- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The nearly 50-year-old Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board will fade away next week after a legislative deal certified its demise.

Republican lawmakers argued that the group was no longer useful and slowed decision-making by the agency, but supporters say the public is losing an effective board that helped force better decisions.

“I think most people don’t even know what they’re losing,” said Carolyn Sampson, a member of the citizens’ board.

The citizens’ panel oversaw decisions for the agency protecting the state’s air and water, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1Cb4vbL ) reported. Those decisions included whether to require an in-depth environmental study for a project, or whether a new water quality rule was justified.

The agency’s commissioner and staff will now be responsible for that kind of decision-making. But Dan Foley, who’s been on the board for 30 years and specializes in toxicology, is worried that the work won’t be done as well.

Most board members, who are paid $55 per day to attend monthly meetings, spent hours scrutinizing technical documents, and then asking project proposers and agency staff pointed questions, Foley said.

“That agency had a citizen board that was really well-informed and forced the best decisions for the citizens at a minimum cost,” he said. “I knew we were making substantive decisions that were benefiting everybody.”

The Legislature created the agency and its citizens’ board in 1967, when Minnesota and other states faced problems with industrial pollution.

“Down by the river at the university, behind the student union, there used to be a sign that said ‘water unfit for bodily contact,’” said retired University of Minnesota professor Dean Abrahamson, adding that the agency and citizens’ board were environmental trailblazers early on.

The board will be remembered for making decisions where it stood up for the environment, when in the face of a local development opportunity, including an action that stopped the dumping of radioactive waste in the Mississippi River and a vote that put an end to a proposed tire burning plan.

The board’s last meeting will be held next Tuesday.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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