- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton created a new citizen advisory panel Tuesday to consult with his administration on environmental matters, effectively going around lawmakers who abolished a similar panel two months ago.

Dayton announced the panel during a speech to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, one of the organizations dismayed that the Democratic governor agreed to dismantle the old board this year as part of a deal on a new state budget.

“We will continue it in spirit as well as in practice until we get a chance to correct it in statute, which I look forward to doing with you in the very near future,” Dayton said.

Dayton denied making the move out of political provocation even as he accused Republicans of eliminating the 47-year-old board as a “trophy” in their pursuit of smaller government.

“I don’t expect regulators to be popular,” Dayton told reporters about the agency, which would advise the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “I just know they’re essential to protect the citizens from some of these excesses.”

Rep. Denny McNamara, a top House Republican on environmental matters, said he stands by the agriculture and environment budget that abolished the citizen review board, which he argued had “absolute authority” to the trump scientists and experts at the MPCA in deciding permits. He said he doubts the Legislature would agree to fund the governor’s new panel if a request comes in.

“We’re kind of dumbfounded,” the Hastings Republican said. “You sign a bill one day and then want to re-do it?”

The new panel was established through executive order, so it has less permanence and lacks authority to approve or block regulatory decisions. It will have nine members, including the pollution control agency commissioner who will serve as chair. Dayton’s order says the commission, whose unpaid members he’ll appoint, will meet regularly and advise the state agency on permitting matters. It could be up and running this fall.

John Linc Stine, the MPCA commissioner, said the panel will be a sounding board for agency officials on permitting decisions and be a place for the public to weigh in on pending matters.

“Many times community members don’t feel they’ve been fully heard before decisions get made,” he said. “Some decisions that strike at that will come before the board.”

Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, applauded Dayton for moving quickly to temper what groups like his saw as a blow to transparency and accountability.

“We hope we can come back at a later date, maybe 2017, and actually re-establish it in statute,” Morse said. “This was a big mistake by the Legislature. They blew it and the governor is fixing what he can.”

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Associated Press writer Kyle Potter contributed.


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