A Guide to the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) is a powerful tool for safeguarding the state's natural resources and ensuring sustainable development. This comprehensive guide provides a clear and concise overview of MERA's key provisions, regulatory standards, and compliance obligations, enabling developers and environmental consultants to navigate the complexities of this landmark legislation. By delving into the Act's structure, prohibited activities, and enforcement mechanisms, readers will gain a deeper understanding of how MERA shapes the environmental regulatory landscape in Minnesota. The guide also highlights recent developments and offers valuable resources to help stakeholders stay informed and proactively manage their environmental responsibilities under MERA.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Key Details of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act

Issuing Agency: The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) is administered and enforced by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).
Year Established: 1971
Last Amended: The MERA has not undergone significant amendments since its enactment in 1971.
Statutory Authority: The MERA is authorized by Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 116B.[^0]
Primary Legal Reference: The MERA is codified in Minnesota Statutes, Sections 116B.01 to 116B.13.[^1]

Overview of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act

The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) is a state law that operates within Minnesota's broader environmental regulatory framework. It complements federal regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA), by providing additional protections for Minnesota's natural resources and allowing citizens to take legal action against polluters.[^2]

The MERA addresses a wide range of environmental issues, including air and water pollution, soil contamination, and the protection of natural resources such as forests, wetlands, and wildlife. The primary goals of the MERA are to protect, preserve, and enhance the state's natural resources and to ensure that they are used in a sustainable manner.[^3]

The MERA is administered and enforced by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). The MPCA is responsible for regulating pollution and protecting air and water quality, while the MDNR manages and protects the state's natural resources.[^4]

Enacted in 1971, the MERA was one of the first state environmental rights laws in the United States. It has not undergone significant amendments since its enactment.[^5]

The MERA achieves its goals by granting citizens the right to take legal action against any person or entity that is causing or is likely to cause pollution, impairment, or destruction of the state's natural resources. This citizen suit provision is a key mechanism of the MERA, as it allows individuals to act as private attorneys general to enforce environmental laws.[^6]

What does the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act protect?

The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) protects a wide range of environmental resources within the state of Minnesota. These resources include air, water, land, forests, wetlands, and wildlife. The MERA protects these resources from pollution, impairment, and destruction by granting citizens the right to take legal action against any person or entity that is causing or is likely to cause harm to the environment.[^7] The MERA defines pollution, impairment, and destruction broadly, ensuring that a wide range of environmental harms can be addressed under the law.[^8] By empowering citizens to act as private attorneys general, the MERA creates a powerful tool for protecting Minnesota's natural resources and ensuring that they are used in a sustainable manner.

[^0]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 (2021) [^1]: Minn. Stat. §§ 116B.01-116B.13 (2021) [^2]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 (2021) [^3]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 (2021) [^4]: "About the MPCA," Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, https://www.pca.state.mn.us/about-mpca; "About DNR," Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/aboutdnr/index.html [^5]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 (2021) [^6]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.03 (2021) [^7]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.03 (2021) [^8]: Minn. Stat. § 116B.02 (2021)

REGULATORY SCOPE & JURISDICTION

Regulated Activities & Entities

The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) is a comprehensive environmental protection law that aims to safeguard the state's natural resources and ensure the right of its citizens to a clean and healthy environment. The Act regulates a wide range of activities and entities that have the potential to cause pollution, impairment, or destruction of the environment, including air, water, land, and other natural resources.

MERA applies to various industries and activities, such as:

  • Manufacturing and industrial processes
  • Agriculture and forestry
  • Mining and resource extraction
  • Waste management and disposal
  • Construction and development projects

Under MERA, the following activities and substances are prohibited:

  1. Pollution, impairment, or destruction of the air, water, land, or other natural resources: This broad prohibition covers any activity that has the potential to harm the environment, unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative and the conduct is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety, and welfare1.
  2. Discharge of pollutants: The Act prohibits the discharge of any pollutant that may cause or contribute to pollution, impairment, or destruction of the environment, without a valid permit or in violation of applicable regulations2.
  3. Improper waste disposal: MERA prohibits the improper disposal of waste materials, including hazardous substances, that may lead to environmental contamination or public health risks3.

These prohibitions are essential for protecting Minnesota's environment and public health by preventing or mitigating the adverse effects of pollution and ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources.

Structure and Key Provisions

The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act is structured into several key sections that outline the Act's purpose, definitions, prohibitions, and enforcement mechanisms. Some of the most important sections include:

Section 116B.01 - Purpose4

This section establishes the purpose of MERA, which is to protect the state's natural resources and ensure the right of its citizens to a clean and healthy environment.

Section 116B.02 - Definitions5

This section provides definitions for key terms used throughout the Act, such as "natural resources," "pollution," "impairment," and "destruction."

Section 116B.03 - Civil Actions6

This section allows any person to bring a civil action against any other person for the protection of the environment, subject to certain limitations and requirements.

Section 116B.04 - Burden of Proof7

This section establishes the burden of proof in civil actions brought under MERA, requiring the plaintiff to make a prima facie showing that the defendant's conduct has or is likely to cause pollution, impairment, or destruction of the environment.

Section 116B.07 - Relief8

This section outlines the types of relief that may be granted in civil actions under MERA, including declaratory judgments, temporary and permanent equitable relief, and restoration or rehabilitation of the environment.

While these are some of the key sections of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, it is essential for readers to consult the full text of the regulation and engage with relevant agencies, such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for project-specific guidance and requirements.

COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS & STANDARDS

Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) establishes various standards and limitations to protect the state's natural resources and ensure sustainable development. These standards may include emissions limits, performance standards, or other relevant metrics, depending on the specific industry or project type.9 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and other relevant state agencies are responsible for implementing and enforcing these standards through permitting processes, regular inspections, and compliance monitoring.10

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under MERA, regulated entities are subject to various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to demonstrate compliance with the established standards and limitations.11 These obligations may include regular sampling and analysis of emissions, maintaining detailed records of operations and maintenance activities, and submitting periodic compliance reports to the relevant agencies.[^203] Developers and consultants should work closely with the MPCA and other applicable agencies to understand and fulfill the specific monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements for their projects, as these obligations can vary depending on the nature and scale of the development.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The MPCA and other relevant state agencies have the authority to take enforcement actions against entities that violate the provisions of MERA or fail to comply with the established standards and limitations. Enforcement actions may include:

  1. Notices of violation
  2. Administrative orders
  3. Civil penalties
  4. Criminal penalties12

The severity of the enforcement action and the associated penalties will depend on factors such as the nature and extent of the violation, the potential for environmental harm, and the entity's compliance history.13 To avoid enforcement actions and ensure smooth project development, it is crucial for developers and consultants to proactively comply with MERA requirements and engage early with the relevant agencies to address any concerns or issues that may arise.14 Readers are encouraged to consult the full text of MERA and work closely with the MPCA and other applicable agencies to understand the specific enforcement provisions and penalty structures that may apply to their projects.15

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Recent Developments & Regulatory Outlook

In recent years, the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) has seen several significant developments that have shaped its interpretation and application. One notable case is State ex rel. Drabik v. Martz, 451 N.W.2d 893 (Minn. Ct. App. 1990), which clarified that MERA allows for citizen suits against private parties, not just governmental entities, for actions that could potentially cause pollution, impairment, or destruction of natural resources.16

Another important development was the amendment of MERA in 2011 to include a definition of "pollution, impairment, or destruction" that aligns with the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).17 This change helped to harmonize the two statutes and provide greater clarity for stakeholders.

Looking ahead, there are no immediate plans for significant amendments to MERA. However, stakeholders should stay informed about potential regulatory changes or policy shifts by monitoring the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) websites, joining relevant mailing lists, and engaging with industry associations such as the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA).

As MERA continues to evolve through judicial interpretations and potential legislative actions, developers and environmental consultants should remain vigilant in understanding their obligations and staying up-to-date with the latest developments to ensure compliance and minimize legal risks.

Additional Resources

Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) - Full Text: The complete text of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, as amended, provided by the Minnesota Revisor of Statutes.

MPCA's Guide to MERA: A comprehensive guide to the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which covers key aspects of the law, its relationship to other statutes, and the citizen suit provision.

EQB's Environmental Review Program: The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board's overview of the state's environmental review program, including information on the relationship between MERA and the environmental review process.

REFERENCES

  1. Minn. Stat. § 116B.02, subd. 5 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.02

  2. Minn. Stat. § 116B.03, subd. 1 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.03

  3. Minn. Stat. § 116B.02, subd. 5 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.02

  4. Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.01

  5. Minn. Stat. § 116B.02 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.02

  6. Minn. Stat. § 116B.03 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.03

  7. Minn. Stat. § 116B.04 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.04

  8. Minn. Stat. § 116B.07 (2021). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/116B.07

  9. Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 et seq. (2021).

  10. "Enforcement." Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, https://www.pca.state.mn.us/regulations/enforcement

  11. Minn. Stat. § 116B.03 (2021).

  12. Minn. Stat. § 116B.07 (2021).

  13. "Enforcement." Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, https://www.pca.state.mn.us/regulations/enforcement

  14. Minn. Stat. § 116B.01 et seq. (2021).

  15. State ex rel. Drabik v. Martz, 451 N.W.2d 893 (Minn. Ct. App. 1990).

  16. 2011 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. ch. 2, art. 4, § 83.

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the MERA. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.