Rolling Back Environmental Review: The Chamber of Commerce’s “Streamlining” Legislation (HF 1 / SF 42)

Key ways these bills weaken environmental review:

  • Bars access to district courts for citizens who chose to challenge an environmental review decision in court. Requires that a court appeal of an agency decision on environmental review must be made not in the local district court but in the Court of Appeals. This is especially onerous on rural citizens who then must travel to St. Paul to view the hearing. Appellate court has costlier filing fees and there is less flexibility in briefing and scheduling appearances. (Senate File 42 only. House File 1 has been amended to address this concern in most situations.)
  • Creates a ‘fox guarding the hen house” situation by allowing the project proposer to prepare the draft of the Environmental Impact Statement. This proposal compromises the fairness of the process. Taking the responsible government unit (RGU) out of the initial process makes the underlying information and analysis unavailable to the public, which compromises the critical public participation part of the process. (Senate File 42 and House File 1.)
  • Exempts the Iron Range Resource Board from environmental review requirements. The IRRRB is a regulatory agency and must abide by Minnesota law as would any agency that represents Minnesota at large.
  • Undermines Minnesota’s authority to create state rules tougher then federal minimum standards to protect our state’s air and water. It is already the case that if a state agency proposes to adopt state standards more stringent than any similar federal standard they are required to state the reasoning. However, this bill requires that the agency document that the federal rule “does not provide adequate protection.” This has the potential to create a new standard for judicial review of MPCA air, water, and hazardous waste rules. In essence this changes the burden of proof and creates tremendous potential for litigation and delay during standards setting. (House File 1 only)
  • Governor Dayton’s Recent Executive Order
    Gov. Mark Dayton signed an Executive Order on Monday, Jan. 24, instructing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources to implement provisions of House File 1 and Senate File 42. Gov. Dayton’s Executive Order calls on the MPCA and the DNR to:

    • Establish a goal of issuing environmental permits within 150 days;
    • Explain the reasons for proposing state rules that are tougher than federal standards, and compare them with rules of neighboring states;
    • Issue permits within 30 days after an Environmental Impact Statement is completed; and
    • Explore whether in some situations construction can begin before permits are issued.

    Gov. Dayton has said that he believes he can meet these goals without jeopardizing the quality of environmental review or the ability of citizens to participate meaningfully in the process. However, the goals are aimed exclusively at meeting the concerns of big business interests and are a significant concession. This should be the extent of the “streamlining” done on environmental review this legislative session.