Agency rulemaking attack take three! Now with suspension of river phosphorus standards!

by Trevor Russell

In yet another attack on state agency rule making, SF 1283 requires legislative approval of state water quality rules and standards; and effectively suspends Minnesota’s hard-won river phosphorus standards pending legislative approval.

Bill Description:

The bill, SF 1283, authored by Senator Scott J. Newman (R - Hutchinson) has two sections:

Section 1 requires the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to submit water quality standards or rule changes to the legislature for their approval if they have the potential to impose costs on those with pollution permits.


These cost thresholds are as follows:

  • (A) affected permittees of $50,000,000 or more, in total, within the first five years of implementation; or
  • (B) a single affected permittee of $5,000,000 or more within the first five years of implementation.

This provision is problematic for three reasons:

  1. Defining costs: No direction is given for how costs to permittees would be determined, by whom, when, and what considerations are included in these estimates. The wording of “potential” costs is vague, allowing virtually any water quality rule or standard to be invalidated pending approval from legislators that are increasingly hostile to water quality standards (as Section 2 of this very bill demonstrates).
  2. Assigning costs to multiple factors: Many wastewater treatment systems will eventually be required to make updates to improve environmental performance - upgrades which can be costly. However, this bill doesn’t distinguish between standard lifecycle upgrades (which will happen over time anyway) and upgrades that would be spurred by more protective water quality permits created to align facilities with new water quality standards or rules. The bill is silent on how to apportion “responsibility" for those costs between standard upgrades and upgrades driven by improved water quality goals.
  3. The bill (once again) confuses water quality standards with environmental permitting. Water quality standards are science-based values that undergo extensive scientific evaluation and public review before adoption. Permits set the maximum allowable amount of pollution from a regulated pollution source such as wastewater treatment plant. Suspending science-based water quality standards (the desired future condition of our lakes and streams) over concerns about costs associated with polluter permits confuses permits with standards and undermines science-based water quality standards.

Section 2 of the bill states that “any water quality standard or other water quality rule change adopted on July 2, 2014  is suspended”.

This language effectively suspends the state’s hard-won river phosphorus standards, which were adopted on the date referenced in the bill. The phosphorus standards, called “river eutrophication standards” address the maximum allowable amount of phosphorus pollution and associated water quality problems in Minnesota’s river and streams, and is critical to protecting aquatic life and recreation in Minnesota. Suspending the standard, for which no reason is given, is highly inappropriate and a clear attempt to undermine clean water standards that have been approved following an extensive public review and participation process.  

Take Action - Minnesota Water Action Day

Bad environmental bills like this one are why FMR is a proud sponsor of Water Action Day.
Water Action Day (April 19th, 2017) is Minnesota’s day of public action and advocacy to let lawmakers know we care about our water. This all-day event at the Minnesota State Capitol will include a rally, issue trainings and meetings with your legislators. The event is fun and free.

Please come for all or part of the day and let your voice be heard! Register here.

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