Each year development continues to encroach upon open spaces in Minnesota. Regardless of where you live, you can probably think of a development nearby that was constructed on land that was degraded by the construction, such as wetlands or special animal habitat. In order to build, the developer must submit documentation of the plan and, if necessary, conduct an environmental assessment that must be approved before construction. By petitioning for environmental assessment, reviewing the reports, and commenting on the provided assessment, citizens can work to prevent detrimental development.
Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAW) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are the documentation forms that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) requires developers to complete for environmental review. According to the MPCA, the assessment process was designed to disclose information about the potential negative environmental effects of the proposed development and find ways to avoid or minimize them. The review is conducted according to the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), but it is overseen by a local government unit or state agency that is deemed the responsible government unit (RGU). The EQB publishes the EQB Monitor, which includes information on all filed assessment and reports that are open for review. (To sign up for the electronic EQB Monitor visit www.eqb.state.mn.us/monitor.html and click on “Register a New Account.”) In Minnesota, the review process includes several ways to incorporate citizen opinion.
If a citizen feels environmental assessment is needed for a proposed project and if the project qualifies for environmental review, the citizen (or citizen’s group) can write a petition and gather at least 25 signatures. The petition can than be submitted to the EQB and the project proposer. After review, the EQB determines the RGU for the project and the RGU reviews the petition. The RGU is required to make a decision-either to grant the petition and require an EAW, or to deny the petition-within 30 working days. The decision will be published in the following issue of the electronic EQB Monitor.
After submitting assessment (EAWs and EISs), the report becomes available online. Citizens can officially review the worksheet and discuss areas that were misrepresented or need further environmental review. Since the report is created by the development proposer, the information may have a slant that minimizes negative impacts-read closely. Details on the assessment and citizen review requirements are available online (see web resources.)
By remaining active in the environmental assessment process, citizens can prevent development that is detrimental to the environment and promote thorough ecological review.