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GOP lawmakers concerned about 3M lawsuit settlement

Cottage Grove, Minn., houses one of the east metro's 3M sites. Katie Nelson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Some lawmakers fear state agencies will drain funds away from a lawsuit settlement with iconic Minnesota business 3M, which is accused of dumping dangerous chemicals in the southeastern Twin Cities.

The state sued 3M for $5 billion, and last month settled on an $850 million payment to the state Department of Natural Resource and Pollution Control Agency.

"My No. 1 concern is that the dollars being put into this fund are dollars that actually get out to projects on the ground in this area," Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said.

Fabian, chairman of a House environment and natural resources committee, said on Monday, March 5, he is concerned the two state agencies will use too much money for administration. He also said he worries some funds may go to places other than the southeastern Twin Cities, where over several decades 3M deposited perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which can harm people and animals.

GOP Reps. Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa said the state Constitution requires legislators to appropriate all money the state spends, but the court-authorized settlement locks out the Legislature.

"I think we need to take a much deeper exploration," Drazkowski said. "This does not seem to be consistent with our Constitution."

The state sued 3M, one of the best-known Minnesota companies, in 2010 over dumping PFCs, which got into the eastern Twin Cities' water supply. The dangerous chemicals came from 3M's manufacture of products such as Scotchguard and Teflon. The company developed the chemicals in the 1940s. In recent years, state workers have found hundreds of wells to be contaminated.

The state is to receive the settlement money soon and eventually will distribute the funds, after legal fees are paid.

Private attorneys hired by Attorney General Lori Swanson's office will receive $125 million of the settlement.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, wondered why a private law firm is being paid what amounts to $48,000 a day to represent the state in the matter since 2010.

Barbara Naramore of the Pollution Control Agency said the firm, which received 15 percent of the settlement, would not have been paid if the money hadn't been awarded.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, said it was a big case, with more than 27 million pages of documents involved. The case included more than 100 court hearings.

In another large case, Minnesota's lawsuit against big tobacco companies in the 1990s, the state also hired outside attorneys.

In addition to contaminating the water people drink, Kirk Koudelka of the pollution agency said PFCs also harm fish and other animals that use the water. Some of the settlement money may be used downstream of where PFCs were dumped, he said, because the chemical floated downstream, such as in the Mississippi River.

Republicans on Monday clearly were not happy that they would have no say in how the lawsuit proceeds will be split. Several referred to the state Constitution, which requires all money spent by state government to be appropriated by the Legislature.

Koudelka told committee members that the Legislature already had approved the spending of any money placed in a special account.

The settlement, Koudelka said, "allows us to fundamentally change how we deal with PFCs." In the past, the state dealt with them on a well-by-well basis or other similar individual cases. The settlement, he said, allows the state deal with the issue with a long-term, overall approach.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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