State Regulators Require Climate Change Disclosures in Environmental Assessments

The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) modified the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) in December by adding climate change estimates to the form.

Under the modified form, there are two new items required under question 7:

  • The first is a description of the climate trends in the general location of the project and how climate change is anticipated to affect that location during the life of the project.
  • The section part requires that for a given series of categories, a description of how the project’s proposed activities and design will interact with those climate trends. A description of how the project applicant will adapt the project to address any identified impacts is required.

Information Sought, Action Not Mandated

The EAW form change is only seeking information. Under Minnesota law, project applicants can only be asked to disclose the impacts, and are not forced to make adjustments outside of any action already required under state law.

Industry experts have concerns that these disclosures will open conditioning project approval on climate change mitigation efforts not required under state law.

According to Nick Erickson, senior director of housing policy for Housing First Minnesota, outdated zoning regulations require higher reliance on planned unit developments. It is in the negotiations for a zoning variance, builders and developers are forced to accept terms that they otherwise would not accept to get a project approved. Builders and developers are concerned that this form would open the door to more concessions that increase housing costs and reduce housing access.

“This unnecessary form change opens up housing to environmental NIMBYism,” said Erickson. “California, which created these types of reviews, is seeking to remove these requirements as these disclosures are misused to oppose the development of needed, new housing.”

During the development of this requirement, EQB staff stated this change was initiated to prevent environmental advocacy groups from suing the state of Minnesota for not seeking this information.

The EQB was unaware of the challenges faced during the development approval process as well as Minnesota’s energy efficiency record. According to RESNET, Minnesota is the most energy-efficient, high-volume construction state in the nation.

Industry Sought Alternatives

During the stakeholder process, Housing First Minnesota asked the EQB to modify its proposal to exempt residential projects from this requirement if the proposed project complies with the comprehensive plan of a local unit of government.

The Central Minnesota Builders Association (CMBA) was also engaged in the stakeholder process. In a letter to the EQB, CMBA said that given that Minnesota faces a massive housing shortage and growing housing affordability challenges, any tools to block housing is a step in the wrong direction.

“Adding climate change mitigation elements to EA Wand EIS creates another avenue of action for communities to deny new housing development proposals and/or impose costly new mandates,” wrote Wanda Schroeder, executive director of CMBA.

For more information about the modified EQB EAW form, visit the EQB website.