By the time the 2010 session of the Minnesota Legislature convened Monday, proposals that would have weakened environmental standards for factory farms and undermined environmental review on the local level were dead. As a result of work on the part of members of LSP and other organizations, lawmakers got the message that factory farms already cost Minnesota’s communities too much in terms of pollution, displacement of family farms and lost property values, and environmental standards should be strengthened, not weakened.
NPDES permits for factory farms
Bills proposed by Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) and Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel) would have lowered state environmental standards for Minnesota’s largest factory farms (those over 1,000 animal units) by removing the state requirement that they apply for a Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
In addition, Rep. Juhnke’s version of the bill would have created additional work for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) through necessitating a new and confusing factory farm permitting process. The cost was estimated at $367,000 in 2011, $211,000 in 2011 and $120,00 in 2013.
Ultimately the NPDES proposal died in committee due to strong opposition.
Key elements of bills proposed by Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park) would have undermined strong environmental review of major developments such as factory farms. Among other things, this legislation would have set a blanket goal of 150 days for issuing all environmental permits from the time a completed permit is submitted.
In many cases, such a timeline is unrealistic when it comes to complicated environmental review of major developments, and it could result in severely shortchanging citizen input and thus giving full consideration to the potential environmental harm of a proposal.
Also under these proposals, when challenging an environmental review decision in court citizens would not deal with the District Court in their area (as they currently do), but the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the Twin Cities. This not only increases the expense of filing a challenge, but limits citizens’ participation by forcing them to travel to the Twin Cities to have their day in court.
Ultimately, opposition kept the bad elements of this legislation from being included in the Environment Omnibus Finance bill.