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House approves streamlining bill

Published (2/11/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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The bill to streamline the environmental permit process within two state agencies was approved 82-42 as amended on the House floor Feb. 10. It now moves to the Senate where Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) is the sponsor.

Most of the bill had bipartisan support and mirrored an executive order issued earlier by Gov. Mark Dayton to make the permit application process more efficient within the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), HF1 would require the DNR and MPCA to issue or deny environmental and resource management permits within 150 days of a submitted application.

However, the bill also contains two provisions that some DFL legislators objected to. One would allow the proposer of a project to prepare a draft environmental impact statement and submit it to the appropriate state agency, rather than the state agency that requires it conducting the research. DFLers said the provision poses a temptation for project proposers to hide information.

“The bad ones would take advantage of this,” Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) said.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville) would require that an environmental impact statement prepared by a project proposer contain all data collected, created, maintained, received or disseminated for its preparation, except for data that constitutes a trade secret, is proprietary in nature, or otherwise is protected by law.

The second provision that makes the bill differ from the executive order would allow decisions regarding the need for an environmental impact statement to be reviewed in the Court of Appeals, rather than a district court. Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), who sponsored similar legislation last year, said an unintended consequence revealed that local zoning issues are heard in district courts, perhaps setting up a scenario where an application must be heard in both district court and the appeals court. She successfully amended the bill so that when a permit from a local unit of government is required, the proposed action may be heard in either court and that the Court of Appeals shall, whenever possible, conduct its proceedings near where the project has been proposed.

The legislative auditor is scheduled to issue a report later this month on the permitting process. Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson), who serves on the Legislative Audit Commission, said the permitting process was the highest vote getter for choosing OLA studies last year.

“This is not a matter of such great urgency that we need to rush … before we hear any of their conclusions,” Hilty said. His motion to re-refer the bill to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee until the study is released later this month failed.

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