citizen group that most agree got the board in trouble with legislators in the first place. The board voted 6-1 last August to require an environmental review of a large dairy operation trying to set up shop in the state.
The new committee will be charged with taking “input from the citizens before decisions are made,” MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said.
All members of the new committee will be hand-picked by the governor. Dayton said he won’t necessarily appoint the old members of the Citizens Board to the new committee. He plans to go through the open appointment process.
Dayton said the ideal solution — which would be to restore the Citizens Board in its original form — is not an easy one to achieve. He couched the prospects of that as “very unlikely” with a Republican-controlled House still in power.
That might have to wait to see if voters deliver Dayton a DFL-controlled House and Senate next fall. “It will continue in spirit as well as in practice until we have a chance to correct it in statute with you in the very near future,” Dayton told the crowd to cheers.
GOP Reps. Denny McNamara, chair of the main House environmental committee, and Dan Fabian, who led the charge to change the makeup of the Citizens Board, issued a joint statement expressing dissapointment in Dayton’s move to create an “activist” board to advise the agency.
“Farmers and businesses deserve certainty from state government, and this executive order is a disincentive for investment and business expansion in Minnesota,” they wrote. “House Republicans stand with farmers and the people of Greater Minnesota who worked to reform the MPCA this year, streamlining an often drawn out and burdensome permitting process.”