This week, there has been increased activity at the Capitol around a number of important environmental issues that may affect cities:

  • Permitting reform. The GOP has made speeding up the permitting process one of their top priorities in the hope that it will speed up job creation. Their bills (H.F. 1/SF 42) on permitting are rapidly moving through the legislature and should reach the floor soon in both chambers. Not to be outdone, Gov. Dayton issued an executive order this week directing the MPCA to implement many of the changes suggested in the GOP bill including establishing the goal that permits be issued within 150 days, allowing electric filing for permit filing and environmental reviews, and significantly, requiring that when a proposed regulation is stricter than a federal standard, the SONAR must explain the need for the stricter regulation. The order does not include the controversial portions removing district court review of lawsuits challenging environmental reviews or allowing the permit applicant to create the first draft of the environmental impact statement. As mentioned last week, restricting state environmental standards to that which is required by the federal government has been a longtime policy goal of CGMC because of the added costs that more stringent regulations often imposes on municipalities.
  • Water rulemaking authority. Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee) has introduced a bill (H.F. 182) that would impose a two year moratorium on a number of agencies, including the MPCA, prohibiting them from issuing any rules relating to water quality or water resource protection between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013. During that time, the Commissioner of Administration would be required to perform a study of existing water quality rules, looking at the authority for the rules, the cost, the expected outcomes and other items. Currently, there is no Senate author for the bill.
  • Environmental funding. Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) has introduced a bill (H.F. 185) that would credit all money that the MPCA recovers using its enforcements powers to the general fund, instead of to the environmental fund. Currently, the environmental fund is the largest source of revenue for the MPCA. CGMC is cautiously watching this bill to determine the dollar amount that will be diverted and how the MPCA will replace the funds that are diverted. Our primary concern is that if this money is diverted from the MPCA to the general fund and the MPCA’s general fund amount is not increased, the agency will seek to cover the diverted funds by increasing permit fees. Currently, there is no Senate author for the bill.
  • Legislative approval for rule making. Rep. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) introduced a bill (H.F. 203) with authors from both parties that would require agencies to determine the cost of complying with a rule during the first year of implementation. If the cost exceeds $10,000 for any person or entity, the legislature must approve the rule (with limited exceptions). Exceptions would include regulations where the legislature has appropriate funds to cover the cost and regulations proposed pursuant to a specific federal statute or regulatory mandate. At first blush, it appears that this bill would be very helpful to cities with respect to water quality standards because almost every rule causes costs to waste water treatment facilities greater than $10,000. However, many water quality standards are enacted under the guise of compliance with federal water rules and therefore may fall within an exception. It may, however, provide benefits to cities in other areas. We will monitor the bill as it moves forward. Currently, there is no Senate author for the bill.
  • Regulating private wells. Sen. Michael Jungbauer (R-East Bethel) and Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) have introduced companion bills (S.F. 64/H.F. 135) regarding the regulation of private wells and water sources that may cause many cities to worry. Under current law, city councils have the authority to regulate the use of wells and other water supply under Minn. Stat. 412.221. Rural water user districts possess similar authority under Minn. Stat. 110A.02 The bill would limit the authority of city councils and rural water user districts to regulate wells and water supply solely to public water supplies. This change would negate an important power of cities. CGMC does not have a specific position on this issue, but recognizes that it may cause concerns for its cities and has been discussing the issue with other city organizations, including the League of Minnesota Cities, which will be taking the lead on this issue. We will continue to monitor the bill.