New Republican strategy: redesign government for the benefit of polluters

Two bills that would allow either the Minnesota House or the Senate to have veto power over new rules relating to water standards have passed the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and, according to Chair Denny McNamara, will pass the full House.  I believe him.

Another bill that would give the same veto power, but this time over all rules—from banking to drinking water, passed the Government Operations Committee and appears to be on track for passage by the full House.

Minnesota has a well-established system for making the complex data/science based standards for how much of a pollutant can be in our waters. The legislature has set the general policy, the executive branch implements it with ample public input and a full hearing before an administrative law judge if necessary. The courts are there to settle disputes if disputes remain. Three equal branches of government all doing the job they are supposed to do. Testifying in opposition to the proposed legislation, the League of  Women Voter’s  Gretchen Sabel praised the current system and called it orderly and transparent.

Now House Republicans want final approval –and veto power–over any standard.  For some the reaction is, why not, legislators can understand science. Consider that 97% of scientists have come to a consensus that global warming is real and that the impact will be enormous. Republicans in the Minnesota House are pretending that global warming is not an issue as they work to dismantle the Renewable Energy Act of 2007 and otherwise undermine solar energy.

During the hearing on HF 616 and 617, the argument focused on two issues: (1) the cost burden to small cities to implement phosphorus rules pertaining to their waste water treatment systems and (2) Moorhead’s not wanting to upgrade its system until North Dakota upgrades theirs.

In the short amount of time given to him, Trevor Russell of Friends of the Mississippi did a nice job testifying in support of the current system. He pointed out that there is good state financial support for small cities and if it is not good enough, that would be relative easy to fix. In other words, he argued the solution does not fit the problem.  You can hear his testimony here.

There is no legislator who is more fun to hear than Rep. John Persell. You can hear him say that Bemidji upgraded it wastewater treatment system 30 years ago and that it is just Bull Hockey that Moorhead can’t do the same. His remarks are preceded by strong comments from Rep. Cornish.

Rebecca Flood, Assistant Commissioner for Water at the PCA, pointed out that the water standards that would be governed by the proposed legislation and the permits for wastewater treatment systems are two different things. We didn’t hear her full explanation because Chair Denny McNamara cut her off. A standard is the water quality goal for a particular water body. A permit is granted to a specific facility and can include flexible timelines, financial assistance and variances. You can hear Rep. McNamara here.

Inquiring minds will want to know, if the problem and solution don’t fit, why this solution.

In an article entitled “ALEC’s Latest Trojan Horse: The Attack on Standards and Safeguards Moves to the States,” the Center for Effective Government looks at so-called reforms designed to weaken environmental, food, consumer and worker safety policies. It says the two policy changes that the anti-regulatory interests support are “1) increasing the power of a politicized centralized review body with the authority to second-guess the standards proposed by scientists and substantive experts; and 2) requiring new, more extensive economic analyses of the cost of the new standards.” There could not be a better description of HF 616 and 617.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business backed group that promotes free-market, limited-government policies. A New York Times article, April 21, 2012, titled “Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist,” gives a good description.

When Tony Kwilis from the Chamber of Commerce testified in support of HF  1216, the bill giving house or Senate veto over any rule, the only specific issues he cited were the three water quality standards—sulfates, nitrates, and phosphorous—that he said would have a big economic impact on the business community.  It is telling that the HF 1216 that he was promoting only wants significant costs considered like those that might have to be paid by a business. Benefits to the water and those who use it are not considered in the bill. Neither are small costs like those for a new well or an alternative source of water for a private well owner whose water is contaminated with nitrates through no fault of his or her own. They are not considered costs under HF 1216.