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Report calls for revitalized environmental board

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota must fortify a languishing environmental oversight board and make it easier for the public to follow the review process, according recommendations in a new report produced for Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Environmental Quality Board includes the heads of nine state agencies and four citizens. Over the years its staff has shrunk and it lacks the resources to fulfill its mandate of working on issues that go beyond the purview of a single agency, Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday ( ).

Dayton directed the board last year to recommend how it could improve overall environmental governance, specifically the environmental review process.

The report recommends a revitalized EQB, with up to 10 staffers, more than double the current level.

Agriculture Commissioner Dave Fredrickson, chair of the EQB, said the environment will benefit if the board can plan ahead.

“They can look into the future and anticipate problems that we may hit head-on, so rather than react, we can as a board act on some of those important issues,” Fredrickson said.

He cited silica sand mining; the board has been asked to do a broad review called a Generic Environmental Impact Statement on that subject. If the board had more staff, it could proceed.

The plan also directs the EQB to help local governments that lack experience with environmental reviews and to provide more information for the public earlier on proposed projects.

“The earlier citizen and public involvement, the better,” said Tony Kwilas, director of environmental policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Paula Maccabee, an attorney with Water Legacy, praised the proposal for improved electronic access to documents.

Dayton may be able to implement some of the recommendations by executive action but the Legislature would likely need to get involved in staffing increases.