Going Backwards: Minnesota’s new environment laws.

Republicans made numerous proposals to take rights from citizens and give them to polluters. Some proposals failed, but of the ones that are now law, two stand out.

Until the law changed, Minnesotans had the right to raise questions about a Department of Natural Resources permit to mine decision by asking for a contested case hearing. There are obvious issues at stake like potential water pollution, plans to remediate the site, and financial assurance to protect taxpayers from cleaning up any mess left when the mines close.

Now only adjacent property owners will have the right to a contested case hearing. All other Minnesotans are now excluded even ones who could be directly harmed–for example, water pollution affecting someone’s property that was not adjacent to the mine or Minnesota taxpayers paying the bill for clean up. Who would have guessed that Minnesota would return to colonial times when only property owners had rights.

The other new law says that cities that upgrade their waste water treatment systems to comply with new or modified effluent limits do not have to upgrade again for another 16 years even if new health based standards are adopted.

There are 203 wastewater treatment systems in the upper Mississippi basin, the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans including those of us in Minneapolis.

In addition, the PCA’s new study of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants shows that the Crow River, which enters the Mississippi about 20 miles upstream from our drinking water intakes, is a hot spot for those contaminants. The Minnesota Department of Health’s testing of source water is very limited so there is no data to indicate concentrations of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants north of our drinking water intakes. One would hope that within the next 16 years PCA will want to require waste water systems to do a better job eliminating these contaminants.

It should go without saying that Minnesota law should not preclude wastewater treatment upgrades to meet health standards. It is simply unsafe and unfair to ask those who drink the water to ignore evolving drinking waster wastewater standards or clean up the contaminants that others create. Senators and House members who represent the communities that drink Mississippi River water wrote a letter to the Governor with that message but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decided to go along with the 16 year free pass that is now law.

Inquiring minds will be asking, just who is the Pollution Control Agency protecting?

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