Letter: Science needed to back MPCA requirements

Published 10:10 am Thursday, March 5, 2015

The not so pleasant process of running a waste water treatment facility may not be thought of as the front lines of environmental challenges but Austin and all other Minnesota cities are meeting some of our most important environmental challenges every day. We take seriously the dirty job most take for granted. But as they say, “no good deed goes unpunished”- at least as far as the overreaching MPCA is concerned as they have advanced regulations that have new and very costly requirements but lack a clear connection to improving the waters of our state.

The city contends with several stringent discharge standards daily through monitoring and testing of the incoming wastewater and water into the Cedar River so that we ensure the environment is protected. Cities have faced ever increasing environmental standards over recent years as we are what is called in the environmental world, “point source operators.” In short, discharge from a municipal waste water treatment facilities take place at fixed facilities (not all environmental sources can be so easily isolated) and the state knows precisely what is in the water after it goes through our treatment process because we report it to them directly. This has made Cities a frequent area for MPCA to continue to push the envelope of environmental standards and thereby raise the treatment costs that go along with it.

We have come to expect the MPCA’s moving goal posts for the most part and accept much of it as our component to make environmental improvements to the waters we so cherish in Minnesota. However, this summer the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency adopted new rules that did not face legislative approval, haven’t had direct peer review or analysis on specific plants in Minnesota and could cost ratepayers in Austin millions in sewer rate increases that tragically demonstrate no link to improving our waterways.

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Austin, as a member of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has taken a stand against these regulations and asked the legislature to halt their implementation until there is independent peer review and a cost-benefit analysis performed before Cities would have to comply with the new environmental regulations. We ought to know that the added costs will actually result in improving our waters as well as provide some certainty that our constituents can afford what could be dramatic increases in treatment rates. We want to do our part but our residents don’t much appreciate increasing their rates for an unknown and unquantified environmental improvement. The MPCA has taken the approach that if you take two aspirin to solve the problem going ahead and taking four certainly would give you double the improvement. We deserve a better connection between the costs and environmental benefits.

Our legislators from Austin are fighting to bring some common-sense to the process. Both Senator Sparks and Representative Poppe have co-authored legislation that will improve this bureaucratic overreach. The city will be working with them to ensure this bi-partisan effort can protect our residents and businesses.

Recently an MPCA official said; “Most of the people who serve in the Legislature are not scientists. Certainly they represent their constituents. They’re also representing specific interest in their districts, and they’re not necessarily representing science. “ It is important to say that our elected officials deserve to have review of these regulations and that while we don’t contend to be experts in science it is unfortunate that our democratically elected representatives would be excluded from the process and our citizens’ voices be given so little regard. We need everyone at the table because the waters of the state belong to all of us.

Craig Clark

Austin City Administrator