Eliminating MPCA rulemaking authority

The Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee heard a controversial bill Wednesday brought forward by the Coalition of Greater MN Cities (CGMC) that makes significant changes in Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) rulemaking. These include making water quality standards reviewable by administrative law judges, requiring independent scientific review of certain proposed rules, and prohibiting the MPCA from enforcing rules that have not been formally adopted. The bill is strongly opposed by MPCA and environmental organizations.

Supporters argue that in some cases the MPCA has used flawed science when developing water quality regulations. Cities must spend millions of dollars to upgrade water infrastructure to comply with regulations that, supporters say, in many cases provide little benefit to the state’s waters. They argue the MPCA is not currently required to perform external peer review of its science, and some cities have felt ignored when they have raised scientific concerns with the agency. And, they say, the MPCA has been using internal guidance documents to make or amend rules, and, in some cases have made rules more restrictive than as adopted, without following required procedures. Prohibiting enforcement of un-adopted rules, they say, would address this issue.

Opponents say it gives powerful interests that oppose water quality standards the ability to force an independent “do-over” of rulemaking, based on their own determinations about which scientific issues and data matter. It asks administrative law judges (ALJs) without expertise in water quality issues to do the complex work of agency scientists, and allows ALJs to independently decide what scientific issues and data are needed to uphold or invalidate a rule. They say it duplicates the rulemaking process that already exists, greatly increasing the cost, delay, and uncertainty of developing water quality standards. In addition, they argue, the bill undermines public input into rulemaking as well as transparency to the public, and reduces agency accountability to the legislature and the public.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the Environment Finance Omnibus Bill. (SF 695)