News Watch: Nov. 20

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Green Infrastructure; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife
 

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Green Infrastructure
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
 
Wildlife

 

Student Voices Series: Stop Farmaceuticals

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

What comes to mind as you carve that Thanksgiving turkey? I picture hospitals.

That’s because right now 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States can be found in feeding troughs on industrial farms. That’s right; healthy animals are fed antibiotics on a regular basis, so it’s likely that there are antibiotics in that Thanksgiving bird.

To put it simply, antibiotics make livestock grow faster. Faster growth means quicker slaughter and more money for dirty concentrated animal feeding operations. That’s why multi-billion dollar corporations are feeding small doses of antibiotics to pigs, chickens and cows for breakfast.

We need to stop this overuse of antibiotics in factory farming. Consumption of unnecessary antibiotics breeds dangerous, antibiotic-resistant infections that already hospitalize 2 million and kill 23,000 people in the United States each year, according the Centers for Disease Control.

Shockingly, the Food and Drug Administration has been aware of this health crisis since the 1960’s. Still, there is no federal legislation to regulate the misuse of antibiotics in our agricultural system.

My first-hand experience is what motivated me to take action against the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Last spring, I became the coalition coordinator for the “Healthy Farms, Healthy Families” campaign here in St. Paul. Partnering with Healthy Food Action, we helped unanimously pass a St. Paul city resolution to ban the misuse of non-therapeutic antibiotics in factory farming.

With the signing of this resolution, St. Paul officially supports the “Protection of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) in the House and the “Preservation of Antibiotics Resistant Act (PARA) in the Senate. Both Acts include regulatory measures for the administration of non-therapeutic antibiotics on factory farms.

While this was a wholly symbolic victory for St. Paul -there are virtually no farms within city limits- they city’s participation helped antibiotics gain traction in Washington. Last September, President Obama created a national task force led by the secretaries of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense and Agriculture. He required that they deliver a five-year action plan by Feb. 15, 2015. He also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to propose regulations requiring hospitals to establish antibiotics stewardship programs.

However, Dr. James Johnson, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Minnesota observes gaping loopholes in the proposed regulation. “The section on agricultural [antibiotic] use in the council’s report sounds like it was written by someone from the meat industry. Really disappointing.”

The City of St. Paul played a critical role in bringing antibiotics to the forefront of the Obama Administration’s agenda. However, we will not be placated with a shoddy attempt at federal legislation that almost ignores the misuse of antibiotics in factory farms. We must continue to demand an urgent, comprehensive management system to cull the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

We have to change the way the system operates; not put a band-aid on the issue by developing more antibiotics or “antibiotic-stewardship programs”. Eventually, any new technological advances will once again be thwarted by our systematic overuse of antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistance is happening now. It’s real. Doctors are helpless in the face of pan-resistant infections.  And we continue buying meat without truly knowing what we are ingesting.

But you can make a difference. Contact your city councilmember and state representatives. Implore them to support the regulation of antibiotics on factory farms through PARA and PAMTA. And the next time you go to the grocery store, examine the meat labels. Look specifically for the words “Antibiotic-free” on the packaging.  Vote with your dollar!

Student Voice Series: Death to the Deadbeat Dam

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

The river-damming era in this country must come to an end. We must stop building dams and we must also destroy deadbeat dams. Deadbeat dams can be defined as high-cost, obsolete dams that impose safety threats as well as damage to natural river ecosystems. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams, there are over 75,000 dams in this country and of those, 26,000 pose significant safety concerns. These 26,000 plus deadbeat dams are falling apart, serving no productive purpose, and are consequently and shamelessly disrupting natural river ecosystems.

Back in the 1930’s amidst the Great Depression, the nation was able to overcome immense technical challenges and erect one of the greatest engineering feats in history, the Hoover Dam. This dam was not just physically impressive, standing over 700 feet tall, but also carried significant symbolic weight. Through this dam, humans were able to control and harness the power of nature to propel the nation forward. While the rationale behind such structures was to control floods and produce hydropower, we became dam crazy. In 1998, in a speech to the Ecological Society of America, Bruce Babbit, the former Secretary of the Interior, stated that for most of the 20th century, “politicians…eagerly rushed in, amidst cheering crowds, to claim credit for the construction of 75,000 dams all across America. Think about that number,” asks Bruce, “that means we have been building, on average, one large dam a day, every single day, since the Declaration of Independence.” The dam building treadmill in this country has only slowed because almost every logical spot has already been dammed.

The reality is that dams are finite structures; they cannot “live” forever. They will become obsolete. The average life span of a dam is 50 years and according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 85% of dams will surpass this lifespan by 2020. While proclaimed as technical beasts to conquer flooding and produce immense hydro power, the truth is that only 1,750 dams in this country currently produce hydropower, and the other declared benefits can be achieved more effectively than through the choking of precious river ecosystems. Damming degrades water quality, blocks the movement of nutrients and sediments, destroys fish and wildlife habitat, as well as damages coastal estuaries. We simply must put deadbeat dams to death.

This issue affects us right here in Minnesota. There are over 1,250 dams in the State of Minnesota, 800 of which are publicly owned. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the majority of public dams have already passed their 50-year mark and require much ongoing and emergency repairs to maintain their safety and structural integrity. Over $1 million is spent annually on the upkeep of these dams and it is estimated that $114 million will be necessary over the next 20 years to ensure the safety of Minnesota’s dams. If these dams are no longer safe and productive, they need to be torn down.

A debate of whether to remove or revive is currently surrounding the Lake Byllesby Dam near Cannon Falls, Minnesota. This particular dam is among those in Minnesota that has surpassed 50 years and therefore requires much repair. This 103 year-old dam has “hulking blue turbines and generators — lined with rust — [that] whir and churn, and …could fail at any moment.” Additionally, Luther Aadland, a river ecologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said that “there’s an increasing risk of [dams] failing and that becomes expensive in a lot of ways. You have downstream loss of life and infrastructure that’s destroyed.” According to these testimonials, removal seems like a reasonable route, however the decision to remove is not always straightforward. This particular dam provides both recreation and hydropower functions to the nearby communities; the flow currently creates enough energy to power 1,000 homes. This fact brings the decision into perspective and complicates any future decisions regarding this dam.

Several decades ago, the idea of dam removal would have seemed ludicrous and impossible. But it is happening, and happening more frequently. In 2011 alone, the great Conduit Dam on the White Salmon River, the Elwha Dam on the Elwha River, both in Washington, as well as the Greatworks/Veazie Dam along Maine’s Penobscot River, all came down. This scale of removal had never before been undertaken and marked an incredible milestone for river restoration. If we fast-forward to 2013 we see that over 50 dams in 18 states have been taken down, restoring more than 500 miles of stream habitat.

One of those 50 dams was right here in Minnesota. The Minnesota Falls Dam, near Granite Falls, MN was 600 feet long, 107 years old, and completely deteriorated. Within two months, the longest dam across the Minnesota River was destroyed and a river ecosystem restored. With the destruction of this dam, shovelnose, lake sturgeon, paddlefish, walleye, sauger, and flathead catfish are all now thriving, according to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, because some of the best spawning habitat in the entire river system is free-flowing once again.

If we remove dams, ecosystems will bounce back. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, once said, “don’t underestimate the regenerative power of rivers; in the end they will outlast any concrete and steel dam wall.” We must keep up the crusade against deadbeat dams that serve no purpose and kill our river ecosystems. Let’s start here Minnesota, let’s tell our representatives to reevaluate this state’s relationship with dams. Let’s tell them to take a good hard look at the Byllesby Dam and to make a decision that is economically and ecologically sound. Let’s tell them to put deadbeat dams to death!


 

  • Babbit, Bruce. “Dams Are Not Forever.” Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting. 4 Aug. 1998.
  • Chouinard, Yvon. “Tear Down ‘Deadbeat’ Dams.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 7 May 2014.
  • “DamNation: Lessons and Questions on Dam Removal.” International Rivers. 27 May 2014.
  • “Dams and Dam Safety in Minnesota: Minnesota DNR.” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
  • Joiner, James. “DamNation: America’s Deadbeat Dam Problem is Government Waste at its Most Dangerous.” Esquire. 14 May 2014.
  • Nijhuis, Michelle. “World’s Largest Dam Removal Unleashes U.S. River After Century of Electric Production.” National Geographic. 26 Aug. 2014.
  • Nuchols, Emily. “New Film DamNation Takes Aim at Bringing Down Deadbeat Dams.” Beyond the Edge. National Geographic, 8 May 2014.
  • “President Barack Obama: Crack Down on Deadbeat Dams.” Change.org. Damnation Film.
  • “Questions About Removing Dams.” American Rivers. <http://www.americanrivers.org/initiatives/dams/faqs/>.
  • Sorensen, Sally Jo. “Minnesota River Will Get Its Groove Back with Removal of 107-year-old Minnesota Falls Dam.” Twin Cities Daily Planet. 13 Jan. 2013.

Student Voices Series: Awareness, not Fear, in the Right to Know Debate

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

Today, in grocery stores everywhere, Minnesotans are not fully aware of the food they are placing in their shopping carts. Specifically, they do not know which foods contain genetically modified organisms, more commonly known as GMOs. A proposed bill at the Minnesota legislature for mandatory labeling of these ingredients will ensure that everyone has the information they need to purchase foods according to their values.     

The 2014 survey by Consumer Reports indicates that 92% of American respondents want GMO foods to be labeled. This does not mean that 92% of Americans want to put a stop to genetic engineering. Some believe the technology is the solution to ending world hunger while others believe it will lead to the collapse of crop diversity and an explosion of “super weeds”. Some people are opposed to GMOs simply because they only want to put in their body what naturally exists on Earth.

Putting the debate aside, GMO labeling is the middle ground everyone should agree on. If Minnesotans support or don’t see a harm in genetic engineering, they will continue to purchase their Frosted Flakes, frozen dinners, and veggie burgers with no economic burden on the company. Americans eat plenty of GMO foods without realizing it.  Let’s face it: they are hard to avoid.

On the other hand, those who do not want to eat GMO foods for environmental or health reasons will be able to put their dollar elsewhere. If concerned or confused about the information provided by the label, Minnesotans could read more about genetically modified foods, speculate the contents of their grocery cart, and understand the agricultural world outside of their pantry and fridge.

Labeling empowers moms, dads, college students, business men and women to make an informed choice between purchasing a product or not. For example, “USDA certified organic” labels allow individuals to support organic growers if they value natural agricultural practices over conventional. These every day decisions in the grocery store influence corporate success. Because corporations directly affect policy with their lobbying power, the foods people choose to buy affect social and environmental policy. So, every day is Election Day when shoppers are voting with their wallet to support particular companies or not. Minnesota can better harness this consumer power by expanding awareness of genetic engineering through labeling.

As of now, campaigns to label GMOs are focused on the state level. These were initially inspired by California’s Prop 37, a ballot initiative in 2012 to label GMO’s, which was narrowly defeated with 48.6% of California residents voting in favor. Vermont was the first state to successfully mandate labeling without any restrictions on neighboring states, as Maine had done.

The first steps to label have already been made in Minnesota. The Minnesota House of Representatives introduced bill H.F. 3140 in February 2013 to label foods – “Produced with Genetic Engineering” when necessary. The following month the State Senate introduced S.F. 2865 to label genetically engineered foods with the goals that labels would provide officials with better labeling of adulterated products, limit the economic burdens of non-GMO producers, and most importantly, raise consumer choice.  

I encourage Minnesotans to contact local legislators, especially those recently elected, and share their support of labeling. To have wider success, they can explain that even with much of the technology of genetic engineering unclear, the rights of consumers is a necessity. I encourage Minnesotans to reach out to Right to Know Minnesota, a non-profit organization run by volunteers to lobby the state government to support GMO labeling laws, in order to find out more about the campaign and become involved with their efforts. With a widespread citizen effort, this state could become the first in the Midwest to label GMOs giving Minnesotans the protection and awareness they constitutionally deserve. 

Not all Minnesotans are farmers, but these men, women, and children keep the farmers in business. So they have every right to know what processes and ingredients go into the food they purchase and more importantly- eat.


Megan Davitt is an Economics and Environmental Studies student at Macalester College. She volunteers with Right to Know MN and is starting up a student organization on campus to tackle issues surrounding food justice and consumer awareness.

http://righttoknowmn.org/
http://righttoknow-gmo.org
http://consumersunion.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014_GMO_survey_report.pdf

My generation shouldn’t have to clean up this generation’s mess

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generationmess -MN

Written by MEP’s Lindsey Wilson – 

I support the Clean Power Plan because my generation shouldn’t have to clean up this generation’s mess – especially when the solutions are readily available. If we are to ensure a secure and healthy world for future generations we must act now to clean up the dirtiest sources of carbon pollution fueling the problem.

Tackling climate change isn’t just about the ecological health of our planet. It is about the future of human systems and human life. As a global community, we are already suffering from the impacts of climate change and we can make predictions of what the future will look like if we don’t act aggressively. Climate change is an ecological, political, economic and social disaster.  If we fail to address this problem we will watch islands and forests disappear, extreme weather ravage communities, populations starve, and disease spread.

We know that climate change is happening. We know that human actions – mainly an excess of carbon and other greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere – are to blame.  We know if we cut carbon emissions, we can dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.

We know coal-fired power plants are the single largest contributor of carbon emissions in this country. We know we can feasibly cut pollution from single largest emitter of carbon by making sure the EPA’s Clean Power Plan crosses the finish line. And on top of this, we know we have the technology, know-how, and expertise to successfully carry out and implement clean energy programs.

The good news is the United States EPA is working to address climate change and communities are coming together to call for solutions. 400,000 people marched through New York City demanding action and the two largest carbon emitters in the world – the U.S. and China – have just agreed to reduce their footprints.

The decisions we make today will determine our course into the future. It is time to come together collectively to change things. We need to empower communities to embrace and implement solutions that are within reach and readily available. For the health and future of our communities, I urge you to submit your comment to the United States EPA and let them know that you support the Clean Power Plan by December 1st. It is the responsibility of everyone to make this change.

 

News Watch: Nov. 17

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Elections; Energy; Green Leaders; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife; Loon Commons Blog
 

Agriculture & Food
MinnPost: Community Voices: Agriculture and climate change: a cause, a victim and a potential solution written by Katie Siegner of MEP member group Will Steger Foundation
NPR: 40 percent of world’s cropland in or near cities 
NPR: With drought the new normal, food producers find they have to change (In MPR
Star Tribune: High-tech feeders free dairy farmers 
Star Tribune: Rail congestion sends more grain to market on river barges 
Star Tribune: Sugar makers fend off import threat 
St. Cloud Times: Letter: Agriculture, think ahead 7 generations 

Climate Change
MPR: Obama on climate agreement with China: Ambitious, but achievable
New York Times: U.S. and China Reach Climate Accord After Months of Talks
NPR: China and US, titans on carbon pollution, move to cut gases (In MPR)
NPR: Climate Change to make lightning more common (In MPR
Pioneer Press: Column: Paul Krugman: China, coal, climate 

Elections
MinnPost: Earth Journal: Down the ballot, U.S. voters grappled with fracking, GMOs, sulfide mining

Energy
NPR: After Solyndra Loss, U.S. Energy Loan Program Turning A Profit

Green Leaders
TC Daily Planet: 2014 Women’s Congress: Girl power goes green for future generations 

Invasive Species
MPR: State ag officials to discuss emerald ash borer in Rochester 

Mining
Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness & Sustainable Ely: VIDEO: Paddle to DC Video

Oil & Pipelines
Associated Press: House, Senate to vote on Keystone pipeline (In MPR)
Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Figures hide the damage pipeline spills cause 
MinnPost: Earth Journal: House a Keystone XL-size pipeline project is moving ahead without U.S. review
MPR: Lawsuit: US allowing more tar sands oil through Minn. without review
Rochester Post Bulletin: Opinion: Pipeline debate seems to miss an alternative for refining oil 
Star Tribune: Letter: An act of desperation by Enbridge Energy 
Star Tribune: N.D. oil drillers upbeat but cautious as oil prices slide

Transportation
Red Wing Republican Eagle: State seeks input on passenger, freight rail plan 

Waste & Recycling
Duluth News Tribune: Sulfate-eating bacteria could cut mine waste 

Water
Duluth News Tribune: Local view: North Shore residents know clean water, need the Clean Water Act
Red Wing Republican Eagle: Commentary: Citizens can help save Lake Pepin 

Wildlife
NPR: How animals hacked the rainbow and got stumped on blue (In MPR)

Student Voices Series: It’s time for Minnesotan utilities to see the bigger picture

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

Actions have consequences. Take the example of an adolescent who sets off fireworks in his parent’s backyard. He is only concerned with his own pleasure, but consequentially the neighborhood must deal with the smoke that now floods the street and the risk of spreading fire. But he’s an adolescent, immature and incapable of seeing the greater consequences of his actions. It is his parent’s responsibility to hold him accountable and make him see the bigger picture.  Similarly, today it is the state’s responsibility to make Minnesotan utilities and their shareholders accountable for the social costs of carbon dioxide emissions. In the coming year there will be an opportunity to do just that by adopting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Social Cost of Carbon.

Every power plant generates an unseen cost by burning carbon intensive energy sources, like coal. But the cost is paid, not by the emitters, but in the health bills of children with asthma and in the farms whose crop yields suffer from additional droughts. In fact, according to a study done by two economists at the University of Minnesota, the impact of the green house gas emissions emitted by Minnesota’s runaway adolescents is approximately $1.287 billion damages. The Environmental Protection Agency put a dollar value to these damages at approximately $37 of future damages for each additional ton of emitted carbon dioxide. According to the EPA this measure “includes, but is not limited to, changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, and property damages from increased flood risk.” To put that in perspective, a ton is how much carbon dioxide is emitted from driving 2,381 miles in a passenger vehicle. Which may appear trivial, except the EPA’s data shows that in 2005 the average U.S coal powered plant emitted 4.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The Social Cost of carbon is used to quantify both the unseen impact of those emissions, and the net gain to society from reducing those emissions.

Now there is an opportunity, here in the state of Minnesota, to adopt the Social Cost of Carbon and use it to craft a socially responsible energy plan. As of September 4th 2014 the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decided to bring the decision of whether or not to adopt the SCC before a judge in the Office of Administrative hearings. If the judge decides in the affirmative, and the commission confirms his decision, then energy utilities will be required to use the SCC in running “integrated resource plans.” These plans are use financial models geared towards minimize costs to consumers, costs that would now include the external damages from carbon dioxide. With a firmer externality value in place many utilities would be under pressure to close coal burning power plants and avoid opening future ones. Suddenly Minnesota’s adolescents are aware of the consequences, and act accordingly.

As the Social Cost of Carbon is argued before the administrative judge, the utilities and their shareholders will push, as they already have, for the value to be recalculated from scratch. A process, which both Minnesota’s Commerce and Pollution control agency said in a joint report “is not an efficient use of ratepayer funds […] when values developed by the federal government already exist.” For instance, Excel Energy argued that the SCC should be recalculated to ignore damages that occur outside of Minnesota. Which is akin to saying that our adolescent setting off fireworks should only worry about the damage to his parent’s house, and not the fire and smoke the neighbors will suffer. Even though this logic advises that neighboring states should not consider the damages that their emissions occur in Minnesota, when picking their emissions targets.

The utilities get to say their part in court, and so must the Minnesotan residents who will suffer the costs of climate change. As the scope of the trial is decided, Minnesotan ratepayers should remain poised for the time when we can send our public comments to the Judge, or the Public Utilities Commission. In doing so we can open our adolescents’ eyes and pave the way for a more accountable, Minnesota.

Student Voices Series: Dredging up problems today for a better tomorrow

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

Growing up in Upstate New York the Hudson River was a staple of my childhood. Every day as I waited for the school bus, I would watch the river and daydream about all the places it led to. My admiration for the river was always tainted by its local reputation as unsafe and dirty. Despite its pristine appearance, the Hudson River suffers from extreme pollution and is currently undergoing environmental dredging. Sadly this is not uncommon for waterways in the United States. In 2004 the beloved Lake Pepin, the widest naturally occurring span of the Mississippi River, was placed on the Impaired Waters List according to the National Park Service. Although the effects of environmental dredging are surrounded by debate, the success of  dredging in Lake Beauclair, Florida and the Hudson River could be extended to cases such as Lake Pepin.

Once a destination for fishing and swimming in the summers, Lake Pepin suffers from phosphorus contaminations which lead to unsightly algae blooms and depletion in fish supply. Sediment buildup also threaten to fill the lake permanently. These issues are a result of upstream pollution in the Minnesota River. Similar to Lake Pepin, Lake Beauclair is located downstream from Lake Apopka which is highly contaminated with nutrients due to local agriculture farms. Efforts to clean Lake Beauclair began in 2011. The project implemented many techniques and technologies to contain the resuspension of phosphorus due to the dredging, effectively controlling further environmental harm.  

 In 2013, Lake County Water Authority deemed the cleanup a success and were awarded the WEDA Environmental Excellence Award by the Western Dredging Association. The Hudson River PCBs Project has also been recognized, and was awarded the silver award this year. The leaders of the Lake Beauclair believe the dredging process in Lake Beauclair  could be applied to other lakes suffering the same nutrient pollution problems, such as Lake Pepin. However before this process can start, there need to be more political movement in the case. Steps towards a resolution for Lake Pepin are at an excruciating standstill. Such was the case of the Hudson River for nearly three decades.

In 1973 the General Electric Company was found guilty of dumping polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a hazardous chemical, into the Hudson River since 1947 from it’s Fort Edward and Hudson Falls manufacturing plants. PCB pollution were linked to a spectrum of health issues, from fetal development to liver disease. Despite the obvious effects of PCBs for the public, GE was able to avoid large scale cleanup of the river by negotiating less costly band-aid solutions such as cleaning the immediate areas around their manufacturing plants. However in 2000 their luck ran out and the Environmental Protection Agency mandated GE to take action by undertaking the Hudson River PCBs Dredging Project. A legal and political battle ensued after the EPA’s decision. GE claimed the Hudson River was ‘cleaning itself’. PCBs do degrade over time through ‘natural dechlorination’, however the EPA “considers all PCBs, regardless of their level of chlorination, to be hazardous to people’s health.” GE subsequently lost, and as of 2014 the project has cost the company over $1 billion. 

The EPA affirmed the benefits of environmental dredging in their five year review of the Hudson River. The EPA concluded that the goals set forth by the project would be met by the year 2016. There is no doubt that if GE had been held responsible earlier, the Hudson River would be in an even better state now. 

In Comparison to the Hudson River case, the pollution of Lake Pepin from phosphorus and sediment loading can not be attributed to a single perpetrator. Rather, the contamination of Lake Pepin and Lake Beauclair stem from agricultural and industrial contamination. The battle to improve Lake Pepin’s waters must include the entire upper Minnesota Waterway System. Although this will entail massive upheaval and cooperation between environmental, government, and agricultural entities, the public can not accept these politics as excuse for a delayed action. While this larger scale issue is being tackled, dredging should commence in Lake Pepin to start counteracting the sedimentary and phosphorus build up. The Hudson River ecosystem and the local population suffered for over thirty years; it is up to local communities of these waters to not allow history to repeat itself in Minnesota’s Lake Pepin.              

The clean water initiatives undergoing in New York and Florida can provide a lesson for Minnesota. If left untreated, future generations will not have the opportunity to revel in the oasis that is Lake Pepin. It is in the people’s best interest that the state use the resources necessary to recuperate Lake Pepin.The environmental improvements of the Hudson River and Lake Beauclair speak to the power of public support and government action. If initiatives for confronting water pollution are put in the forefront, historic waters have a better chance of returning to their former glory. Public support is the primary catalyst. If the public cares, local officials will have no choice but to act.

Join organizations that speak to your concerns and get involved. Help support organizations such as Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance, a nonprofit which advocates for the preservation and protection of Lake Pepin by educating the public and spreading the issue. Or if you want a more hands on approach, become a volunteer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and help monitor the water quality of the lakes and streams in your area. Contrary to industry beliefs, our waters can’t ‘clean themselves.’ These issues must be confronted today for a better tomorrow.     

 

Student Voices Series: Road salt’s unintended consequences

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

Snowfalls are integral to Minnesota winters. From November to April, snow becomes an unavoidable part of life. People who live in snowy climates have adapted, utilizing conveniences such as road salt to reduce the amount of ice that builds up on pavements. Applying road salt can make roads safer for driving during wintery conditions.

However, road salt damages water sources. It contaminates both drinking water and groundwater, increasing chloride levels. These increased chloride levels are not naturally filtered out of water systems, they can only be reduced through dilution. Road salt poses a threat to human health and environmental health. To name a few hazards, high salt levels found in water can cause hypertension for at risk individuals, disrupt plant growth, and reduce species diversity through the establishment of species with a high salt tolerance  States, counties, municipalities, business owners and private citizens must all develop new ways to be smart about the application of road salt in order to prevent damaging environmental impacts.

Vast quantities of road salt are used in Minnesota each winter, and it has a tremendous effect on the state’s water systems. The Minnesota Department of Transportation used, “267,860 tons of [salt] and 2,544,466 gallons of salt brine on 12,000 miles of state highways” in 2012. All of this salt works its way into local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency states, “It takes only one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute 5 gallons of water. Once in the water, there is no way to remove the chloride, and at high concentrations, chloride can harm fish and plant life.” The Star Tribune reports that road salt use in nine communities would have to be reduced by 71% in order to return Shingle Creek, a watershed that flows under roads and behind shopping malls in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, to healthy salt levels.

Without some sort of melting agent, roads would often be impossible to navigate during winter months, and travellers would be much more prone to accidents. Some road salt or equivalent melting agent is needed to protect the safety of Minnesota drivers. Eliminating road salt would be just as bad as over-salting. A balance must be struck that protects the safety of citizens and does not cause more pollution. The critical question remains: how can road salt be applied in a more efficient and environmentally friendly manner?

 Changing the current practices of indiscriminately salting pavements, driveways, and roads is a necessary way of amending the snow removal system.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  and the EPA  recommends multiple methods for smarter snow and ice removal. Transportation departments can follow and enforce these steps:

  • Shovel and plow before salting.
  • Street sweeping, an alternative that reduces the amount of road salt needed to de-ice roads.
  • Only use salt when temperatures are above 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt does not work when the temperature drops below this point.
  • Limit the amount of salt used. Adding more does not melt ice faster.
  • Pre-wet the salt, which increases its ability to melt ice, so less is required.

Changing awareness of when and how much road salt to administer is an important step toward reducing the amount of salt used in Minnesota.

State, county and municipal transportation departments must practice additional methods to protect the environment. Another way to reduce the amount of road salt used is to investigate other options. Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one city that has explored alternative methods such as sugar beet juice, and more recently cheese brine (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/us/wisconsin-finds-another-role-for-cheese-de-icing-roads.html). When mixed with road salt, cheese brine speeds up melting and helps salt stick to the road. Salt usage can be reduced by 30%-40%.  Road salt usage needs to continue to go down, a 30% decrease is not enough. However, it is an important first step and a major improvement. Utilizing alternative materials in addition to road salt could vastly minimize the environmental and economic repercussions of road salt.

Icy winter roads can be dangerous. Road salt makes roads and pavements more navigable and keeps everyone safer. However, the damage that road salt does to the environment is too destructive for it to be used indiscriminately, without an innovative plan to minimize the amount of salt required to clear the roads. A balance can be created, by using both road salt and more environmentally friendly alternatives such as cheese brine and sugar beet juice. Professional snow removal crews need to be reeducated on how to effectively use the least amount of road salt needed to de-ice the roadways.

Changes need to be made in how Minnesotans use road salt. Communities can follow simple guidelines to prevent further pollution of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. For every teaspoon of salt that you keep from reaching the street, gallons of water remain pristine. Contact your local municipalities and express your concerns about the over use of road salt, and ways to be smarter about its application You can help improve the way road salt is used in Minnesota.


Alyssa Heitfeld is an English major at Macalester College. She is interested in Environmental Politics and has taken several classes in the Environmental Studies department.

North Shore residents know clean water, need the Clean Water Act

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Published in the Duluth News Tribune on 11/12/14 by  MEP’s northeast program coordinator, Andrew Slade

If anyone knows about intermittent streams, it’s a thirsty hiker on the North Shore. The hardy souls who put on their backpacks and hike from one end of the Superior Hiking Trail to the other have to plan very carefully to make sure they get enough water. To paraphrase wisdom from Ben Franklin: When the creek’s dry we know the worth of water.

The Superior Hiking Trail crosses hundreds of rivers, creeks and unnamed tributaries on its way from Duluth to Grand Marais and beyond. For hikers, the streams provide a place to fill water bottles, cast for brook trout and even cool off with a dip in a pool.

And here’s the wisdom hikers have passed down: If it’s called a “river” on the map, it has water year-round. If it’s called a “creek” on the map, it might dry up in August. And if it doesn’t have a name, it’s dry all summer.

Different amounts of water in a river bed have led to some serious confusion over the last 10 years in the U.S. Due to two Supreme Court rulings regarding the “Waters of the United States,” it has become very unclear which streams get protected by the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act drives the protection and the restoration of some of the most-loved parts of the North Shore. The act triggers plans for cleaning up rivers and funding for cleanup work. The pollution cleanup plans on the Poplar, Knife and Flute Reed rivers are only being implemented because of the Clean Water Act. The act drives improved forestry practices and better septic systems. It funds the Lake Superior beach-monitoring program that keeps our kids safe in summer.

Basically, under the Clean Water Act, if a stream has water year-round (that’s a North Shore “river”) it gets protection, if a stream tends to dry up in August (that’s a North Shore “creek”) it might not, and if it runs intermittently and is mostly dry all summer long it probably has no protection.

An intermittent stream is one that holds water during wet portions of the year. Because of the Supreme Court rulings, intermittent streams are at risk of being excluded from current Clean Water Act protections.

So where should we draw the line? What kinds of streams deserve protection? The “rivers” with names (like the Knife and Poplar rivers) are obvious, and the Clean Water Act has helped protect those. Don’t the “creeks” (like Sucker or Sugarloaf, which drain directly into Lake Superior) and the trickles in the woods deserve protection, too?

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule to clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act. The rule would clarify that most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are to be protected. The EPA is collecting comments on the “Proposal to Protect Clean Water” clarification until Friday.

Whether you are an avid hiker, relying on streams for clean drinking water, or simply a North Shore resident who expects clean water from our Lake Superior source, you should care about what this clarification will do to protect our water.

Andrew Slade of Duluth is the northeast program coordinator for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (mepartnership.org) and is an avid North Shore hiker.

 

Take action

The writer urges anyone interested in protecting the North Shore’s intermittent streams to submit a comment to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its

proposed new rule clarifying the waters protected by the Clean Water Act. Comments are due before Friday at epa.gov/uswaters.