The Best Basis for Environmental Rules: Science…Or Something Else?

By Steve Ring

Minnesota has many years of established environmental regulatory practice that has served the state well. Although the Sierra Club has occasionally disagreed with agency decisions and policies, we have appreciated the regulatory framework based on statutes such as the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act. That framework as it currently exists provides a balance between regulatory efficiency and ample opportunity for public input on agency decisions.

State agencies such as the Pollution Control Agency are responsible for protecting the health of our water, air and communities. When the agency signs off on a decision – whether it’s a rule, standard or issuance of a permit – the public assumes that a fair and well-considered decision is being made in the best interests of the environment. Decisions about the environment can affect the health of each of us, the viability of many jobs, and our ability to fish in a stream.

A new bill being considered at the Minnesota Legislature, House File 1433, would create new mechanisms for the Legislature to delay or block new environmental rules from being implemented. Environmental rules and regulations are based on science – our public agencies are the best equipped to review and interpret scientific data and consensus, and apply it to the public interest without bias. So, this is about basing decisions on facts, on proven cause and effect, not in response to pressure from different interest groups. The Legislature recognized this in establishing a process for agency rulemaking in the first place.

The federal context is also important. Many of our environmental rules and standards are closely interwoven with long-established Federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Making significant changes to our state rulemaking process now, at the start of a new Administration and with unprecedented levels of uncertainty about where our Federal agencies are heading, would be premature at best and irresponsible at worst.

Nothing is ever perfect and Minnesotans should be open to a conversation about how to improve the transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the rulemaking process as it relates to our environmental agencies. But, any such changes should be done cautiously, with meaningful involvement from all stakeholders, and with a clear focus on outcomes that Minnesotans care deeply about: clean air, clean water and a safe and healthy environment.

Minnesota has been making improvements is its water quality in many areas, but still faces some difficult challenges. About 40% of our waters are considered impaired. This bill will needlessly block and delay environmental protection, and make government less efficient and effective at fulfilling its responsibility to its citizens.

Steve Ring is Chair of the North Star Chapter’s Water and Wetlands Committee.

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