In Minnesota, certain projects that have the potential to significantly impact the environment and involve government action must undergo an environmental-review process. Two review documents are used in the process: the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and its shorter companion, the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW).

Following reports of delay and duplication, the legislature amended the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), Minnesota Statutes Chapter 116D, in an effort to streamline the process.

If a project requires an EIS, MEPA now allows project proposers to submit a preliminary draft EIS to the responsible government agency for its review, modification, and determination of completeness. Previously, MEPA did not provide for a preliminary draft EIS in the environmental-review process. The preliminary draft EIS must identify or include as an appendix all studies relied upon to substantiate the preliminary draft EIS’s analysis. The responsible governmental agency may require additional studies and information, if necessary, to complete its review. This provision does not affect EAW preparation. Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, Subd. 2a(i).

The legislature also amended MEPA to allow appeals of final decisions relating to the need for an EAW, the need for an EIS, or the adequacy of an EIS to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Previously, final decisions by a responsible governmental agency were first reviewed by a declaratory judgment action in district court. Under most circumstances, the review will be confined to the record. Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, Subd. 10.

Finally, the legislature amended MEPA to shorten the time period in which responsible government agencies have to make final permit decisions following final EIS approval. Prior to the amendment’s passage, agencies had 90 days after final EIS approval to make a final permit decision; that time period has now been shortened to 30 days, although under certain circumstances, the 30-day time period may be extended. Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, Subd. 10.

Environmental-Permitting Reforms

Permitting Efficiency Goal and Reporting

Minnesota has established as a goal that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issue or deny environmental permits within 150 days of receiving a completed permit application. In light of the 150-day permitting goal, both agencies must prepare semiannual permitting-efficiency reports that discuss achievement of the goal. If the goal has not been met in regard to a particular application, the responsible agency must provide an explanation for the delay. Additionally, beginning July 1, 2011, the two agencies have 30 days from application submission to review a permit application and notify the applicant of the application’s completeness. If the application is incomplete, the agency must identify the deficiencies and advise the applicant as to how those deficiencies can be remedied. Minn. Stat. § 84.027, Subd. 14a, and § 116.03, Subd. 2b.

Wastewater Disposal Systems

The legislature amended Minn. Stat. § 115.07 to allow construction, installation, or extension of projects with wastewater discharge components to commence prior to receipt of national or state discharge permits. Minnesota law previously required that national and state wastewater discharge permits be issued prior to project construction. A written permit is still required before someone may begin operating a wastewater discharge system or discharging pollutants into the waters of the state.