Questions mount in mercury matter
David Shaffer, Star Tribune
August 4, 2005 MERCURY0804
Environmental groups asked Gov. Tim Pawlenty Wednesday to investigate whether a state agency acted in bad faith by giving industry officials a private opportunity to influence a mercury-reduction proposal while shutting out advocates for tough regulation.
In a joint letter, the 27 groups also asked the governor to halt further consideration of the mercury-reduction proposal developed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Instead, the review process should begin again, using as a starting point an earlier draft proposal that had set specific dates for cutting emissions of the toxic metal, the groups said.
A governor's spokesman said Pawlenty was reviewing the groups' concerns, but praised Minnesota's mercury-control efforts.
The Star Tribune reported Sunday that MPCA officials weakened a statewide mercury-reduction plan after consulting last fall with utilities and industries that emit mercury. The story cited internal agency e-mails and other evidence from environmentalists who said they were shut out while the MPCA consulted with industry. The agency eliminated specific target dates for mercury reductions in the draft plan published in December.
"The process needs to be in the sunshine," said Martha Brand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, one of the signers of the letter.
The groups also asked Pawlenty to investigate whether MPCA officials violated a state rule requiring candor in official business. The groups complained that state officials, while consulting with the industry, told environmental groups there was nothing to talk about and later altered a document to omit key information about the draft plan.
Brian McClung, the governor's press secretary, said Minnesota's proposal will reduce mercury emissions by 93 percent and that environmental groups' allegations are based on a misunderstanding of the process.
"The MPCA did meet with environmental groups for over a year regarding mercury issues," McClung said. "Nonetheless, Governor Pawlenty will review their concerns and explore additional opportunities for the advocacy groups to be heard further."
Mercury is a potent toxin that accumulates in lakes and streams and the bodies of fish and can damage the nervous systems of people who eat contaminated fish.
David Shaffer is at email@example.com.