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Incinerator bill killed in committee

A bill that would have stalled 3M's plan to begin burning outside hazardous waste at its Cottage Grove incinerator won't get to the Senate floor, a major setback to officials at the local and state level who have worked to prevent the changes from going forward.

The proposed legislation introduced by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove was voted down in the Senate Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, stalling after what Sieben called heavy lobbying on behalf of 3M.

Originally, Sieben introduced a bill that would have prohibited commercial incineration in Minnesota, defined as burning hazardous waste not produced by the owner and operator of the incinerator facility.

The proposed legislation voted down in committee before the Legislature's Easter recess would have prohibited the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from issuing the new permit for one year. Sieben called the amended language "a compromise position."

The bill's defeat shows it is "an uphill battle for regular people to feel like they have a say in what environmental pollution is happening in their back yard," Sieben said. "And, as a Legislator from the area, it's extremely maddening."

At a committee hearing last month, 3M Cottage Grove site director Vickie Batroot condemned the proposed legislation as undue interference in an ongoing state permitting process.

"Having the Legislature intervene at this point is a mistake," Batroot testified at the March 24 hearing.

3M officials have staunchly defended their proposed permit amendments that would allow the company to burn hazardous waste from an outside provider as a supplement to the company's own waste and natural gas used to fuel the corporate hazardous waste incinerator.

Officials have said the plan could save the company up to $2 million per year.

With the pollution control agency unlikely to deny the permit request, local elected officials have their backs against the wall. Now, Mayor Myron Bailey said, the city's only realistic chance of stopping the proposed amendments is through the gubernatorial-appointed MPCA Citzens' Board.

Bailey expressed some optimism that local officials will be able to make their case to the board. He said the city would urge a large contingent of opponents to the amendments to "show up in force at the citizens' board meeting. If you show up in force before any political body, it can sway people in a particular direction."

Sieben said she was less confident the conservative-leaning board would side sympathetically with the city.

"I don't feel like the citizens' board treated the community of Cottage Grove well when it approved the consent order when it came to (perfluorochemicals found in area groundwater) from 3M, so now I'm concerned that the voice of the public will not be heard," she said.