Citizens’ petition for environmental assessment in Pineland Sands Area

On April 10, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources denied the latest petition for Environmental Review in the Pineland Sands, which was put together by citizens primarily to address chemical contamination of surface and groundwater, and aerial overspray of chemical by irrigated agriculture operations which are deforesting the area. This was the fourth official attempt at drawing government attention to the Pineland Sands environment.

The reasons the department provided for the unprecedented delay in this decision included:

• RD Offutt Company (RDO) withdrew three pending water appropriation permits after DNR approved the petition July 23, 2018.

• Lack of pumping data for DNR to analyze, which was provided last fall by RDO.

• DNR questioned being placed in the role of responsible governmental unit.

• The petition was found to be overly-vague late in March 2019 by DNR.

• After originally approving the petition on its merits, DNR then had difficulty finding “that there may be the potential for environmental effect” for the project being conducted by RDO and others similar.  Please remember the Pineland Sands Aquifer hosts 444 known irrigation wells pumping out over 19 billion (self-reported) gallons per year on over 50,000 acres of field.

Personal experiences during recent years have revealed different reasons that I believe may better explain the delay which include:

• RDO is very happy to see no public attention brought to company operations.

• Influence by RDO as multi-national entity is undeniable within political circles.

• DNR does not want to voluntarily call RDO operations into Environmental Review due to reprisal in the form of budget cuts (or worse) by the Legislature.

• Information compiled by multiple state agencies shows the problem of water contamination by industrial agriculture is well known and growing, and seriously addressing the issue now would force government to lead societal change.

• DNR has “developed a study concept” for the Pineland Sands (and other areas of the state affected by chemical contamination of water) which DNR prefers to the Environmental Review process laid out in Minnesota statutes.  This study concept allows permitting activity to continue unimpeded.

• DNR is unfamiliar with regenerative agriculture as a reasonable alternative to current conventional practices.

Ironically, the Record of Decision, in which DNR denies the need for preparation of a basic EAW, is packed full of reasons for preparing an EAW.  

Doubling down on the strangeness of the situation, DNR and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency called for the next step beyond an EAW when, in 2013, both agencies indicated the need for an Environmental Impact Statement under identical conditions.

This all begs the question; does DNR want to be court-ordered to fulfill its statutory mandate to protect Minnesotans and their environment, and thus escape the political liabilities that come with an upfront questioning of RDO policy?

If the answer to this question is yes, an extended delay for decision followed by the denial of the petition starts to make sense from a DNR perspective, but should citizens have to pay court costs to get a unit of their government to follow its own laws?

In the end, if you wonder why some people would jump through all these inane hoops, it is an attempt to peacefully preserve what is left of one of the most pristine areas in America.  

If you don’t mind that generations to follow, along with many of our neighbors today, won’t be able to safely drink the water or breathe the air, then you may carry on;  add a pipeline here, clear a forest there, mine for minerals in wetlands, run a new mudder trail through unbroken wilderness, put a mega-barn in sinkhole territory, and let the biggest (often foreign) companies take the profits and run, while we are left holding the proverbial hot potato — oil spill, dust storm, sulfuric acid wash and impaired water.

If this does bother you, then let’s join together to figure out how to get past this dog and pony show our governing bodies produce with industry at citizens’ expense.  

 

We will have to start by changing ourselves.  

Our ‘Minnesota nice’ brand of walking softly may well need to be accompanied by carrying a big stick.

Mike Tauber

NWA Ag/water team

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