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Some of you may have attended the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board Rule Change Hearings. Or maybe you wrote in public comments. Today’s blog is about that process and my experience of it at the May 31st Hearing and since that time. {Note: I had planned to attend the June 26th Hearing but had a previous engagement.]

I will say I was very impressed with the way MEQB staff handled the hearings with clear signage, welcoming and helpful staff, accommodating facilities, and inclusion of the remote locations for testimony. The rep at Detroit Lakes was Kristin Mroz-Risse and she was working diligently to get the presentation prepared as I arrived. She was glad to send me a link after the event to the May 1st audio of the MQEB Meeting. Very interesting I hear and challenging to the MEQB, much as this public hearing was – calling on them to meet their true responsibilities.

The PUC could take a few notes from the MEQB on how to involve the public, though they too underestimated the public interest. At least they were happy to make additional copies and had overflow space to accommodate the crowd in St. Paul. We’ll see how things come out in the end… but I’m a bit concerned with the recent interactions I’ve had with the MEQB. Kristin once again was able to send along my message (there is no reply possible to their weekly newsletter email… what does this say about wanting public involvement, I wonder.]

You may note in today’s MEQB Monitor – the weekly notice put out by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board – that they have FINALLY updated the comment period information. [I had several rounds of back and forth with Erik Dahl last week to see if they might want to do that after the June 24th Monitor showed only a comment period ending June 21st… no mention of the two additional comment periods on today’s release, which were open then.

CURRENT COMMENT PERIODS:

June 27, 2019—July 16, 2019 4:30pm (Post Hearing Comment Period) – eComment

July 17, 2019—July 23, 2019 4:30pm (Post Hearing Rebuttal Period)

How to submit written comments:

1. Email: Denise.wilson@state.mn.us and/or Erik.Dahl@state.mn.us with the subject line: “Mandatory Category Rulemaking: Comment”

2. OAH’s eComment portal: eComments — comments on the rule or requests for a hearing can be made at this website.

https://minnesotaoah.granicusideas.com/discussions/35532-environmental-quality-board-posthearing-comment-period

Mail to:

Environmental Quality Board

Attn: Mandatory Category Rulemaking

520 Lafayette Road North

St. Paul, MN 55155

Additional rule timeline updates are available at the EQB rulemaking webpage:

https://www.eqb.state.mn.us/content/eqb-mandatory-categories-rulemaking

I should note that, there was some cause for celebration even before the hearings happened. One of this big results of all our Public Comments was that the MEQB Rule Changes regarding Pipelines were removed from consideration. Go Team!

YAHOO!! Public Comment submissions made this happen.

The rest of this blog is my notes from the MEQB Hearing I attending in Detroit Lakes. I was happy to hear many of my friends testifying and happy to hear the testimony of others also concerned with this topic. If you’ve never attended a hearing like this, the first part will give a walkthrough of how it goes and what expectations they have for folks who want to testify. It’s really easy – no big deal – but they have some requirements. [Dan and I have both testified in the past at hearings.] I don’t expect many to read it but in case you’re a junkie for details and info, or really have a high interest in the MEQB Rule Changes, (or just love to read what I write!) here it is:

ALJ Began by giving the Docket # and stating that any communication have a subject line of Docket #80-9008-35532.  Also mentioned this is R-4157.

Q: It says COMMENTS CANNOT BE SUBMITTED BY EMAIL.

ALJ: Written or website.  [later she noted fax is also a possibility]

MEQB Staff: Emails to Denise/Erik also will be included.  ALJ: These comments will be filed to the e-comments in the website so people know what others are saying.

Q: Deadline?  ALJ: I will get to that.  I have lots to present here so that will be clear soon.

Per Ch 14 of MN Statutes require that the ALJ assure: members of the public must be heard, procedural fairness, courtesy, all parties be heard so as many voices as possible are included.  No “Filming” to assure no one feels uncomfortable about being filmed during testimony.

Q: Copies are not available…  ALJ: “More of you than were expected.”  More copies made by MEQB…

Logistics of the Day.  ALJ will call your name to speak, and will alternate between St. Paul and remote locations. 5 minutes per testimony, if time allows, will open more offers to speak. Speaker may ask questions of the MEQB panel or the ALJ and these questions will be answered, tough perhaps not verbally today but in writing during the comment period.  Note which rules you are supporting or opposing to help make the record clear.  Speak clearly, slowly, and loud enough to be heard, ne at a time. Spell your name and any technical words that you use the first time you use them.  Clarify any acronyms also the first time used.

1415 Sub 1 open up to 20 days after the hearing; since this is first of 2 hearings, comments will be open until 7/16 at 4:30 PM.  Rebuttals will be 7/17 through 7/23 at 4:30; only open to comments in the record.

Willis Mattison Q: EQB Staff assertion under MN Prec Act says it is exempt from finding of proposed rules demonstrating superior achievement of MEPA Rules as they are “not a regulatory agency” which is an incorrect interpretation. ALJ: This sounds like a comment… W: Staff told me that we must limit comments to the Rule Changes and cannot go into “oversight” or for public to address changes that should have been made but were not. ALJ: Make your point with more detail in writing during the comments.

Nancy Beaulieu Q: Can there be a provision made for people that drove over 120 miles and Tribal Naations to speak first? ALJ: I have noted that I will accommodate time restraints for those who would like to speak earlier.

Agency First – Assistant AG Nora Ibrahim representing the MEQB for Staff introductions. [I wondered on the location of the Attorney General’s representative for THE PEOPLE of MN…]

Denise Wilson and Erik Dahl introduced. Asst AG noted 3 parts of the exhibits:

1) Record of required documents with requests for comments, rules, need, + 159 comments from the public 11/13/18 – 2/4/19.

2) Exhibit L and rational for changes (SONAR)

3) Place holder for additional exhibits

Denise and Erik presented the rule changes from a very high level (and walked through the slides VERY quickly – I missed a LOT here…).

4410.4300+4400 – need Env Review? *Citizen petition can require environmental review

4410.1700 EAW – assigned to RGU a review – notice to public for a 30-day period, then any other info is submitted.  If “no effect” – go ahead with project.  If “env impacts” – more robust evaluation. 

4410.4400 EIS – required if thresholds are exceeded – compared to reasonable alternatives and public input throughout.[Copies arrived for the overflow of citizens that appeared.]

Statutory authority in 116D.04 2 a(b) + 5a – establish mandatory categories of EAW/EIS.  2013 Mandatory Environmental Review Categories Report.  Increased streamline doc. 

RD4157 Changes – three types of changes: 1) Improve Clarity (grammar, wording) 2) Align with Statutory/Regluatory Requirements 3) New technical information changes [How about implementing the tech we know about Climate Change???]

4410.0200 Def/Abbreviations  59a – Definiiton Reference

*4410.0500 Sub 6 Exception to not miss the 5-day time limit.

Mandatory EAW for pipelines!!

4410.4300 Pipelines – removed for consideration 🙂

Mineral Mining – changes as shown…

Public Comments: [From here to the end are the public comments of that day.]

1) Didn’t catch name… “The room is too small.  Based on comments received, this should have been held downstairs.”

2) Rita Chamblin in Brainerd (Guisseppe Tummincello is MEQB rep there)  On 4410.0500 Sub 6 I oppose the  language changing who can change the RGU, acting independently of the MEQB as a whole.  The Chair is appointed by the Governor.  If a time limit is the issue as it doesn’t coincide with the  MEQB meetings, then change it to 30 days instead.  Second issue is 4410.4300 Sub 4 on Mand EAW – ANY expansion of petroleum refinery should require an EIS.  Should include major rebuilds like the Superior Refinery, especially if the use of HF is present. And third, 4410.4300 Sub 10 b,c,d,e – Keep designation for a 1M Gallon capacity… Capacity to change, their proposed is <1M gallons.

3) Sherry Couture  – 77 pages of state rules, water quality standards.  Fond du Lac water quality standards cannot be passed, these reports go directly to Congress. Why is this not included?  1854 Treaty: A Sovereign Nation is above the rules/regulations of one nation, (let alone a state). 1854 Treaty for Governance or 1826 Treaty which specifies mining minerals.  “Where are these referenced? As a MN citizen of a Sovereign Nation I would expect these to be included as they are the Supreme Law of the Land.  Some of these treaties were in place before Minnesota was a State” (5/11/58). Asked MEQB: You say you support the reservations but the water quality cannot be passed. Denise: Would like to spend more time talking with you to understand your concerns, this is not in the current rule-making.  Will need time to consider these comments.  SC: You also cannot pass air quality requirements. D: Not in 4410…  would like to continue the conversation.

4) Deb Topping – Nagachiwinon Fond du Lac  Husky explosion – HF stored there within 25 miles of 10% of the world’s freshwater in Lake Superior. HUGE Env. concern.  Needs to be 100 miles away.  Where are the Rights of Nature – Toxic Tour done at Superior – can’t drink the water. Treaty of 1854 was signed on that river.  Can’t drink the water, can’t eat the fish. Is this what my ancestors wanted for the next seven generations?  Not to be able to drink the water?  Not to be able to eat the fish? This is not what I want for my descendants.  We’re told the water is ok.  If it’s good for us, then let’s go drink it!  Frogs have to drink it.  Fish have to drink it.  Migratory birds have to drink it.  Who eats them?  We have spent 10 years defending the water, the wild rice.  “It’s time to get your shit together.  We don’t have time.”

5) Nancy Beaulieu – Leech Lake Tribe.  “Just like my ancestors, a lot of this legal stuff is hard to understand.  Our words fall on deaf ears all the time.”  I’m hear to be heard again.  “Just came in from the hearing on not being heard by the MN PUC.  Busy day.  You don’t have the authority to make decisions on our land.  State gov’t can’t decide without people of the tribes agreeing.  Failure to consult is not consent.  Enbridge got agreement from 5 elected officials at FdL, not the people. Left the Treaty book and the UN book – “not legally binding but it’s a good way to treat your neighbors” as exhibits.

*ALJ: Dogs are barking outside, there is a need to check on them.

6) Jo Haberman – Duluth.  4410.4300 Sub 37 – a) Mand Review 150% increase in the threshold limit violate (2004 SONAR which referenced the 1982 SONAR – Fxn increased length).  Victim of the Husky Refinery Explosion .  Mandatory EAW/EIS MUST BE done for Husky.  1000s in Superior/Duluth harmed if HF explodes.

7) Levi Gregg & Conor Lange – 10 min limit.  4410.4300 Sub 27 b Wetland change is good, however, use of the word “impact” is not.  Words clear to Corporations and Government but NOT to citizens.  Recommend a Summary of EI changes as well.  Economic and Regulatory statements are included [but not environmental?]   Easily accessible guides for rules and explanations for how the rules will affect the environment. Definitions should be clearly linked as should all references to other rules. [Basically these kids were explaining to these adults in charge how to use technology to make their documents more accessible to laypeople.]

8) Jesse Peterson – Duluth but at St. Paul. Consult people on reservations – document not complete without a Land Acknowledgement [and Agreement?].  Clarify how Treaty Laws and Usfructory Rights are interpreted.  How are these rules affecting rights to hunt, fish, and gather? Supreme Law of the Land.  Treaties are older than Minnesota.  Tribes don’t have to work with Minnesota.  1988- doc – can’t supercede Treaty language. MEQB.  Enbridge allowed to lobby the PUC w/ millions of dollars. In the 20th century – we should get a packet in the mail [not sure where he was going here].  More citizen oversight, not streamlining. MEQB seems to be accommodating the people applying over the people of Minnesota. Rigid review is needed for refineries (speaking for his community) with respect to Climate Change HF Gas – No evacuation standards – various gov’t groups have different standards confusing the public – Need more oversight – EAW for altering plants.

9) Dan Wilm – Brainerd – Retired DNR Forester 34 years.  1710 Sub 3 Rec Trails. Friday afternoon is a bad time to engage the public as summer comes on… “It shows public concern that nonetheless, many are in attendance.” Trail definition is not correct.  MNN used to be a leader.  Not a leader anymore. Should be able to say NO. Stop treating the environment like a cat’s litter box. 

10) George Crocker – good to know about the withdrawal of the mining changes.  Documented beyond doubt that there is significant uranium mineral in MN. Adequate protections are needed. Extraction of metallic minerals will INCLUDE this material as the mineral is laced with uranium in some deposits.  Need rules for proper monitoring and removal of these materials.

11) Carol Andrews – Duluth – County Engineers (Lon already gone…) Registered PE, St. Louis County Public Works – MN County Engineers 4410.4300 Sub 27 b. Mand EAW for Wetland. Existing rules confusing on thresholds for an EAW… “impacts of 40 of more % on 5 or more acres for…..”

BREAK

12) Allen Muller – Not present

13) Dan Sauve – Clearwater County Engineer – agreed with Carol Andrews earlier comments and had some bit to say about wetlands rules.

14) Susan Schubert – Spoke on Trails.  4410.4300 Sub 37

15) John Munter – Many good points explaining that performance based rules apply to the MEQB, noting how the line was pushed north instead of going though white communities, asking about the importance of MEPA: Economy and Efficiency should not be the guiding principles.

16) Kathy Hollander – linked this work to a 2015 special session appropriation; $500K to streamline environmental review and asked how a 4 year old appropriation still applies in 2019. She spoke on various subjects during her allotted time, including the IPCC report on the urgency of climate change, the fact that we are now at 415 ppm CO2 even knowing 350 ppm is a safe level for humanity, requirements for refinery rebuilds, dangers of HF (hydrogen fluoride), and Environmental Impact Statement requirements. “If the public knew a hazardous waste of less than one million gallons doesn’t require an EIS, they would be astounded.”

17)   Robert from Sudan, MN worked in the mines and brought his perspective.  He reported that the numbers on mining do not add up – only 1% of the total GDP for MN and that does not include the costs of externalities (mentioning many of the health effects associated with mining).  It’s time to look for diversification in Northern Minnesota.

18) Andy Pearson, representing MN350 and its 20,000 climate concerned citizens.  He addressed many aspects of the MEQB’s work with a primary focus on how the effects of climate change are not being given due consideration.  He supported Kathy Hollander’s comments on 4410.0500 Sub.4.  He asked for mandatory EIS due to the ripple effect oil infrastructure brings, including that on climate change.  “Science now demands we take a closer look than we did previously.”  He appreciated the overflow space provided but noted he would have liked a larger space for this hearing saying, “the crowds will be getting larger”.

19) Sierra Erickson – [Ah, her testimony allows me to understand the dog situation. Apparently someone decided the dogs in her RV were somehow at risk and notified authorities. (Found out later that, after multiple checks, including one that found the interior of the RV cooler than the outside space… it was ascertained that the fully-watered dogs were in no distress. Well, DUH!) Anyway – onto her important testimony…] Sierra noted it is critical to give space for the public voice to concerns about environment and infrastructure projects.  She noted water as a basic human right and discussed the Rights of Nature.  As water is needed for survival, it should be at the top concern for laws.  As animals cannot speak,we need to speak for them.  Fossil fuels and mining jeopardize our clean water.  Laws for the Rights of Nature are needed for our survival.  The climate crisis is now.

20) Willis Mattison – As a professional ecologist, he covered a range of concerns.  As I recall it, he was asking the MEQB to fulfill their specific goals, responsibilities and duties and indicated that citizens are pointing out failures to achieve these objectives.  He noted that climate change is advancing and an existential threat. [BTW, I still don’t think people get that this means all humans will be eradicated from the planet.]  He challenged that there is nothing commensurate in the rule change with respect to climate crisis.  Noting the crash in species around the globe and in Minnesota, he asked if there was anything in the rules commensurate with this threat.  The IPCC has given 10 years on climate change but we have even less on species extinction.

21) Brian PaStarr – This last share included a note that these agencies need to be champions of the environment, the IPCC urgency, PHMSA, the lack of relationship between the people and the MEQB – people don’t know the Board members, and noting as many had that the 5-day decision makes no sense and it should correspond to the 30 day schedule of the Board meeting.  He also gave appreciation to Kathy Hollander. 

And I think we can all agree to that!