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The Environmental Quality Board is pleased to announce the publication of MEPA TURNS 50, by Stephanie Hemphill. This article celebrates and reflects on the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act, highlights the attributes of MEPA and environmental review, evaluates its shortcomings, and looks ahead to the next fifty years. EQB's executive director provides an introduction, below.

Stephanie Hemphill is a writer with deep northern Minnesota roots who's work been recognized with regional and national awards. She covered the statewide environmental beat for Minnesota Public Radio, and now works as a freelancer. 

Download or view the report here: 


A letter from the EQB Executive Director:

Thank you for reading this special issue of the EQB Monitor. Author Stephanie Hemphill gives us an adept retrospective of Minnesota’s Environmental Policy Act, with a piece that both provides a solid grounding in the history of MEPA and clearly describes the challenges and opportunities facing us as we look forward.

In the last few years, those of us in the environmental field have celebrated the 50th anniversaries of so many key accomplishments in environmental protection. The first Earth Day (1970) led to federal action including the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972), and Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). Here in Minnesota, we had the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) passed in 1971 and MEPA, of course, was passed in 1973. These added to already existing environmental rules and regulations from earlier in the 20th century.

Minnesota has often been on the leading edge of environmental policy making. We recognize the centuries long history of Dakota and Ojibwe tribes caring for their territories here in Mnísota Makhóche. We are justly proud of our history and reputation as an environmental leader and a state taking strong action to protect its air, land, and water.

These laws, and the policies and programs that we have developed under them, although imperfect, are an amazing foundation. They’ve resulted in great successes. In particular, environmental review remains an impactful tool for environmental protection and public involvement, answering key questions about how projected development is likely to affect the environment.

But we sit today in a different place than when MEPA was written. The most pressing environmental issues that we face are increasingly complex, interconnected, and multi-jurisdictional; many result less from individual large pollution sources than from the way that we collectively live on the land. These global and dispersed causes require understanding and responses that are far broader than just looking at individual sources. From mitigating climate change, to dealing with pollutants like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that cycle through every environmental media, to abating the loss of biodiversity in habitat and species like pollinators, we need new approaches to how we consider these impacts.

In addition, we have new expectations for how we work together to address all these environmental issues. Our foundational laws, such as MEPA, often do not speak directly to needs such as considering the disproportionate impacts that often burden low-income communities and communities of color or protecting tribal reserved treaty rights. They often don’t envision engagement beyond basic requirements for notice and comment using tools that pre-date the internet and the way information is shared today.

Government plays an important role in improving the lives of all Minnesotans by working collaboratively to implement policies to achieve results. The EQB has a key part in fostering innovative policy development through collaboration. The question, then, is how do we meet this moment?

A key responsibility is our role as administrators of the environmental review program and in implementing MEPA. MEPA needs to serve Minnesotans in meeting these new environmental challenges and remaining a usable and valuable tool for the next 50 years and beyond. It’s easy to keep doing the things we’ve always done, but Minnesotans expect more of us.

EQB has just completed a six-month effort to build a process to support continuous improvement of the environmental review program. We heard extensive feedback from the public on how to make environmental review more effective; there are no shortage of ideas about how to improve the integrity, reliability, and efficiency of Minnesota’s environmental review program.

We are already planning and implementing multiple projects to support these programmatic goals. From online services and better tools for viewing information related to projects undergoing environmental review, to plans to update guidance documents, reviewing the mandatory categories, and other projects – we have some big ideas!

I am so excited to have taken this role at this time. We have an opportunity to update the structures and processes of environmental review, modernizing them to meet the challenges of today – the complex environmental topics and needs for deep and intentional engagement – building on the foundational purposes of MEPA:

(1) to declare a state policy that will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between human beings and their environment;

(2) to promote efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of human beings; and

(3) to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the state and to the nation.

This is a moment of transformation for EQB and environmental policy in Minnesota. As we step into the next fifty years of MEPA implementation, I look forward to working with all of you to advance meaningful changes that ensure environmental review continues to improve in transparency, accountability, and efficiency to create and sustain a healthy environment and a strong economy for Minnesota.



Catherine Neuschler

Executive Director of the Environmental Quality Board