Minnesota changes environmental review to measure climate impacts

Minnesota’s environmental review process will now require developers of new roads, industrial plants, cattle feedlots and large housing developments to calculate the carbon footprint of their project and consider how to reduce its impact on the climate.

Climate activists say the changes, which have been in the works since 2019, are long overdue.

“This is a big problem for Minnesota,” said Amelia Vohs, a regulatory attorney with the nonprofit Minnesota Environmental Defense Center, which pushed for the change. “We were not counting greenhouse gas emissions for projects before allowing them before.”

Minnesota’s Environmental Policy Act, passed nearly 50 years ago, created the state’s environmental review process. It requires regulators to consider a project’s potential impacts on land, air, water, and wildlife.

But the form used for most projects, known as an environmental assessment worksheet, or EAW, previously did not include questions about the project’s climate impacts.

New ODE form

An interagency team began looking at incorporating climate change impacts into the status review process in 2019. But the changes met with pushback from some business groups, farmers and local governments, who said they would be a burden and increase the cost. of construction projects.

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So the Minnesota Board of Environmental Quality, which oversees the state’s review process, asked a handful of state agencies, city, county and tribal governments to try using the new form as a pilot project for nearly a year.

At its December 14 meeting, the EQB board voted to implement the new form statewide.

Now, developers of projects big enough to go through the environmental review process will have to calculate how much carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases the project will spew into the atmosphere.

More information about the future

Developers must also explain what methods they considered to reduce those emissions, such as installing rooftop solar panels or making buildings energy efficient.

“We’re going to have information about what your greenhouse gas emissions will be not only today, but also over the life of the project,” Vohs said.

She said the questions will help state and local officials decide if the project fits with Minnesota’s climate action goals and if there are simple changes to a project’s design to help reduce emissions.

“That’s critical information that state and local decision makers need to have at their fingertips, and for the public to know,” Vohs said.

Businesses, developers, farmers, and government agencies will also need to consider whether their projects are resilient to the potential effects of climate change, such as increased rainfall and flooding.

Report required, no changes

But there are limits to how effective the new requirements are. Only about 100 projects, usually the largest, go through Minnesota’s environmental review process each year.

Just because a project emits a lot of greenhouse gases doesn’t mean it will be denied, Vohs said. And developers are only required to list the climate impacts of the project, not make changes to it.

She hopes that eventually, there could be state requirements for projects to reduce their greenhouse gases, “so we go beyond just counting what their emissions are, to making sure projects reduce them before we allow them in the state.” ”.

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