Weakening Environmental Review – A Bad Idea Gone Worse

Yesterday, Governor Mark Dayton signed a one-sided piece of legislation to weaken environmental oversight developed by industry lobbyists without even a pretense of debate on its key provisions.

Major policy changes in this bill, such as allowing project proponents to prepare their own analysis of whether their projects will pollute the environment, were inserted in the bill on the floor of the legislature. What this means is that the only people who could talk were legislators — no members of the public allowed. No father could talk about his children becoming ill as a result of fumes from the hog lagoon next door. No lawyer could explain how the environmental impact statement prepared by a State agency supported a good decision to minimize harm from a project (I’ve got a list of these I could share).

Other changes in the environmental assessment roll back bill (HF1/SF42) now signed into law include: changing the law so that a State agency (the IRRRB) can spend public money on a project before an investigation is done to see if it would cause irreparable harm to the environment, allowing projects to begin construction before they receive permits and reducing citizen access to the courts to challenge a poor quality job conducting environmental review.

Let’s start calling policies by their proper names. The GOP’s ┬árecent gift to polluters is not a “permit-streamlining” bill, but a weakening of public and citizen oversight to protect Minnesota’s clean air, clean water and other natural resources from the short-sighted demands of corporate self-interest. This new law further increases the leverage of the powerful and reduces the likelihood of negotiation and ┬áinfluence to reach outcomes that are beneficial for both private investors and the community as a whole.

Weakening environmental oversight is not a “good idea gone bad,” but a “bad idea gone worse.”

Rather than genuflect to the inevitability of power, we need leaders in government and the non-profit sector to have the courage to look out for the long-term public interest and stand their ground.

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