Responding to federal actions

The Clean Air Act (CAA) establishes a collaborative relationship between the federal EPA and state environmental agencies like the MPCA.  For most parts of the CAA, the EPA sets standards and states implement those standards.  States and others have the opportunity to provide input into the development of EPA’s rules and standards. This process is part of what is called “cooperative federalism.”

Since 2016, the EPA has been rolling back and reducing the protectiveness of numerous regulations. The MPCA analyzes these proposed rule changes to understand how they might impact air quality in Minnesota, the health of Minnesotans, and the regulatory requirements on Minnesota’s businesses and governments.  In many recent cases, we have had serious concerns about the impact of these actions.  In collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Minnesota Department of Commerce, and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the MPCA has been providing input on these rule changes and, when warranted, has worked with the Attorney General’s office to support legal action to protect Minnesota.

The following are some of the federal actions MPCA has been responding to.

Greenhouse gas emissions standards for power plants

In 2015, EPA finalized rules, collectively called the Clean Power Plan (CPP), that were designed to reduce GHG emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. EPA is now planning to weaken these standards. Information on EPA’s proposal and associated actions can be found on their website.

MPCA and Commerce viewed the CPP as an important part of achieving Minnesota’s clean energy future and an opportunity to work with other states to get there together. MPCA and Commerce strongly supported the CPP and oppose actions that would weaken it.

MPCA and Commerce responses

Greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set fuel efficiency and GHG emissions standards for passenger vehicles.  The existing standards through 2025 were set in 2012 and had broad stakeholder support.  The agencies are now proposing to make the standards less stringent for the years 2021-2026.  Information on these standards and EPA’s proposal can be found on their website.

The fuel efficiency and GHG standards are critical for protecting the health of communities exposed to vehicle pollution, achieving Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act GHG emission reduction goals, and saving Minnesota consumers money at the gas pump.  The MPCA and Minnesota Department of Transportation strongly oppose weakening these federal standards.

MPCA and MnDOT responses

Regulatory reform

EPA is considering many changes to how it conducts rulemaking and sets standards.  They initiated this effort with a broad request for information from stakeholders.

MPCA supports ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of regulatory programs.  However, we have concerns about the methods and priorities EPA is deploying in its review.  EPA has since released specific proposals.  See sections below for more information.

MPCA response

Regulatory science

EPA is considering changing what types of scientific studies it will rely on to develop regulations.  The stated intent of this rule is to be more transparent and only rely on studies based on data that is publicly available.  Learn more about EPA’s proposals on their website.

The MPCA and MDH strongly believe that regulations should be developed using the best science available and that data and scientific studies should be accessible to the public. However, the agencies are concerned about the direction of this rulemaking process and fear that this proposal would undermine the use of peer-reviewed scientific research. The proposal would prevent EPA from using epidemiological studies that rely on private health data, which are critical in developing health-based environmental regulations. MPCA and MDH oppose this proposal.

MPCA and MDH responses

Cost-benefit analyses

EPA is considering changing the methods it uses to conduct cost-benefit analyses as part of the development of regulations. The stated intent of the rule is to use a one-size-fits-all cost-benefit analysis across all federal environmental programs. Learn more about EPA’s proposals on their website.

Cost-benefit analyses are an important part of many regulatory processes. The MPCA supports rigorous analyses that consider all the costs and benefits of environmental regulation, including the costs and benefits to society as a whole. The MPCA has concerns about the direction of the proposal.

MPCA response

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

EPA has been considering changes to how it develops and implements the NAAQS, which set standards for common air pollutants that all states must achieve. These standards are established to protect health, the environment, and property.

The NAAQS are the cornerstone of the Clean Air Act. MPCA agrees that states have the the primary responsibility under the CAA to achieve the standards and must be given flexibility to do so in a way that makes sense for their communities. However, MPCA opposes actions that delay implementation, create inconsistency in enforcement, or otherwise weaken the development and implementation of these health-based standards.

MPCA responses

Once in always in

EPA withdrew its “once in always in” policy which required that facilities that at one point emitted large amounts of air pollution were permanently subject to complex permits and significant requirements for record keeping, monitoring, and control. These requirements could not be lifted, even if a facility reduced its emissions below the levels that would normally demand these conditions.

The MPCA supported this decision because in our experience the “once in always in” policy limited incentives for facilities to invest in pollution-reduction technologies and processes.

MPCA response