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Legislative Audit Criticizes Pollution Agency
By Mary Losure
January 29, 1999
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Part of MPR's budget series

A new report by the State Legislative Auditor finds "numerous weaknesses" in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's feedlot program. They include outdated rules, inadequate inspections, and inconsistent enforcement.

STATE LAWMAKERS ASKED the Legislative Auditor's office to investigate the Minnesota Pollution Control agency's feedlot program in response to growing concern over air and water pollution from feedlots. Big industrial-scale feedlots, particularly hog operations, began springing up in Minnesota in the early 1990s. Neighbors have complained that the PCA is doing an inadequate job of policing the big, new operations.

For the most part, the Legislative Auditor's report agrees.

Among the problems listed by the report are "significant deficiencies" in the agency's oversight. It notes the PCA has no statewide inventory of feedlots, does no periodic inspections, and has no way to tell when feedlots are closed or if closed feedlots are properly cleaned up.

Recommendations of the Legislative Auditor
  • MPCA should visit more proposed feedlot sites before issuing permits and inspect more construction work, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas.
  • MPCA should improve its response time in reviewing feedlot permit applications.
  • MPCA and the Legislature should encourage more counties to participate in the feedlot program, but MPCA should provide better oversight of counties in the program.
A copy of the report is available at the web site of the Legislative Auditor or by calling (651) 296-4708

Although Minnesota has more stringent design standards for new feedlots than many other states do, the report says PCA staff do not normally inspect construction sites to make sure those design standards are followed. Such inspections are particularly important in geologically sensitive areas, such as southeast Minnesota.

The report also characterized the agency's manure management plans, which are supposed to insure that farmers don't pollute lakes and rivers by spreading too much manure on too little land, as inadequate.

The PCA has not updated its feedlot rules since 1978, despite the major changes in the industry that have occurred since that time. Project Manager for the report, John Yunker, says the agency is also inconsistent in how it enforces the rules.

Yunker: I think that part of the problem is that their staff is not well managed and they tend to pursue enforcement cases in different ways. They range from staff that are very aggressive in pursuing enforcement to staff that aren't doing much of anything, and I think PCA had a problem in one particular regional office where the philosophy there was not to do enforcement.

Acting PCA Commissioner Lisa Thorvig concedes there are problems. She attributes many of them to chronic understaffing.

Thorvig: In the air quality regulatory program we have 25,000 facilities and 60 people to do that regulatory program. we're talking about a feedlot situation where there's 30,000 facilities, and right now we have 34 people.

Thorvig says the agency has asked for funding for more feedlot staff.

The legislative auditor's report agrees that may be needed, but it says the money could come from existing PCA programs. The report also says staff should be moved from St. Paul into rural areas, and that the PCA needs to work more closely with counties to oversee feedlots.

The report did find some strengths in the feedlot program, including the agency's recent monitoring of air emissions from large feedlots. The odor from big feedlots has generated widespread complaints and is a potential public health concern.

Governor Ventura's proposed budget calls for $3.1 million over the next two years to bolster state and local feedlot programs.