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State regulators under fire for failure to act against polluting company: 'Took a surprise inspection … to bring to light something we have known for years'

"We don't understand why the MPCA has sided with a polluter for so long."

"We don't understand why the MPCA has sided with a polluter for so long."

Photo Credit: iStock

Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency promises to "strive for clean air and water, sustainable lands, a better climate, and a thriving economy." But environmental groups are saying the agency's actions suggest otherwise.

What's happening?

The Minnesota Reformer reported that the EPA conducted a surprise inspection of the Smith Foundry in Minneapolis and found something alarming: particulate matter.

"According to a city of Minneapolis report, the foundry is a major source of airborne lead and particulate matter, which are … easily inhaled," reported the Sahan Journal. "Copies of the EPA filings … show that the amounts of those substances that the foundry emitted were well over permitted levels, endangering people nearby and the environment."

But even when the EPA exposed these results, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency insisted that the foundry had not actually violated their emissions standards, according to the Star Tribune. This has led to several concerned pro-environment groups calling for increased accountability from the MPCA.

"It took a surprise inspection from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to bring to light something we have known for years. We don't understand why the MPCA has sided with a polluter for so long," said organizer Joe Vital, per the Minnesota Reformer.

Why is this important?

The claims brought against the MPCA center on the idea of "polluter capture." This means that rather than prioritizing human and environmental health and prosperity, the agency may be allowing its actions to be dictated — or "captured" — by the deep pockets of dirty industries.

"We ask legislators to fulfill their constitutional role to ensure the agencies live up to their responsibilities and secure clean water and air for all," Steve Morse, a former state senator now with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, told the Reformer.

The allied group of agencies pointed to a dozen instances where the MPCA delayed investigating or completely failed to act in opposition to a highly polluting company. For example, the Reformer reported that the agency had been warned by the EPA that they weren't doing enough to filter agricultural nitrate pollution from the state's drinking water.

They also accused them of making lenient permitting and regulatory choices to favor the same industries.

What's being done to keep the MPCA accountable?

These groups — which include Climate Generation, Friends of the Boundary Waters, Pollinator Friendly Alliance, and more — are calling for legislative action to address the issue. But the state's Governor, Tim Walz, may not be receptive to these claims. 

In a statement, Walz's spokesperson said, "The state has a strong record of holding polluters accountable and working with the community and the Legislature to ensure health and our natural resources are protected," the Reformer said.

But when it comes to following through on those claims, only time will tell.

In the meantime, citizens can voice their concerns and support these organizations to help them hold allegedly polluting companies and future would-be polluters accountable.

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