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Over the objections of environmental groups, Gov. Mark Dayton has signed legislation aimed at making it easier for businesses to move through the environmental review and permitting system.

Dayton signs environmental permit steamlining bill

Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Mark Dayton (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Gov. Mark Dayton has signed legislation aimed at making it easier for businesses to move through the environmental review and permitting system.

Dayton said the bill makes changes to ensure that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources are “moving at the speed of commerce.”

The measure’s assignment by House Republican leadership as House File 1 gave it symbolic importance when the legislative session began in January. They assigned freshman Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, to carry the bill.

“The bill received strong bipartisan support. I am pleased Governor Dayton and his administration joined us in our efforts to improve the business climate and create jobs while protecting the environment and human health,” Fabian said.

A few DFL legislators and environmental groups called on Dayton to veto the bill. Groups like the Minnesota Environmental Partnership objected to a provision that allows appeals of permit decisions to be initiated in the Court of Appeals rather than district court. They also opposed a change to allow the businesses building projects to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) rather than local units of government.

“This is the first of numerous bills moving in the legislature that threaten to unravel Minnesota’s foundation of environmental protections,” said Steve Morse, the Environmental Partnership’s executive director. “Minnesotans want to maintain existing laws that protect our water, air and public health and we will remain steadfast in our efforts to protect Minnesota’s future for our children and grandchildren.”

In Dayton’s letter to the legislative authors announcing the bill’s passage, he acknowledged the concern about the integrity of the EIS process. Dayton said, however, that he has assurances from PCA officials that they have the staff necessary to determine the veracity of the EISs made by businesses.

“To assure the MPCA’s heightened vigilance over the projects following the enactment of this legislation, I am preparing an executive order that will instruct the MPCA, the DNR and any other responsible state authorities to develop and implement whatever measures are necessary to assure that neither the quality nor the integrity of ensuing environmental impact statements is compromised, and that there is no weakening of either their or any RGU’s (responsible government unit) performance of their review and oversight responsibilities,” Dayton said.

The issue of streamlining the permitting process has been a focal point in state lawmakers’ ongoing legislative effort to foster job creation. Earlier in the legislative session, Dayton ordered the PCA and DNR commissioners to establish goals of acting on permits within 150 days.

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