New Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, issued an executive order on Jan. 24, 2011 requiring environmental review and permitting to be accelerated and simplified. Executive Order No. 11-04 establishes two timing goals for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and two permit process review requirements for the PCA.

In order to accelerate the permitting process, the first of the two timing goals requires that the agencies decide whether to issue an environmental or natural resources permit within 150 days of determining that a permit application is complete. The PCA and DNR Commissioners are to submit a progress report on meeting the goal and any administrative recommendations to reduce decision times to the Governor by July 24, 2011.

The second timing goal requires the Commissioners to decide whether to issue a permit within 30 days after a final environmental impact statement (EIS) is approved. If the agencies do not meet the goal, the Commissioners must report promptly to the Governor.

In addition to establishing the timing goals, the Executive Order also seeks to simplify the permitting process and requires PCA to review its rules and regulations for consistency with similar federal standards. Specifically, with respect to water discharge permitting, the Executive Order requires that the PCA submit a report to the Governor with recommendations to amend Minnesota Statute section 115.07, and applicable rules, to be more consistent with federal regulations. Further, when adopting any rules for air quality or hazardous waste or water quality standards, the PCA must also include an analysis of proposed standards that are more stringent than federal standards and a comparison to similar standards in states boarding Minnesota and states within Environmental Protection Agency Region 5.

The Executive Order seeks to support economic development in the state by improving the environmental permitting process; however, the Executive Order may be rescinded at any time. Consequently, two proposals to amend Minnesota law are before the Legislature (H.F. 1 and S.F. 1). The proposed legislation would go further toward streamlining the permitting process. For example, the legislation mandates a permitting decision in 30 days of a final EIS, as opposed to providing an option for the agency to explain why the 30-day goal was not met.