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MPCA could sniff out issues with objectionable odors, take action under proposed legislation

Whether it comes from malting wheat, smoking ham, rendering animals or making paper, Minnesotans across the state can describe a smell peculiar to their hometown.

For some it’s the smell of money. For others, the smells mean constant headaches, nausea and dizziness.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) said thousands of people in his district live with an unbearable odor much of the time.

Aiming to offer relief, he sponsors HF2171 that would authorize the Pollution Control Agency to start addressing objectionable odors — those that might be harmful to human health or that unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or the use of property of people exposed to the odor.

“This would provide protection for my constituents and other constituents,” Hansen said.  

His bill with a delete-all amendment and based on a North Carolina law was laid over Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.

It would allow the Pollution Control Agency in some instances to require facilities produce an objectionable odor management plan. However, it would not apply to on-farm agriculture operations, transportation facilities, wastewater treatment plants, residences, painting or coating operations that don’t need a permit, restaurants, temporary operations or in cases when an odor is added for safety purposes.

The bill includes $300,000 for PCA rulemaking. This would include a process to determine if an odor is objectionable and what conditions would launch an investigation. The number of complaints was cited as an example.

Members on both sides of the aisle expressed concern that the definition of an objectionable odor might be too subjective, that bad actors could trigger an investigation, that exempt industries would not be clear and that odor management plans could conflict with federal Environment Protection Agency obligations.

Hansen is open to further conversations, but he believes odor management legislation would offer definitions and certainty in place of currently subjective nuisance laws.  

Rep. Roger Skraba (R-Ely) has paper plants, mines and donut shops in his district. All have an odor.

“If you are after definitions, that is commendable, but at the same time if we’re going to have time to chat more about this, that would be good,” he said.

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