Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Standard misunderstanding?

Over the weekend, I spent a little time reading about Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, the state where I grew up. One of the consistent assessments of her strengths is her ability to take complex government regulations and explain them in a way that the ordinary lay person can understand them. I wish she'd find the time and energy to take on explaining water quality standards and Total Maximum Daily Loads. I started working on water quality management back when PL92-500 was the "Muskie-Blatnik bill." I'm aware that setting water quality standards is a complex, and often contentious, process. However, I'm not willing to concede that those responsible for that work, such as Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] and Department of Natural Resources [DNR], don't have a major responsibility to explain both the process and the outcomes in such a way that the average Minnesotan can readily understand what's going on. I think we're a long way from that situation.

some of Minnesota's waters
some of Minnesota's waters           © harrington

In a simplified version of the federal law's requirements, all waters are supposed to be "fishable and swimmable" unless there's a very solid reason those standards can't be met (impaired waters). On the MPCA's web page describing how the Agency and USEPA are going to address Minnesota's "Statewide Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)" the following statement can be found: "There is a strong connection between the Minnesota Department of Health Fish Consumption Advisory (FCA) and MPCA’s impairment determination. When the FCA limitation is more restrictive than one meal per week, the water body is impaired." This is where I take a strong exception to how MPCA is interpreting or applying a standard. If a water is supposed to be "fishable," I would argue that there should be NO ADVISORY on fish consumption. There's another statement on the same page that makes me wonder if the author really meant what he or she wrote. It may seem like a quibble, but stating that "The long-term goal of the mercury TMDL is for the fish to meet water quality standards..." can't be correct. Fish don't meet water quality standards, water does. Take a minute and go read through the web page yourself. See if you don't think it could use some of Elizabeth Warren's explanatory expertise. This is going to be important to Minnesotans, because mining is a contributor to the mercury water quality and fish consumption issue ..."Of the anthropogenic emissions originating within Minnesota in 2005, an estimated 56% was from energy-related sources, 21% was from mercury products, and 22% was from taconite processing (MPCA 2005)." (see page 18 of the WRC summary) and I'm not sure we have the proper framework in place to address the issue. The UMN Water Resources Center has prepared a nice 56 page summary that's more readily understandable, at least to me, than the hyperlinked, cross-referenced material offered up by MPCA on their web site. It would be helpful if MPCA would describe their technical, regulatory and legal processes in such a way that so we citizens and taxpayers can get a better idea of what's going on without having to major in reading regulations. I wonder if Merwin spent too much time with regulations before he wrote Memorandum.

Memorandum

By W. S. Merwin
Save these words for a while because
of something they remind you of
although you cannot remember
what that is a sense that is part
dust and part the light of morning

you were about to say a name
and it is not there I forget
them too I am learning to pray
to Perdita to whom I said
nothing at the time and now she
cannot hear me as far as I
know but the day goes on looking

the names often change more slowly
than the meanings whole families
grow up in them and then are gone
into the anonymous sky
oh Perdita does the hope go on
after the names are forgotten

and is the pain of the past done
when the calling has stopped and those
betrayals so long repeated
that they are taken for granted
as the shepherd does with the sheep


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