Local Environmental Agencies
Includes Listing of Public Agencies
–Mark Snyder, MN OEA & Shea Peeples, Minneapolis Public Library
This article describes some of the government agencies that can help those of us seeking to improve our environment and what they have to offer.
At the local level, each Minnesota county has an office that oversees solid waste (garbage) management for its residents and businesses. Counties in the metropolitan area also have staff members that administer programs to license and inspect hazardous waste generators. Some larger cities, such as Minneapolis, have municipal programs for managing solid and hazardous waste for their residents. The Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES) oversees wastewater management for metro-area homes and regulates industrial sewer discharges from metro-area businesses.
In addition to their inspection programs, these agencies keep records on the facilities they license that can be used to identify trends for what kinds of waste these facilities generate and how much. Each licensed facility will also have a file with information on any violations that were found during inspections and what steps were taken to correct the problems. All of this information is open to the public.
One of the most important sources of environmental information is the Minnesota Emergency Response Commission (ERC). The ERC is part of the Department of Public Safety and is responsible for overseeing collection of Community Right-to-Know data from Minnesota industries and other facilities for the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). This data is gathered annually from approximately 400 facilities throughout the state and provides information for the public on how these facilities manage the toxic chemical waste they generate. If a company in your neighborhood reports to the TRI, the ERC can tell you which chemicals they are using in large quantities and how each chemical’s waste is being managed. They also can provide some basic information about why a particular chemical is considered toxic and what steps, if any, the company has taken to prevent pollution associated with that chemical. Learn more about the ERC and the TRI by calling 651-297-7372 or visiting www.erc.state.mn.us.
MINNESOTA STATE ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION
Compiled by Shea Peeples
Bridges: Minnesota’s Gateway to Environmental Information
Start any state environmental information search here! Bridges is the name for the web site/search engine for a multi-agency collaboration aimed at improving public access to environmental and natural resources data and information. Users may also search by linking to a table of categories that includes: Agriculture, Ecosystem Management, Energy, Environmental Economics, Environmental Education, Environmental Technology, Geographic Information, Geology, Health, Natural Resources, Pollution, Refuse and Refuse Disposal, Sewers, Sustainability and Transportation.
Participating agencies -those whose internet environmental information is searchable via the Bridges engine–include the following departments, listed in alphabetical order, with individual URLs, phone numbers and examples of choice offerings. See sites of individual agencies for full programs and services.
Board of Water and Soil Resources
Feature: Permanent Wetland Preserves Program
The program’s purpose is to protect water resources through the adoption and implementation of local water management plans based on local priorities.
Department of Agriculture
Feature: Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Program
The purpose of ESAP is to demonstrate and promote alternative practices which are energy efficient, environmentally sound, profitable and which enhance the self-sufficiency of Minnesota farmers.
See the Commerce Department’s fabulous Modern Technology pages with information and links on alternative energy, cleaner fuels and tax incentives to help get things rolling.
Department of Health
Feature: Children’s Environmental Health
This section of the Health Department site offers an outstanding children’s environmental health resource directory; materials from the working group on children’s environmental health threats, and lead poisoning and pesticide information; information on water, tobacco, food, and much more.
See also: Environmental Health Division’s Information for Citizens and Professionals
Department of Natural Resources
Feature: Division of Ecological Services
In line with the DNR goal of healthy, resilient ecosystems, the Division of Ecological Services collects, analyzes, and delivers vital ecological information to Minnesota citizens, leaders, and decision-makers.
Department of Transportation
Feature: The DOT’s “About Bicycles” page offers information, maps and links to the Office of Sustainable Transportation Initiatives.
Environmental Quality Board (Subdivision of Minnesota Planning)
Feature: See the 204-page public review draft of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Animal Agriculture, from August 2001 (or just read the summary).
State Law Library
Feature: LawMoose, home of the Minnesota Legal Web, a search engine that will render up the letter of the state’s environmental laws.
Feature: State Sustainable Development Initiative
Check out the state’s sustainable development initiative embracing the principles of smart growth. The Sustainable Development Initiative’s vision is of a future where businesses grow and prosper while respecting the natural and human environments that support them.
Land Management Information Center (Subdivision of Minnesota Planning)
Feature: Minnesota Land Use and Cover Census site
The evolving site contains an interactive mapping tool and statistical profiles of land use data collected during the 1990s, and will be useful for studying urban and lakeshore development and environmental issues such as forest depletion, pollution and water quality.
Feature: LRT information
Basic facts about the Hiawatha LRT line, links to maps, information on other rail initiatives in Minnesota and much more.
Office of Environmental Assistance
651-296-3417 or 800-657-3843
Special Feature: The OEA provides exhaustive recycling and waste disposal information; grants for local government and citizen projects; environmental education information; assistance to businesses engaged in environmental improvements; sustainable communities and policy research. The OEA has an environmental information clearinghouse that welcomes visitors.
OEA’s offerings include the Sharing Environmental Education Knowledge (SEEK) site containing a directory of Minnesota resources on environmental education. The directory works as a clearinghouse for all types of environmental education resources, from articles and lesson plans to performances and displays. These resources come from a variety of organizations throughout Minnesota, including schools and colleges, government agencies, libraries and businesses.
OEA runs the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN), an all types welcome free organization promoting information exchange and access to change making assistance. One MnSCN initiative is the NextStep web site, designed to provide the MnSCN members and others with information, opportunities and inspiration on topics of sustainable community building such as agriculture, buildings, business, communities, ecosystems, education, energy, individual choices, land use, state/global issues, transportation and water.
OEA also funds the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), which helps businesses reduce environmental impact and also coordinates the Minnesota Materials Exchange, connecting businesses in all sectors with reusable goods. Learn more about MnTAP by visiting www.mntap.umn.edu or calling 612-624-1300 or 800-247-0015. The MN Materials Exchange can be reached at 612-215-0216 or by visiting www.mnexchange.org
Office of Technology
Feature: Sets GIS standards that will ease state geographical information distribution. This is important for measuring smart growth and sprawl.
Pollution Control Agency
651-296-6300 or 800-657-3864
Feature: Environmental Review Program
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Environmental Review Program offers a service evaluating a project’s potential environmental effects, and suggesting how effects may be avoided or minimized, according to Environmental Quality Board rules.
Other Bridges partners include the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Data Center (formerly the Machine Readable Data Center, now a demographic-research-for-pay service Minnesota Data Center), and the Minnesota Historical Society.
|What You Can Do* If you see something that looks suspicious taking place at a company in your neighborhood, you should contact the MPCA or your county’s hazardous waste inspection staff if you live in the Twin Cities.|
* If you live near a facility you think is polluting a lot, contact the ERC to find out whether the facility reports to the Toxic Release Inventory. If they don’t, then contact the MPCA to find out whether the facility holds an air emissions permit and what pollutants are regulated in their permit.
* Make sure you have the correct information about a facility if you call a public agency with a question. Walk or drive past the facility to make sure you have the correct spelling for a company’s name and the correct address. Doing this will make it easier for the agency to find the information they need to answer your question.
* Be patient. There are thousand of facilities in Minnesota that have licenses for generating hazardous waste, permits for air emissions or water discharges or all of the above. Unless a facility is particularly large or has a recent history of violations, public agency staff may not be very familiar with the facility you contact them about and will probably need some time to do research before they can answer your questions.