(AP) - Brad Moore, the state's top pollution regulator, knows the public will be watching as he tries to resolve one of the most contentious issues before the state's Pollution Control Agency: the cleanup of sites contaminated by chemicals once used by 3M Co.
Over the next few weeks, Moore and a team of negotiators will sit across the table from 3M officials and try to reach a deal over the cost and scope of cleaning up the sites in Woodbury, Cottage Grove and Oakdale, where 3M waste was buried years ago.
"I think the next step, in terms of two to six months, will have a lot to say about how the public receives both 3M's work and the work of the Pollution Control Agency," he said.
Trace amounts of chemicals called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, made at 3M's Cottage Grove plant from the 1950s until 2002 were recently found in the drinking water in several suburbs, setting off a wave of public hearings and debate.
Moore, who was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last summer and who faces an upcoming Senate confirmation vote, wanted to classify the chemicals as hazardous under the state Superfund law. That would have given the agency more legal sway in the event it differed with 3M over how to clean up the sites.
Instead, the MPCA Citizens' Board directed Moore to negotiate with 3M, putting its faith in the mild-mannered commissioner's ability to get an acceptable deal from one of the state's most well-known and powerful companies.
"I'm comfortable in giving him a shot at it. If it's done right it can speed (the cleanup) considerably," said Chester Wilander, a retired union official who sits on the citizens' panel.
Moore said the board "set a high bar" and expects a "rigorous and robust cleanup effort" by 3M.
Short of giving specifics, he said negotiators may push for tough and expensive measures, such as pressing 3M to dig out the contaminated sites rather than simply cap them.
"The reason I have had an interest in (using the Superfund law) is that I think this is an issue that is going to go on for quite some time, and we are moving into a stage where we are going to have additional cleanups," Moore said.
Bill Nelson, a spokesman for 3M, said the company "heard clearly the comments" from the citizens' board and looked forward to the negotiations.
This week, the company announced that it was setting aside an additional $121 million for possible cleanup costs at sites contaminated with PFCs.
For Moore, 45, who began working in state government in 1985 and worked his way up the ranks in the Department of Natural Resources and the MPCA, resolving the 3M case has taken center stage.
“I think the next step ... will have a lot to say about how the public receives both 3M's work and the work of the Pollution Control Agency.”MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore
But in a meeting in his office overlooking downtown St. Paul, he was eager to talk about other priorities, including addressing climate change and cleaning up the state's waters, the subject of his message to readers of the agency's Web site.
Just two weeks ago, a governor-appointed advisory board met for the first time as it works over the next year to develop ideas and recommendations for reducing greenhouse gases.
When Pawlenty launched the board, Moore said the governor told members that "there still is some debate, but (for) the majority of scientists it's here ... Climate change is something you need to deal with and let's not dwell on the few people that don't think it's real. Let's deal with the problem."
"And I feel the same way," said Moore, a member of the advisory board. "The evidence is overwhelming that this is a problem that humans have had a huge impact in terms of creating, and it's time to deal with it."
Moore praised a state law, passed this year and signed by the governor, that will require utilities to generate a quarter of their energy with renewable sources like wind or biomass over the next two decades.
On a smaller scale, he said the agency can contribute by encouraging Minnesotans to change their personal energy use, such as by using fluorescent light bulbs or making their homes energy efficient.
The agency is also asking the Legislature for more money as it works to evaluate and clean what it considers to be "impaired waters" across the state. Last year, lawmakers set aside $15 million for the program.
About 40 percent of the state's lakes and waters aren't as clean as they should be, Moore said.
"People care about the water in terms of outdoor recreation, lake homes. It's really integral to Minnesota's fabric," he said. "And so, because of that, I think we have enough people that want to do something, that we are going to be able to get something done."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)