MPCA to focus on environmental justice

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced members of its new environmental justice advisory group Sep. 6 .

Ryan Faircloth

A new justice advisory group in the state wants to help
underrepresented Minnesotans voice their environmental concerns.

The group will be tasked with advising the Minnesota
Pollution Control Agency on how to incorporate environmental justice into the
organization while keeping it accountable.

David Thornton, assistant commissioner of the MPCA, said the
agency has been working to form the group since last winter, with members of
the group announced by the MPCA on Sept. 6.

 “It was something
that had been suggested to us from some outsiders, and we decided that it was a
good idea,” he said.

While the group establishes its roots, Thornton said it will
have the opportunity to pitch issues that members believe can help shape
environmental justice policy.

“We want to get some input on how well we’re doing and what
we can do better because this is a new area for us and it’s going to be
something that we’ll have to learn,” he said.

But some have found giving input to the MPCA difficult in
the past.

Shirley Nordrum, a University of Minnesota extension
educator and member of the advisory group, said she’s found the MPCA hard to
reach.

“I think the people are not being heard,” she said.

Because of this, Nordrum said the group must figure out a
way to better facilitate communication between the agency and residents.

“In order to engage the … average citizen, which is, I
think, critically important, things need to be streamlined a little bit,” she
said.

Janiece Watts, environmental justice organizer for
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and member of the advisory group’s
selection committee, said she also thinks the agency should be more accessible.

“Having access to the MPCA is not just something that I
think that a lot of people feel like they have,” she said.

Watts said this can be frustrating for community members,
since many don’t know where to turn when they see issues in their
neighborhoods.

The advisory group, she said, will make sure the MPCA is
accountable to community needs.

“Now, having this advisory group, I think it would be a
really great opportunity to … come together and say, ‘What are these pertinent
issues that we should be focusing on?’ and … start making the plan,” Watts
said.

Some problems she said she’d like to see the group address are
the Northern Metal Recycling plant in North Minneapolis, the industrial
corridor the plant sits in, lake pollution and water quality issues.

Watts said she hopes this advisory group will be able to
encourage the MPCA to aggressively pursue polluters.

Nordrum said raising awareness and acting on these issues will
help improve the environment for state residents.

“No one’s going to be in disparity if we can … reach everyone
and do a good job at it,” Nordrum said.

Regarding planning, Thornton said the group will meet “at
least quarterly,” with the first meeting coming sometime next month.