How Minnesota is Addressing Environmental Justice

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How Does Minnesota Define Environmental Justice and Environmental Justice Communities?

Environmental Justice Definitions

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” MPCA states that this will be achieved when “everyone benefits from the same degree of environmental protection and has equal access to the decision-making processes that contribute to a healthy environment.”

MPCA states that fair treatment means that “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or policies.” 

The agency states that meaningful involvement means that “people have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health; the public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decision; their concerns will be considered in the decision-making process; the decision makers seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.”

Environmental Justice Mapping Tools

MPCA’s has an interactive map of “areas of environmental justice concern.” Areas of environmental justice concern are those in which more than 50% of residents are people of color and/or 40% of households have a household income of less than 185% of the federal poverty level. Minnesota also includes areas within tribal boundaries as potential environmental justice areas.

The mapping tool includes a modeling tool called MNRISKS. MNRISKS models air pollution in the different regions specified by the MPCA’s mapping tool. The emissions and sources in MNRISKS are meant to be updated every three years but the tool’s emissions inventory was last updated in 2014. This modeling tool assesses the air pollution levels on a scale from 0-26; an area with a score of 1 is considered to meet the health “benchmark” for air pollution. A score of less than one has less pollution than the benchmark; a score of more than one has more pollution than the benchmark (i.e., greater potential risk). The MNRISKS filter on the mapping tool gives the air pollution score, the most relevant or prevalent pollutants in an area, any contributing emission sources, and whether the area is an “area of environmental justice concern” as determined by the criteria above.

Additionally, MPCA has a map of power plants and their potential health impacts on areas of environmental justice concern. The tool estimates nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate emissions from power plants in the state, as well as their location in/not in an environmental justice area and the reason an area is or is not designated as an area of environmental justice concern. This tool only estimates emissions from 2006, 2015, and projected emissions for 2030.

MPCA also had a map of permitted facilities and their emissions, with emission data collected as recently as 2019. However, this tool does not include or reference environmental justice areas.

Another tool that MPCA maintains is the “Whats in My Neighborhood” mapping tool which offers residents access a wide variety of environmental information about the community like potentially containamed sites and environmental permits and registrations.

Lastly, the MPCA maintains the “Environmnetal Review Projects Interactive Map” which provides an interactive way to find information on active projects undergoing environmental review in the community. Information embedded into this map includes public comment periods for each project, public meetings, notices of decisions on environmental review documents, and more.

How Does Minnesota Consider Environmental Justice in its Substantive Actions?

Environmental Justice as a Policy of the Environmental Agency or Across All Agencies

Minnesota’s Environmental Policy Act sets forth the general policy that the State shall 

use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which human beings and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of the state’s people.

Consideration of Environmental Justice in Permitting

MPCA does not explicitly require consideration of environmental justice in permitting. In 2008, however, the state legislature passed a law that requires the MPCA to analyze and consider “cumulative levels and effects of past and current pollution” before a permit may be issued for a facility located in a specific part of South Minneapolis. (see “Other Consideration of Cumulative Impacts” section below).

In 2017 MPCA published its Environmental Justice Framework Implementation Report. The report discusses an air permitting pilot project, pursuant to which MPCA staff developed a checklist of steps for a revised air permitting process that includes evaluating “impacts on environmental justice communities during permitting, exploring ways to mitigate those impacts, and changing the way the agency communicates and engages with the public about that process.”

A pipeline permit issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission required an Environmental Justice Communities Mitigation Plan and monthly Mitigation Report until construction was completed. 

Consideration of Environmental Justice in Enforcement

There are no statutory or regulatory requirements relating to environmental justice and enforcement. The 2015 MPCA Environmental Justice Framework outlines four strategies to promote environmental justice in enforcement:

  1. Conducting more frequent compliance inspections in facilities in environmental justice areas.
  2. Resolving noncompliance with community benefits, such as an increased reduction in emissions or a community improvement project, in addition to compliance.
  3. Supporting MPCA permitting programs with additional compliance determinations and assistance to facilities. 

Informing potentially affected communities of noncompliance if there is “potential for adverse effects” in the community – “except when prohibited by law such as during a formal investigation or ongoing enforcement action.”

Consideration of Environmental Justice in Land Use


State Environmental Policy Act “Mini-NEPA”

The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) is similar to the National Environmental Policy Act. Neither the statute nor its implementing regulations include any mention of environmental justice.

Dedicated Funding to Environmental Justice Communities

MPCA has not allocated any funding to environmental justice specifically.

Consideration of Cumulative Impacts

Minn. Stat. § 116.07, subd. 4a, prohibits the MPCA from issuing an air permit without first analyzing and considering the cumulative levels and effects of past and current environmental pollution from all sources on the environment and residents. It applies to a defined area that is part of South Minneapolis. MPCA has developed two guidance documents for implementing the cumulative levels and affects analysis. The analysis includes the following steps: 

  • Determining whether the facility is within the area described by the statute,
  • Conducting an Air Emissions Risk Analysis (AERA) and criteria pollutant modeling to define the extent of the geographic area of study,
  • The permit applicant analyzing potential impacts on human health and the environment from their facility, and 
  • MPCA considering the analysis in permitting determinations.

Prohibitions on Disparate Impact Discrimination


Established Environmental Rights


How Does Minnesota Address Environmental Justice in its Procedures?

Environmental Justice as Part of Environmental Agency’s Mission

MPCA adopted Administrative Policy No. i-admin8-29, effective November 2020, which states:  

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) expects the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities in agency actions and decisions that affect them. It is the policy of the MPCA that an outcome of its work, in addition to protecting and improving the environment and public health, must address environmental justice concerns.

The Agency adopted an Environmental Justice Framework in 2015, which sets out the goals of ensuring that:

  • Pollution does not have disproportionate negative impacts on any group of people. 
  • The benefits, opportunities, and risks of agency policies, decisions, and activities are fairly and equitably distributed. 
  • All individuals and groups are given the opportunity for meaningful involvement in agency decisions that may impact them. 
  • Environmental justice concerns are given due consideration by agency decision-makers during the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. 

The MPCA and its stakeholders have mechanisms in place to regularly evaluate progress, success, and failure in meeting the agency’s goals and the outcomes of those evaluations are used to inform future planning and decision-making by the agency.

Environmental Justice as Part of Other Agency’s Mission


Processes and Procedures (including Title VI)

Non-Discrimination Policy

MPCA has a nondiscrimination webpage that includes information about its non-discrimination policy and its grievance procedures.

Grievance Procedures


Enhanced Public Participation and Information Access

Enhanced public participation is required for permits in areas covered by the Cumulative Levels and Affects Process. This includes information sessions when an application is filed, email notifications, and an extended public comment period.

Language Access

Minnesota does not have any statutory or regulatory provisions for translation services or requirements nor does it have a language access plan. According to the 2017 Environmental Justice Framework Implementation Report, mapping tools include expanded demographic info including language, which “will help to determine . . . if translation is warranted.” The report gives examples of MPCA’s use of interpreters, translation of documents, and methods for identifying LEP communities.

Consultation with Indigenous Communities and Tribal Nations


Governmental Environmental Justice Structures, Positions, and Funding Streams

Environmental Justice Coordinating Agency

There is not an Office of Environmental Justice, but Ned Brooks (see Minnesota Environmental Justice Contacts for contact information) is listed as the MPCA’s Environmental Justice Coordinator.

Environmental Justice Coordinator


Environmental Justice Advisory Board

The Environmental Justice Advisory Group advises the MPCA Commissioner on implementation of the agency’s environmental justice framework, provides feedback on its effectiveness, and offers suggestions for future improvements. Its membership is selected by the MPCA Commissioner with the input from a selection committee that includes external stakeholders and current Advisory Board members. 

Funding for Environmental Justice

MPCA has not allocated any funding to environmental justice specifically.

Additional Minnesota Environmental Justice Provisions


Minnesota Environmental Justice Contacts

The MPCA Nondiscrimination Coordinator is: 

Ned Brooks
Nondiscrimination Coordinator
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Road North 
St. Paul, MN  55155-4191

Toll-free: 800-657-3864 

TTY: 651-282-5332 

Where to Find Minnesota Environmental Justice Laws, Policies, and Tools

Constitutional Provisions


Executive Orders

Executive Order No. 13-10, “Affirming the Government-to-Government Relationship between the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Tribal Nations: Providing for Consultation, Coordination, and Cooperation; Rescinding Executive Order 03-05,”

Legislation and Statutes

  • Minn. Stat. § 144.998 (Environmental Health Tracking and Biomonitoring Advisory Panel). 
  • Minn. Stat. § 116D.04  (Minnesota Environmental Policy Act).
  • Minn. Stat. § 116.07 Subd.4a. (Cumulative Levels and Effects).


MN ADC 4410.0200 – .6500 (Minnesota Environmental Policy Act).


Mapping Tools