Dayton outfoxes Big Ag in Republican pollution plot

You now have a say if a factory asks to dump liquid excrement in your favorite river.

You now have a say if a factory asks to dump liquid excrement in your favorite river.

For 48 years, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Citizens Board was a mouthpiece for the average Joe concerned about the environment.

If a factory farm could dump liquid manure near your lake, if a mining operation could leak heavy metals into your river, if a new landfill could stink up your neighborhood, you could attend a hearing and testify. You would have a say in the project. 

That is, until 2015. This year, House Republicans and a smattering of Iron Range and rural Democrats bowed to pressure from agriculture and industry. It seems that in 2014, the Citizens Board, backed by a group of locals, faced down a mega dairy in the Baker township. Big Ag was displeased. They made sure their representatives and senators knew it. And just like that, in a late-night conference committee meeting, legislators swiftly, sneakily nudged the Citizens Board off its mortal coil. 

Gov. Mark Dayton was appalled at the vigilante-style execution. He vetoed that attempt at offing the board, but fearing a government shutdown, he was forced to sign the bill into law anyway.

Then, with ag and mining industry leaders lulled all fat and happy into a sense of security, Governor Dayton proved he had an ace in the hole. 

At a press conference Tuesday, Dayton announced the creation of a new citizens' advisory group to replace the MPCA's Citizens Board. 

"It is in the best interests of Minnesotans that there remain a forum for public input, discussion, and debate on important and controversial environmental issues and decisions," Dayton's executive order reads. 

The new Governor's Committee bears an uncanny resemblance to the erstwhile Citizens Board, with eight members appointed by the governor to work with the commissioner of the MPCA. Though the group cannot make decisions as the previous Citizens Board could (mandating an extensive environmental review, for instance), it can advise Commissioner John Linc Stine on behalf of the citizens. Dayton says the new committee will capture the "spirit" of the Citizens Board until he and legislators can get it back up and running in its full former capacity. The goal of the group for now is "to provide advice and counsel ... on important issues affecting Minnesota's environment and human health."

And just like that, citizens regained some say in what goes into their water, soil, and air.