Although Governor Dayton bungled the launch of his plan to better enforce buffer laws, the notion of vegetative buffer strips along ditches wasn't conceived by his administration. Thus an exchange by gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz with a Hutchinson Leader reporter is, well, peculiar.
If anything, the Mankato Democrat's statement, "I don’t think our agencies need to be seen as regulatory agencies, they need to be seen as partners ... I will show regulatory humility …," should make Minnesotans pause. It seems like a formula for "regulatory capture." Investopedia defines the phrase as:
Regulatory capture is a theory associated with George Stigler, a Nobel laureate economist. It is the process by which regulatory agencies eventually come to be dominated by the very industries they were charged with regulating. Regulatory capture happens when a regulatory agency, formed to act in the public's interest, eventually acts in ways that benefit the industry it is supposed to be regulating, rather than the public.
Public interest agencies that come to be controlled by the industry they were charged with regulating are known as captured agencies. Regulatory capture is an example of gamekeeper turns poacher; in other words, the interests the agency set out to protect are ignored in favor of the regulated industry's interests.
Gov. Mark Dayton championed environmental legislation that mandated buffer strips along state waters. As a result, many farmers stopped producing on a portion of their farmland along ditches, but don’t feel fairly reimbursed for the loss in revenue. How would you address that?
“I agree with (farmers) on this ... The farmers are not pushing back on this because they don’t care about clean water. They most certainly do. And it’s not that the buffer strip idea, or the idea of source-point cleaning of water is not a good idea. I think the frustration is: Why didn’t we include in the conversations those people who were going to be affected by it? Why didn’t we on the front end bring them in? I refuse to believe that (farmers) weren’t going to be (willing). In many cases, they already have been. We’ve seen compliance above 90 percent of people voluntarily doing this.
“But if we as a society are going to ask them to take productive land out of production, there is a responsibility to compensate them fairly for that. I totally agree with that.”
“Our producers are feeding, fueling, clothing the world, better than anybody else. They care deeply about the soil and the water because it’s their legacy and it’s their children’s legacy. People in the cities do care deeply about it, and they do understand they all eat, and they do understand there is a legacy … our core values are the same.”
“Our producers want to keep that water as clean as possible, want to do it in the most efficient way, willing certainly to help. Certainly tired of people lecturing to them. I don’t think our agencies need to be seen as regulatory agencies, they need to be seen as partners ... I will show regulatory humility … rather than me coming in with a stick and telling you what it’s going to be, I’m much more the carrot guy.” [emphasis added]
It's worth noting that Walz broadens his answer to "our agencies," not merely the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR). Will the MPCA be the partner of polluting industries? Or the Department of Agriculture the good buddy for food safety?
Would he want to lessen the consumer watchdog role of the Minnesota Attorney General's office?
Other than that, it's one heckova of a talking point.
As for the frame of the question itself, buffers didn't begin with Mark Dayton. For a nice pre-Dayton history of buffer law in Minnesota, we recommend the February 2006 Public Drainage Ditch Buffer Study mandated by the legislature. $118,000 was spent to prepare it, and the work group of stakeholders tasked with the project meet five times to discuss the requirement for grass buffers that was mandated in 1977.
Those meetings were held at the Minnesota Farm Bureau's offices, so those cads at BSWR were pretty good at pulling the wool over the eyes of farm groups. Just saying.
Photo: Buffers, elements of non-buddy agencies.
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