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MPCA seeks new members for advisory group

MARSHALL — Clean air, clean water and a healthy environment are things everyone in Minnesota needs. That’s why it’s important for the state agency tasked with protecting the environment to hear concerns from all Minnesotans, Jose Luis Villaseñor said.

“Environmental justice gives us the opportunity to ask the question, ‘Who’s missing at the table?'” said Villaseñor, environmental justice coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Environmental justice — the idea that no group of people should be disproportionately affected by pollution or negative environmental factors, and that all people have a chance to take part in decisions that may affect their environment or health — is one of the goals that the MPCA works toward.

With that in mind, Villaseñor and environmental justice coordinator Ned Brooks visited Marshall last week, as part of a tour encouraging Minnesotans to apply for open positions on the MPCA’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group. Earlier this month, the MPCA announced it is looking to fill six vacant seats on the advisory group. The group gives input on how to help the MPCA be fairer to all Minnesotans, and how to engage diverse groups of people on environmental issues. The committee was created around two years ago by past MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine, Villaseñor said.

“He really wanted to have an opportunity to hear from folks who live near the facilities we regulate,” Villaseñor said. Current MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop has also championed the advisory group, he said.

The people the MPCA needs to hear from include people of all races, ages and economic backgrounds, tribal and immigrant communities, and people from different geographic regions of the state, Villaseñor said. The advisory group would like to have a good balance of members from different parts of Minnesota, including greater Minnesota.

“We need to hear those voices from Marshall,” and to hear about environmental concerns that affect people living in southwest Minnesota, Villaseñor said.

In the time since it was created, the Environmental Justice Advisory Group has given some valuable input on topics like air quality rules, and how the state issues environmental permits, Brooks said. He said group members have pointed out the need to gather public feedback earlier in the permitting process. Villaseñor said the advisory group also has subgroups on issues like community engagement, and how to recruit and hire a more diverse group of people to the MPCA.

Villaseñor and Brooks said they would be traveling around Minnesota this month to share information on the Environmental Justice Advisory Group’s mission, and encourage people to apply to be a group member. Group members have a term of two years, and the group meets every two months. The deadline to submit an application is August 12.

Application forms to join the MPCA Environmental Justice Advisory Group are available on the MPCA website, at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/about-mpca/mpca-environmental-justice-advisory-group. Interested individuals can call 651-757-2575 with questions.

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