The May 5 commentary by Peter Gove and Ron Sternal (“Big companies should push back vs. Chamber agenda”) may be excellent fodder for a Sierra Club membership drive, but the rhetoric and misstatements are a gross disservice to the initiatives of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the images of the specific businesses they target. The statewide business community is a long-standing supporter of sensible environmental regulations that will allow Minnesota to preserve and protect our treasured natural resources and a healthy business climate.
The legislative proposals seek to streamline the permitting system and find efficiencies in the environmental review. Contrary to claims by Gove and Sternal, the legislation neither lowers any environmental standards nor curtails public comment.
Big and small companies of all types and sizes have to obtain permits through Minnesota’s regulatory agencies. Companies consistently report that it takes too long to obtain a permit, it costs more than in other states and it includes a level of uncertainty not seen in other states.
Proposals before the Legislature build on the bipartisan cooperation between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton with the mutual goal of having regulatory agencies operate, in his words, at the “speed of commerce.” We’ve made significant headway since 2011 working with the governor. More work remains.
If you take the commentary’s hyperbole and “the sky is falling” rhetoric at face value, you would think there is no state-level environmental regulation of Minnesota businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Minnesota is recognized for its nation-leading environmental laws and regulations. We are known for our clean water and air. Our employees enjoy the great outdoors. The Minnesota Chamber simply wants to modernize rules and regulations that were first written in the 1960s and ’70s.
We don’t have the space to rebut each and every claim presented in the commentary. Here is a sampling:
Claim: Proposed changes “gut” the responsibilities of the Environmental Quality Board.
Fact: The bill proposes to expand the board from five to eight members, and require one member be from each congressional district so the whole state has representation. The board is asked to focus on finding efficiencies and duplication in environmental review and permitting.
Claim: Businesses can pay extra for expedited permitting.
Fact: Expedited reviews already are allowed in Minnesota law. Applicants rarely opt for this, because it is not any faster than the regular process. The bill adds guidelines to bring some certainty. The legislation asks for a schedule, a cost estimate and which agency staff members are to be assigned. All requests must be negotiated with the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) commissioners.
Claim: Businesses can write their own environmental reviews.
Fact: Current law allows businesses to submit draft environmental impact statements. Agencies must still review, modify and determine the completeness of the application. All information used to substantiate the analysis must be included in the submittals.
Claim: The bill severely limits citizen rights to challenge the DNR permit-to-mine process.
Fact: Existing statutes and rules are very confusing. We have been and continue working with the environmental groups and the DNR to clarify the language.
Claim: The bill adds hurdles to administrative rule-making.
Fact: The Dayton administration approached us on updating and modernizing the administrative rule-making process. The legislation contains provisions from both the business community and the administration.
Make no mistake: Minnesota’s environmental review and permitting system should be second to none. At the same time, we seek a process that enables Minnesota to compete in the global economy.
Businesses and local governments need a variety of permits from state agencies if they wish to start/locate and/or expand in Minnesota. The current process is cumbersome and costly and lacks certainty. That’s why streamlining the systems has been a priority of the Minnesota Chamber for the last decade.
The challenges facing Minnesota companies are more than a frustration; they present a threat to the state’s economic vitality. Companies routinely compare all costs and regulatory requirements against other states and nations when exploring additional investments. We must take steps to level the playing field if we are to facilitate a changing and growing economy.
We welcome an honest discussion on how best to preserve Minnesota’s quality of life and strengthen our business climate. But let’s stick to the facts. The attack by Gove and Sternal falls short on that mark.
Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce (www.mnchamber.com.)