The environment didn’t fare well overall in the 2012 legislative session. While some anti-environment bills were modified and weakened to limit their impact on long-established environmental law, it was clear that there was a full-frontal assault on many state agency regulations, rules and the environmental review process. Whether this was part of the national American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) strategy for all states, or the majority party in Minnesota wanting to push back on 40 years of environmental law, remains to be seen.
The new legislation, combined with continued funding cuts, makes it more burdensome for Minnesota agencies to do their jobs. Two new laws bear this out: Chapters 150 and 238.
Chapter 150 is the so-called “environmental streamlining” law. It forces agencies to time the 150-day deadline from submission of a permit application, whether it’s complete or not. You can assume many of these won’t be near complete. It also allows a project to begin construction before a permit is even issued, unless a federal law stops it. The law further mandates a pilot program to review the mandatory environmental impact statement and environmental review categories, which could lead to possible exemption for projects now undergoing the review.
Chapter 238 is a statutory requirement to reduce “burdens” on regulated parties affecting the environment. It requires additional reports by the Board of Water and Soil Resources and the Environmental Quality Board to justify and provide rationale for their existing rules. By January 15 each year, all state agencies with environmental programs must submit their rulemaking record to the legislative policy and budget chairs, as well as the Legislative Advisory Commission. This all seems like an attempt to make it overly burdensome for the agencies to manage good programs, and to monitor and enforce regulations.
A recent study by the University of Delaware has shown a large reduction in acid rain precipitation along the east coast. This can be attributed to regulation prescribed in the federal Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 signed by then-President George H.W. Bush. The goal was to lower sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides emanating from mainly coal-fired power plants for cleaner air and water pollution, along with greater protection for public health. A significant drop in acid rain has occurred, according to the study, and it shows that environmental regulation can work for the public good.
Let’s hope that the public can become energized again about environmental protection, and that their elected public officials can endorse a more substantive balance between needed regulation and responsible commercial development.