MNIPL's logo
mn350-mn350 action combo logo

Opposing the transfer of Energy Environmental Review and Analysis Staff from the Department of Commerce to the Public Utilities Commission

A Provision in SF 4784 as Passed by the Senate

At Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, MN350 and the Sierra Club we believe Minnesota can be a place where equity and climate stability are available for all.  Together we have worked to create a new green bank, to advocate for community solar legislation, and to oppose the permitting of the Line 3 pipeline. We strongly support taking smart steps that help community-supported clean energy projects get built and connected to transmission lines to help us meet our climate goals.

However, SF 4784 currently strays beyond the scope of promoting clean energy by proposing changes to environmental review for all energy projects, including pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure. We are particularly concerned about one of the bill’s provisions that would relocate the Department of Commerce Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (DOC-EERA) staff to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

  • Moving environmental review staff from outside the PUC to within the PUC (the body that approves siting permits and grants certificates of need) would eliminate important checks and balances, and undermine the independence of the environmental review function.

The EERA staff provides independent, third-party analysis of a proposed project’s environmental impacts to the Commission. The Commission is then responsible for evaluating that environmental review alongside all other perspectives – including industry, labor, public participants, and non-profit advocates – in order to make fair and balanced decisions about our energy infrastructure. The separation between the EERA staff and the Commission does 2 important things:

    1. The separation ensures the Commission does not have undue influence over the content of the environmental review,  and

    2. The separation gives the Commission an appropriate amount of distance from the review to effectively issue impartial decisions about it, such as determining whether or not an environmental impact statement is adequate. The Commission should not be put in the position of needing to find its own work inadequate or not adopting its own findings.

  • The DOC is a more accessible and integrated home for the EERA.

The Department of Commerce, where the EERA function currently resides, has the ability to interact with other state agencies with relevant expertise, such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency, as peers in a way that would be inappropriate for the Commission as a quasi-judicial body. The Department, for example, sits on the Environmental Quality Board, where it is able to discuss the technicalities of environmental review alongside peer agencies and the EQB staff.

The Department of Commerce is also more accessible to the public. Ex parte rules, which govern communications between the Commission and others, create uncertainty for members of the public. If environmental review staff moved to the PUC, the public and grassroots advocates would face the additional complication of determining whether these rules apply regarding environmental review. Barriers to participation at the PUC are already high due to the technical subject matter and complicated quasi-judicial structure, whereas the Department offers a structure and environment more familiar to anyone who has interacted with other state agencies.

  • Moving the EERA staff within the PUC will reduce transparency.

Currently, all communications between Commissioners and EERA staff are required to be public. This would not be the case if the EERA staff moved within the PUC. We should be striving to increase insight into public decision-making, not reduce it.

Finally, the provision to move the EERA from the DOC to the PUC has been described as being part of the Permitting Reform Stakeholder Report recommendations, however that processdid not seek consensus and no votes were solicited on any of the ideas presented” (p. 3).

We support reducing unnecessary barriers to save time, but moving the EERA function to the PUC sacrifices independence, accessibility and transparency that is important to the environmental review process.


Julia Nerbonne
Executive Director
Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light

Tee McClenty
Executive Director
MN350 & MN350 Action

Margaret Levin
State Director
Sierra Club North Star Chapter