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Olson to head environmental reorganization panel

Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, will head a Senate panel that will continue to study a possible reorganization of state environmental agencies.

The measure passed in the Senate earlier this year but stumbled in the House. So the Senate decided to form its own task force.

The Natural Resources Reform and Realignment Task Force will look at streamlining natural resources agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resoures and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to avoid duplication of services.

The panel begins meeting next month with stakeholder groups and the public on how the state can realign the state's current environmental protection programs. They are currently spread throughout several agencies, departments and boards.

"I have heard from many constituents who are frustrated with the level of redundancy and overlap they see in the state's natural resource agencies and departments," said Olson. "They report having to get multiple permits from multiple agencies with overlapping jurisdictions, and are finding it difficult to know what agency or department they should turn to with questions or requests."

Olson said she's confident that "if we are able to strip away the bureaucracy and realign our existing resources, we can provide better service at a lower cost for Minnesotans."

The task force "will essentially do what I proposed -- looking at natural resources reorganization and realignment, because we're certainly going to have to have some ideas next session about ways to be able to tackle a huge budget deficit," the Bemidji Democrat said.

Olson has been championing the effort for several years and got the measure through the Senate before a House-Senate conference committee refused to include it.

"I'm going to be out talking to people about that issue between now and the end of the year, and then we'll see what happens after that," Olson said. ""If I'm still here, I'll bring those ideas back to the Legislature and if not, I'll hand them over."

Olson faces a Nov. 2 challenge from Republican John Carlson of Bemidji.

Olson's bill would have created a legislative task force to study the issue, but the one announced Friday will include only DFL senators.

In a letter to Olson, Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Senate Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division, said the proposal still had the support of the Senate, adding that it would be worthwhile to "continue to study these matters" before the start of the 2011 legislative session.

"I appreciate the level of support I've received from my colleagues in the Senate, who clearly recognize the need to reform state government," said Olson. "We all know the immense challenges facing our state and it's clear we need to find ways to do more with less. The status-quo can't be the solution.

"We need to take a step back and create a new model that takes a 21st century approach to meeting 21st century needs," she added.

Olson said she hopes to schedule the task force's first meeting sometime in September. Other members appointed to the task force include: Sens. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, and Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.