Environmental permitting bill debated

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Shortening the cycle of approving environmental and resource management permits generated criticism of a bill that would allow “permit applicant professionals” to help speed project development.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), HF2095 would streamline environmental review requirements by starting the 150-day issue/denial period for projects when the plan is submitted. Currently, that period starts the day the plan is approved.

The bill was held over by the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, which is expected to act on it Wednesday.

Tony Kwilas, director of environmental policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said Fabian’s bill would help clarify when the 150-day cycle starts and allow a licensed “personal applicant professional” to oversee project approval.

Chamber officials contend that drawn-out permitting procedures are a barrier to businesses considering moving operations in the state.

Among bill opponents testifying was Jeff Smith, director of the Pollution Control Agency’s Industrial Division.

“At best, this bill is a bit preliminary and redundant. … It feels like we’re taking a step back,” he said. Regarding the proposed permit applicant professionals, Smith said, “I have real doubt that these people could do what I have done for more than 20 years.”

Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said, “The only thing this bill does is slow the process and loosen restrictions. We call it Rollback 2.0”

A companion, SF1567, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), awaits action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee.