On March 10, 2016, League of Women Voters member Kathleen Doran-Norton delivered the below prepared testimony regarding the reinstatement of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board. In her testimony, she emphasizes the importance of maintaining the presence of transparency, accountability, and citizen involvement in state decision making processes.
Statement for the Senate Environment and Energy Policy Committee
Reinstatement of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board
Kathleen Doran-Norton, League of Women Voters Minnesota
March 10, 2016
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:
My name is Kathleen Doran-Norton. I have been a township supervisor in Bridgewater Township, Rice County for the past ten years. And today I speak as a volunteer lobbyist for the League of Women Voters Minnesota. As you know, the League is not an environmental organization; rather we are a non-partisan good government organization. It is our mission to encourage informed and active participation in government.
Along with protecting the right of every citizen to vote, we support the right of these citizens to know what their government is doing and to participate in government decisions at all levels. Transparency and Citizen Participation are top priorities.
The MPCA Citizens’ Board, as it existed at this time last year, exemplified public access and involvement, Transparency and Citizen Participation at its best. By abolishing the Citizens’ Board as it did, the legislature removed a critical balance on the MPCA’s decision making process, and it cast a shadow over this Legislature.
As the lead agency in protecting Minnesota’s environment and Minnesotans’ health, the MPCA is occasionally in the news in the midst of controversy. Its Citizens’ Board met monthly and made often difficult decisions in a public setting. Members of the public attended and were able to testify before the Board to share their views.
In the 2015 session, there was no bill to eliminate the Citizens’ Board, there were no hearings, and no public testimony was taken, before this open and transparent governmental board was abolished. In fact, one of my township residents came to our town board during the session last year, fearing the Citizens Board was threatened. But she had no bill number, and our board, which includes a former member of the Citizen’s Board, didn’t look hard enough. We thought this lady was exaggerating, imagining conspiracies. We couldn’t imagine anyone proposing to weaken a board which gave citizens direct access to the decision-making processes of our government. But we were wrong, weren’t we?
The board was abolished behind closed doors, in the early morning hours of May 25th, the last day of the legislative session. This was done by a conference committee, which put the abolition in the must-pass Omnibus Environment Finance Bill This was a travesty, a perversion of the representative democracy Minnesotans expect.
Protecting the environment is among government’s most important responsibilities, for us and for our grandchildren. The League of Women Voters Minnesota believes that the public has a right to view readily, to understand clearly and to take part easily in decisions on important environmental questions.
The abolition of the Citizens’ Board did not reflect the will of Minnesota’s citizens. We need to reinstate the MPCA Citizens’ Board; the League of Women Voters Minnesota urges you to support this bill.
And we also urge you to develop legislative procedures which do not allow the kind of closed-door, back-room law making that resulted in the demise of this important board.
Thank you for your time.