House passes environmental review bill

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One day before a legislative auditor’s report is due to be released on the topic, a bill that would streamline the environmental permit process within the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency passed the House 89-42 as amended by the Senate. It now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton for his review.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), HF1 would require the DNR and PCA to issue or deny environmental and resource management permits within 150 days of a submitted application. Proponents have said some applications can now take months or years to complete and drive would-be projects to neighboring states.

The Senate amended the provision so that the 150-day clock does not start until the proposer’s application is deemed complete. The DNR and PCA would have 30 days to make that determination.

The Senate also amended the bill so that statements of need and reasonableness for rulemaking would include an assessment of the difference between the proposed rule and existing federal standards for air and water quality, as well as standards in bordering states. The bill also would enable the review process to bypass district court and go directly to the Court of Appeals.

Concern over allowing a project proposer to draft their own environmental impact statement is still a controversial provision, even though a Senate amendment would require a proposer to submit an appendix of all sources of information used to substantiate their project. The governmental agency could also require additional studies, if necessary, in making its determination.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) said allowing a potential polluter to draft a study about how much pollution they’re going to emit is like having the “fox guarding the hen house.” Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) said he had another name for polluters. “Where I come from, we call them job providers,” he said.

DFLers asked members to wait on the vote until the auditor’s report is released, scheduled tomorrow. “Our responsibility is to have the facts before we make decisions,” said Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul).  Buesgens called the report a “stall tactic.”