Written by Lyndsey Howard, P.E., who leads BBJ Group's Minneapolis Office
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has established a strategic plan that identifies long-term goals as well as strategic goals for the immediate future. Understanding MPCA’s priorities provides insight into which future regulatory and enforcement activities could impact business operations in Minnesota. A few of these priorities were highlighted by the MPCA Commissioner, Laura Bishop, in her keynote address to the attendees of the Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA) Upper Midwest Conference on the Environment in early November. The following areas of focus have been identified for the agency in the coming months and years.
A top priority for the MPCA is increasing efficiency while performing appropriate due diligence when reviewing and approving all types of permits and permit renewals, (e.g., air permits, construction and industrial stormwater permits, etc.). According to the MPCA’s August 2019 Annual Permitting Efficiency Report, 93% of all permits issued met the legislatively established timeline goals for the period between July 2018 and June 2019. In an effort to support economic development in Minnesota, permits associated with new construction or substantial modifications are classified as “Priority” Permits. “Non-priority” permits are typically permit re-issuances. During the July 2018 to June 2019 period:
99% of Priority Permits met the timeline goal
61% of Non-priority Permits met the timeline goal
The timeline goals are set based on the complexity of the permits and whether a public comment period is required. For example:
Tier 1 Permits have a goal of 90 days, (e.g., a construction stormwater permit)
Tier 2 Permits have a goal of 150 days, (e.g., permit for an industrial facility discharge)
Specifically, the MPCA is focused in the near-term on improving the time frame for issuing air permits and reducing the air permit backlog. Reasons for delays in permit issuance are varied and include gaps in information submitted by the applicant, lengthy federal review, changes to federal or state regulations, unresolved compliance issues, lack of MPCA staff, or “no significant external reasons for delay”. The extended timelines for air permit approval can exceed 300 days.
Another priority of the MPCA is continuing to address the complex challenges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and vapor intrusion. Significant efforts surrounding PFAS impacts to groundwater continue to be a focus of the MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Health, as evidenced through such actions as stakeholder engagement activities and in-depth watershed studies, as well as corrective action planning for water supplies in the east metro. The state has been working on a highly anticipated vapor intrusion guidance for commercial and industrial buildings, and it is currently expected to be released in January or February 2020. The guidance will include options for vapor intrusion mitigation approaches as well as guidance on performance testing/post-mitigation sampling and reporting requirements.