The 2010 Minnesota legislative session begins on February 4, and once again the legislature will tackle a number of important issues, including dealing with a $1.2 billion budget deficit and crafting a bonding bill for statewide capital projects. While the focus will be on financial issues, legislators are also eager to pass policy initiatives that will give them traction in an election year. Environmental constituencies are aware of this dynamic and will be pressing a number of issues for passage this session.

Environmental Review Streamlining

A major legislative priority of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in 2010 will be attempting to reform the state’s environmental review process. The Chamber is currently facilitating meetings with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy to discuss ways of improving the review process, with efficiency as an underlying goal. For example, one proposal under consideration would eliminate the need for a potential permit holder to report the same information in both an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) and the permit application. Other ideas include creating sector-specific EAW forms, so companies only need to respond to environmental scenarios specific to their industry, and eliminating the district court review of EIS decisions and allowing for a direct route to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Mining

Mining regulation is often a controversial topic at the Capitol. Legislative activity has escalated recently as legislation targeting nonferrous mining was introduced during the 2009 legislative session and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources recommended funding to study mineland sulfate levels in northeastern Minnesota. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a network of more than 80 nonprofit environmental and conservation organizations in the state, has identified their "safe mines" legislation as a top priority. It will focus on regulations related to the state’s "permit to mine" and the financial assurance requirements for proposed nonferrous mining operations.

Low Carbon Fuel Standards

Proposed low-carbon fuel legislation (Senate File 13/House File 86) would require the carbon intensity of transportation fuels imported, blended and sold in Minnesota to be reduced at least 10% by 2020. The bill as introduced affects Minnesota’s access to Canadian crude, as its extraction process is more carbon intensive than that of Middle Eastern oil. These conditions—as well as the fact that technologies to reduce the carbon intensity of gas and diesel are not commercially available— could greatly increase the cost and supply of fuel in the state. Advocates point to the increased use of biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, as ways to meet the requirement. Minnesota already has the most aggressive biofuels mandates in the nation (E15 by 2013 and B20 by 2015), and those levels would still fall short of meeting this new carbon requirement. In 2009 the bills had preliminary consideration in House and Senate committees, but faced significant opposition from business and industry stakeholders.

Product Stewardship

At the end of the 2009 session, Representative Paul Gardner (DFLShoreview) introduced legislation (House File 2407) that would establish a new regulatory framework for the take-back of any number of products that could have adverse impacts on health and safety at their end of life. The MPCA would be charged with determining which products would be covered. The producers of those products (including manufacturers, importers/exporters and wholesalers) would then be responsible for creating a product stewardship plan that would, among other things, specify the collection, transportation, recycling and final disposition of the product. Producers would be prohibited from charging a fee at the time of sale, or collection, to cover the costs of the program. They would also be subject to steep financial penalties for non-compliance. During the 2010 session, Representative Gardner hopes to hold an informational hearing on the bill to get feedback from impacted stakeholders and determine whether this is a workable approach to product stewardship.

Beyond the legislature, the MPCA has a few initiatives underway that could affect environmental regulations for Minnesota businesses.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule for the mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions became effective on December 29, 2009. The Minnesota Legislature had previously passed its own GHG reporting legislation in May of 2009, which requires the MPCA to enter into a state rulemaking process to ensure consistency in the implementation and execution of the federal rule. The rulemaking discussion at the state level will most likely revolve around how emissions will be reported within the new system. You can read more about the final EPA rule here and the earlier state legislation here.

Solid Waste Management Stakeholder Report

In 2008, Minnesota Environmental Initiative (MEI) was retained by the MPCA to facilitate a stakeholder process to evaluate possible reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through integrated solid waste management. The recently released final report addresses a large number of topics, and the bulk of the recommendations focus on source reduction and recycling strategies, which could affect manufacturers. While it remains to be seen if any legislation will be proposed as a result of the report, it is a topic that many will be following closely. The final stakeholder report can be found here.

Stormwater Permitting

The MPCA recently completed a draft of the state’s new Industrial Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit. Several changes from the expired 1997 permit are introduced in the draft permit, including new standards for water quality monitoring. Minnesota is currently one of the few states nationally that does not require stormwater monitoring. New requirements also include accelerated implementation of best management practices for impaired and restricted waters. The 2009 draft permit will be presented to the MPCA Citizens’ Board for action on February 23, 2010, and is expected to be finalized on March 1, 2010. You can find more information on the draft permit here and information on the stormwater program and the permit review process here.