June 16, 2011

As the days go by in June, Minnesotans are inching closer to July 1st and the harsh reality of a shutdown of State government. Nearly 40,000 state employees have received layoff notices. On Wednesday June 15th Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton outlined for a Ramsey County District Court the state services, employees and programs he believes should continue even in a state government shut down.

The Dayton administration asked the court to keep thousands of employees at work, even if the state lacks authority to spend money because of budget impasse, but also proposes closing almost 50 small boards and agencies.

Other state agencies, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), would likely remain open, but operations will be greatly reduced. According to the Dayton administration, only minimal levels of staff and operating expenses that are necessary to continue, secure, or support these operations are requested to continue in the event of a government shutdown. All other state government operations are recommended to close. If the Governor and the Legislature cannot find a solution to the thorny budget issues by July 1st, a court may step in to fill the void and order limited functioning of government until the financial issues are resolved. As we move closer to the July 1st deadline, the pressures on the Governor and legislative leaders in both chambers to reach a deal will increase.

What could the impact of a shutdown have on the operations of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency?

MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen and twelve of his closest friends will be left to run the Agency. Currently, the MPCA employs 927 to carry out its duties. According to Governor’s court submission, the MPCA would be involved in limited activities deemed to be “essential” including:

  • Petroleum remediation at four sites
  • Air quality index monitoring
  • BioWatch monitoring services
  • Four closed landfill sites (gas collection, leachate prevention)
  • Seven Superfund sites (active management & protection)
  • Emergency response; and
  • Incident command and support for critical services

Ongoing work at the active petroleum remediation, closed landfill and Superfund sites may involve parties who are under contract with the MPCA. The MPCA also has contractors on standby to respond to spills and other emergency situations that may occur. Other standard MPCA functions, such as issuing permits, conducting environmental review on new projects, reviewing applications in the Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup and Petroleum Brownfield programs, conducting inspections and responding to complaints, would come to a halt.

The MPCA’s website has a page that addresses the handling of other issues that may occur during a potential shutdown.  For more information on what government services would continue to be provided in a State government shutdown please visit:http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/about-mpca/mpca-general-information/frequently-asked-questions-about-a-potential-state-shutdown-for-mpca-customers.html.  For the latest on the shutdown’s affects on the MPCA, please see: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/shutdown/archive/2011/06/skeleton-crew-to-manage-environmental-crises-in-shutdown.shtml.

In a government shutdown scenario, would the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fare any better?

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr gets 219 employees working on a full time basis to help him, but staffing and programs also are drastically reduced. The DNR currently employs 2,665 in carrying out its duties involving natural resources protection and regulation. At the DNR, Governor Dayton proposes that only the following areas be funded on a “essential” basis:

  • Conservation law enforcement
  • Water treatment
  • Bison herd care
  • Hatchery maintenance and tree nursery
  • Soudan mine maintenance
  • Pathology lab testing
  • Dam safety and operations
  • Dike/water control structure management
  • Incident command team including disaster response coordination.

At the peak of summer travel and vacation season, state parks will apparently be closed. Under the Dayton administration’s proposal, other core environmental and health and safety related functions including emergency management, drinking water supply protection and OSHA compliance governmental for high risk activities would continue.

The impact of a shutdown will be widespread. Although the courthouses would remain open around the State, a number of smaller state agencies and Boards, including the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Board of Water and Soil Resources, would be shuttered. Governor Dayton is even recommending that the State Lottery be closed, deeming gambling to be non-essential.

For more information on what government services would continue to be provided in a State government shutdown please visit: http://mn.gov/governor/multimedia/pdf/SCRT-Recommended-Priority-1-and-2-Critical-Services-6-15-11.pdf

At Hessian & McKasy, our environmental law attorneys assist clients on a range of matters including those involving federal, state and local environmental agencies. The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer, Hessian & McKasy, a Professional Association.

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