The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued two unpublished decisions pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, subd. 10, which the Legislature amended last year to provide that challenges to agency environmental-review decisions must be made directly to the Court of Appeals by petition for writ of certiorari. Previously, such decisions were reviewed initially by the district court, with the result that the district court and the court of appeals would conduct essentially identical record-based reviews of the agency’s decision.

The first case, In re Xcel Energy’s Application for a Route Permit for CapX 2020 Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse High Voltage Transmission Line, 2013 WL 2460343 (June 10, 2013), involved challenges to a high-voltage-transmission-line route permit issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to Xcel Energy (Xcel).

Helicopter by Power Transmission Lines (Source: Flicker user, b0jangles, at www.wjon.com)

Helicopter by Power Transmission Lines (Source: Flicker user, b0jangles, at http://www.wjon.com)

Affected landowners and others argued that because Xcel expanded the preferred route after the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) was complete, MPUC lacked authority to consider and approve the expanded route. The Court disagreed, noting that the EIS does not limit the MPUC’s authority; it is simply “a tool to assist the MPUC in satisfying its obligation to evaluate the environmental impact of any route it considers permitting.” The overall record, including evidence introduced at public hearings on the permit, demonstrated that Xcel had considered the environmental effects of the expanded route.

In the second decision, In re Environmental Assessment Worksheet on Proposed Full Circle Organics, 2013 WL 2372162 (June 3, 2013),  the Court affirmed MPCA’s denial of a citizen petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for a proposed source-separated compost facility in Good Thunder, MN. The Court agreed with MPCA that the citizen petition failed to provide the requisite “material evidence” that the project may have the potential for significant environmental effects, and that in any case, the general concerns raised by the petition would be adequately addressed by the conditions of the solid-waste permit for the proposed facility.

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