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PCA/OEA merger will benefit industry at expense of citizens

Fri, Mar 18th, 2005
Posted in Commentary

There is a proposal in Governor Pawlentys’ budget to merge the Pollution Control Agency and the Office of Environmental Assistance. This is being brought forward under the guise of saving money and increasing efficiency. This always sounds good but the devil is in the details.The bill states the emphasis will be placed on the need to “protect the high priority core water-related activities of the department”. This is a thinly veiled excuse to relax the emphasis on air pollution and the electrical generating facilities and industry that produces air emissions.The Pawlenty proposal is to fund the combined PCA/OEA with 70% of the funds of the solid waste tax revenues (Environmental Fund) instead of the current 50% from this fund. This would allow the removal of 2.96 million general fund monies from the combined agencies budget. It would also reduce the combined agencies budget by $400,000. It also results in reduction of services and increase in fees.According to the PCAs’ own web site extolling the merger this $400,000 reduction would result in:•Delays in clean-up of “lower priority” landfill sites.•Decreased services in: Fiscal management; Human resource management; Information systems; Organizational development and training; Communication services; and Business systems.It would also require an increase in annual air emissions fees to maintain the same level of service in that area.Of the eight divisions of the PCA only one, the Technology Assistance and Education division, overlap the functions of the OEA. The PCA, whose function, is to keep the air, water, and soil unpolluted, has 759 employees. The OEA whose function is to educate citizens, business, and industry about avoiding pollution, has 59 employees. Their functions should not be complimentary but at times adversarial. Combining them would be, unnecessarily, causing a conflict of interest that would not be in the common good.The PCA appears to have become, at a minimum, schizophrenic about its’ function. At a maximum, it has been captured by industry, business, and legislators/politicians eager to cull favor and bring home the “bacon”. The PCA, in their administrative records, refers to applicants as “our customers” and to the general public commenting on proposals as “them.” The PCA appears to have forgotten their broader bases of “customers” are all the Minnesotans and Americans living downstream and down wind of potential pollution. Even the Federal EPA describes applicants for permits as applicants.The Pawlenty appointed PCA commissioner, Sheryl Corrigan, was quoted by a scientist on the PCA staff on a Minnesota Public Radio interview as saying “this agency is not a scientific institution.” It certainly was originally meant to be a scientifically based regulatory agency. Originally it was and can be again. By removing the Technical Assistance and Education Division and sending that staff and funding to the OEA some measure of refocusing on the original mission will be accomplished.The OEA should be retained intact and strengthened by the addition of the Technical Assistance and Education Division along with its’ funding. If this is not enough to do the job more should be added. Preventing and avoiding pollution should be at least as important as regulating it after the fact. If this cannot be done, in this time of financial stringency, their focus should be narrowed.The Environmental Fund should be used only to fund environmental activities. If necessary, the fund should contribute 85-90% to the PCA and the OEA. None of the reasons given by the agencies to merge merit consideration once the transfer noted above is accomplished. Cooperation and coordination of functions of all state agencies, one with the other, is mandated by statute. The functions of these two agencies would no longer overlap. The only real effect of the merger would to create an agency with a diffuse charter and focus that would be easier for capture by industry, business, and legislator/politicians. As with other politically based entities, it now appears business and industry with deep pockets and money to spend on lobbyists and campaigns have too much influence at present. If you wish to have the PCA return to its’ original mandate and function and independent of political influence, working only for the broad citizenry, and concerned only with reducing the possibility of any pollution the agency should stand alone. Please write or call your legislator and tell him/her you are apposed to this merger and vote against House File 1420/Senate File 1248. Davids and Gunther are the major authors of this legislation. Be sure they understand their votes are being watched and they will be held accountable for what they do in St. Paul.

Robert Sauer is a retired physician and member of the Preston City Council.

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