Monday, March 7, 2011

Governor Goofs?

We're not talking about former Governor Rudolph George Prpić infamously named "Governor Goofy", by Newsweek Magazine.  We're referring to MN Governor Dayton's signature on the bill last week to authorize changes in environmental review that will, hopefully, streamline the processing of permits for siting industrial projects.

The Legislative Auditor's report, released last week, concluded that the permitting process was too lengthy and costly in Minnesota. This bill, House File 1 and Senate File 42, was purportedly designed to reduce the time taken to process environmental review applications.
Unfortunately, the bill contains insidious provisions that ensure less public participation in the environmental review process. Broadly rejected by environmental quality advocates, the language in this bill allows the project proposers to write their own environmental impact statements, an action likened to "putting the fox in charge of the hen house."  Those statements, which will unanimously conclude that no irreparable damage will occur from any of these projects, will have to be reviewed by state agency staff for compliance with environmental protection criteria.  It remains to be seen whether or not the aggregate time required for the permitting will be reduced as authors of this bill would have us believe.

More odious is the provision in this legislation that will take contested environmental reviews out of district courts and pass them along to the appellate court in Minnesota. The Minnesota Post reports that,
Those who would want to fight a permit in the courts would be required to go directly to the Minnesota Appeals Court, bypassing district courts. That’s a more expensive process and would prevent all but the wealthy from taking on court fights.
A final grievance with this legislation is that it acquiesces to the whingeing myth that a slothful civil service is responsible for the delays encountered in permitting environmental review. This false, but uncontested accusation underlies a large proportion of the bellyaching heard by the "smaller gov'mint" advocates populating too many state and federal legislatures.

It is true that incompetency among political appointees and elected officials lies at the heart of many mis-steps in governance. We need only to examine examples provided by Carol Molnau and "wrong-way Corrigan" to justify our skepticism of this process. But these are the current costs of a democratic society and we can always hope to do better in assessing the qualifications of political candidates and appointees.

It remains to be seen whether or not the latest revision in environmental review will result in permanent damage to our environment.

Cross-posted to The Renaissance Post

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