Environmental review provides information about the environmental impacts of a wide range of projects before necessary permits or approvals are issued. Addressing the potential positive and negative health effects of new or changing projects can provide critical information to the public and decision makers for promoting a healthy built environment.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
In 1970, the United States passed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) [42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.] to establish national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment.
Around the same time of the passage of NEPA, many states enacted state environmental policy acts to address the environmental impacts of actions and projects by states and other local governments not covered by NEPA. In addition to Minnesota, 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted local environmental policy acts.
Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)
The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act of 1973 (MEPA) established the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), which oversees the formal environmental review process for the state of Minnesota.
In Minnesota, environmental review consists most frequently of the completion of one or both of the following documents:
Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW): A screening tool to determine whether a full environmental impact statement is needed. The worksheet is a six-page questionnaire about the project’s environmental setting, the potential for environmental harm and plans to reduce the harm. Approximately 150 worksheets are completed each year.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): An in-depth analysis used for major development projects that will significantly change the environment. The EIS covers social and economic influences, as well as environmental impacts, and looks at alternate ways to proceed with the project. Seven EIS's for private sector proposals were started between 2007 and 2010.
Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW)
EAWs are completed for many different types of projects including animal feedlots, buildings, energy and infrastructure projects, mines, recreation projects, transportation projects, water projects, storage of waste and hazardous materials, and others. To some degree all of the projects that undergo environmental review will impact public health – either positively or negatively. MDH reviewed the environmental review process in Minnesota to find out if and how health and climate change is being addressed within the EAW. Below is the final report from this review.
Incorporating Health and Climate Change into the Minnesota Environmental Assessment Worksheet
The final report on Incorporating Health and Climate Change into the Minnesota Environmental Assessment Worksheet (PDF) includes the following components:
- An examination of the best practices of federal and state environmental review processes regarding the inclusion of human health and climate change
- A literature review on incorporating health impact assessment (HIA) into the environmental review process
- A review of legislation requiring HIA
- A desktop HIA on a mixed-use project that completed an EAW in Minnesota, and
- A review of Minnesota’s EAW for present assessment of health and climate change impacts
The What's in your EAW? (PPT) training covers addressing the following health topics in the EAW:
- Land use
- Affordable housing and mixed-use development
- Climate change
- Health impact assessments