Big week for Minnesota’s pipelines: What’s your plan?

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Written by MEP’s Andrew Slade – Whether you’re a committed pipeline opponent, an energy policy nerd, or a concerned parent, you could find that the first week in June will be a turning point in your life as a citizen of this state…and this planet. Important developments will affect the future of tar sands development and climate change here in Minnesota.

Pace yourself. In the span of just a few days, from June 3 to June 6, a major pipeline decision will be made, a Native American band will assert its historic pipeline authority, and thousands from across the region will gather at a Minnesota landmark to rally against pipelines.

You simply can’t make all of these events. What’s the best fit for you?

If you think we don’t really need another pipeline in Minnesota

On June 3, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will meet to hear oral arguments about the proposed Sandpiper pipeline. This new pipeline would open a brand-new energy corridor across northern Minnesota’s lake country. A judge has already recommended that the Commission approve the so-called “Certificate of Need.” The judge thinks Minnesota needs the pipeline, but many Minnesota citizens disagree. Citizens are welcome to attend the meeting, but no public testimony will be taken. However, Honor the Earth has a rally planned for outside the PUC office starting at 9:30. The meeting will be at the PUC office in downtown St. Paul, 121 7th Place E, Suite 350. Detailed information on this can be found (if you dig) at the PUC website .

If you’re a tribal member or support their rights

Two formal public hearings have been called on Indian reservations that would be crossed by the Sandpiper and Line 3 pipeline projects. At both hearings, band members and local community members are invited to learn about the pipelines and share their perspective on how tribal lands and peoples will be impacted.

On Thursday, June 4, the White Earth Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will hold the first pipeline hearing to be held on reservation. It will be at the Rice Lake Community Center from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. The address for the Community Center is 26209 Water Tower Loop, about 18 miles south of Bagley, MN.

The Mille Lacs Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is holding a second pipeline hearing at 10:00 morning, Friday June 5, at the East Lake Community Center, 20650 363rd Lane, about five miles south of McGregor.

 If you want to watch big decisions being made

Also on June 5, the Minnesota PUC will hold their internal deliberations about the Sandpiper Certificate of Need. And they’re scheduled to vote on the pipeline proposal as well. Here’s where the citizens of Minnesota will see if their message has been heard. Will the PUC consider the real impacts on climate that the judge chose to ignore? This topic won’t be taken up before 10:00 in the morning, but come early if you hope to have a space in the actual meeting room. Like the meeting on June 3, this will be held at the PUC office, 121 7th Place E, Suite 350, St. Paul.

If you’re ready for a good time

The busy week wraps up in grand fashion, with the Tar Sands Resistance March on Saturday June 6 in St. Paul. Thousands of marchers will descend on downtown St. Paul. This will be the largest action against tar sands the region has ever seen. Marchers will meet at the bank of the Mississippi River and march to the State Capitol. Speakers will include national figures such as Bill McKibben of 350.org and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, and tribal leaders and activists such as Kandi Mossett from Indigenous Environmental Network.

June 6 wraps up with a benefit concert for Friends of the Headwaters in Nevis, Minnesota.  Join musicians Dakota Dave Hull and Finn Hall, with special quests Pop Wagner and Bob Douglas for a from 7 to 9 PM at Terrapin Station on Main Street. Tickets are available at the door, with a suggested minimum donation of $25 per ticket.

What needs to happen to the environment/agriculture bill

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Written by Scott Strand – As many of you are aware, Governor Dayton vetoed the environment and agriculture finance “omnibus” bill last Saturday.  That was a surprise to many, and the governor has said publicly that it was his most difficult veto decision.  Minnesota’s environmental movement, including MCEA, did strongly urge a veto of this bill, and the governor deserves credit for making this decision.

For those who follow the legislative process, the problem is not an uncommon one.  Nearly every year, the legislative leadership commits to keeping so-called “policy” items out of the “finance” or “budget” bills, so that policy bills get a fair debate and members get to vote on them on the merits instead of under the gun of getting a budget passed on time.  Nearly every year, that commitment is broken to some extent, but this environment/agriculture budget bill was unusual.

Here is a partial list of anti-environment policy provisions in the budget bill, few if any of which could have passed on their own merits:

–Elimination of the MPCA Citizens’ Board, a proposal never heard in committee, never passed by either house;

–Amnesty for polluters who “self-report”: This would allow violators who “self-report” to hold off MPCA investigations and avoid penalties indefinitely.

–Suspending enforcement of sulfate standard for wild rice waters, and suspending enforcement of phosphorus and nitrogen standards for wastewater treatment plants in the Red River Valley, both pretty clear violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

–New exemption from solid waste rules for the copper mining industry, again never introduced as a bill, never heard in any committee.

–Prohibition of informal guidance, policy statements, or interpretations from the MPCA without formal rulemaking.

–New requirements for duplicative peer review and cost analysis (no analysis of benefits) to delay new water quality standards

–Requiring state to provide three weeks advance notice to project proponents, without public disclosure, when agency decides to do discretionary environmental review 

This budget bill also breaks a compromise agreement among energy, agriculture, and environmental stakeholders, that would have encouraged the use of perennial crops for the next generation biofuel industry.  And, it diverts almost $60 million from a dedicated fund for closed landfills to general revenues, in effect cutting general fund spending on the environment by 24%.

All of that stuff needs to come out of the bill during the upcoming special session.

There are some positive policy ideas in the bill–a greatly weakened buffer proposal, and amendments to facilitate better mitigation of wetland losses in northeastern Minnesota.  They are, however, not worth any of the negative provisions on this list.

MCEA, of course, hopes that the governor and the senators who voted “no” on this bill, defying the Senate leadership, will stand firm.  They certainly could use some encouragement to do so, and now is the ideal time to contact the governor and your local representatives and tell them to keep the bad environmental policy out of the environment bill.

This is a good example of the legislature at its worst–using power over the budget process to jam in tax or regulatory breaks for favored local constituents that would not survive an open, fair process.  We should expect better.

Hoe does net metering work?

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As the cost of renewable energy sources like wind and solar continue to drop, it’s important to examine the policies that have helped shape our current energy landscape.

History of net metering in Minnesota
In 1983, Minnesota became the first state to enact a net metering law based on the retail rate of electricity. This law applies to all electric utilities has served as a bedrock energy policy for more than three decades. Now, more than 40 other states have followed Minnesota and adopted a net metering law.

How does it work?
First and foremost, when a customer’s wind or solar system is generating energy, it is first used on-site.  However, there are times, like the middle of a summer day when a homeowner is at work, when the customer’s system sends the energy onto the grid.  The flipside is also true: there are days when the consumer would need more power than is produced by their solar installation. Net metering essentially allows consumers to roll over the value of any unused electricity that they may have generated and use it when they need it ─ like rolling over cellphone minutes from bill to bill.

Encouraging distributed generation
One of the valuable aspects of a net metering policy is that it encourages distributed generation by giving consumers confidence that there are clear rules when installing solar, wind, or other generation on their own property. Such market certainty also encourages solar businesses to set up shop in Minnesota because there are long-standing laws in place.

This is important because distributed generation can be a valuable asset within the electrical grid. A single power plant going down can pose immense challenges to entire cities and states. But when that same amount of power comes from hundreds or thousands of small local sources, it distributes that risk more evenly throughout the system while drastically reducing the distance your electricity must travel in order to be used. This added stability can provide real cost savings for a utility and all of its customers.

Defining the value of distributed generation
Many of the arguments against net metering tend to rely on basic math and rhetoric that simplifies the electrical grid down to a simple formula of ‘A+B=C’. In reality, the relationship between electrical generation and market costs is much more complex, with dozens of variables. Those pushing to repeal net metering policies never mention all the benefits of solar: it’s pollution free; it’s almost always available on the hottest days when demand for energy is high; it’s a hedge against price volatility of natural gas; it’s generating energy right there on the distribution system and doesn’t need to travel hundreds of miles on power lines. Several studies have considered these kinds of factors, and many others, and come to the conclusion that net-metered customers in fact pay more than their fair share.

Future examination
At this point, while solar energy is still in its infancy, it would be premature to reshape a net metering policy that has been found to provide a solid foundation for consumers, businesses, and utilities to develop a well-rounded solar industry in Minnesota.

In the last few years the price of solar has been cut by three quarters, but solar is still less than one percent of our energy supply in Minnesota. And if you were to look at the solar installations that are net metered, it’s well below one tenth of one percent of our electric supply.

When net metered customers occupy a practical share of the energy market, say 5 percent, there should be a more careful reexamination of how this distributed generation is impacting our electrical system. Until then, we should be focusing on improvements that ensure net metering provides fair value for both consumers and utilities.

Dayton’s Veto Was Right Decision for Rural Minnesota

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By Loretta Jaus

Last Thursday I traveled from my dairy farm in Sibley County to the Governor’s Mansion in Saint Paul. I wanted to be with other Minnesotans who were gathered there to let Gov. Mark Dayton know that House File 846 was bad for Minnesota, especially rural Minnesota.

Many provisions favoring corporate polluters and special interests had been inserted into this bill, which funds the state Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as the Pollution Control Agency.

LSP farmer-member Loretta Jaus handing Gov. Mark Dayton over 700 petition signatures gathered from rural Minnesota. The petition calls for a strong MPCA Citizens’ Board.

One provision called for eliminating the 48-year-old Citizens’ Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This provision was slipped into the bill late on Saturday, May 16. With the legislature set to adjourn two days later, the public had next to no chance to be made aware of this last-minute insertion before the whole bill was passed. This would be a huge setback for environmental protection: the Citizens’ Board creates a public and transparent process for decision making and guards the agency against undue corporate influence.

As a family farmer, I wanted to let the Governor know how wrong I thought passing this legislation was and urge him to veto it. To our surprise, Governor Dayton invited us onto the lawn and met with us.

His willingness to speak honestly with Minnesotans and say what he thinks instead of speaking in sound bites is a strength of this Governor, and it was no different that day. He listened and shared with us what he was struggling with when it comes to this legislation.

Ultimately, the Governor made the tough decision and the right decision to use his veto pen. In his veto letter, Gov. Dayton said: “Minnesotans care deeply about our Great Outdoors, and expect that our regulatory agencies will have the authority needed to protect natural resources. House File 846 weakens the state’s authority and threatens our future generations’ right to clean water, land and air.”

His letter went on to list eight other provisions in his letter that are a step backwards for protecting our communities from corporate polluters.

We are fortunate that Gov. Dayton used his veto pen to stop corporate special interests from stepping on the public interest. During the upcoming special session, Speaker of the House Rep. Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Tom Bakk need to fix this bill and send it back to the Governor.

You can take action and add your voice to those standing up to corporate interests and demanding than the Citizens’ Board stays strong by clicking here.

Loretta Jaus is a dairy farmer from Gibbon, Minn., and a Land Stewardship Project board member.

Climate change is a daunting challenge, but Minnesota still has healthy choices

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By Robert Moffitt, American Lung Association
This post originally appeared in MinnPost

The ragweed pollen season has increased by over two weeks in the past 15 years, causing plenty of discomfort to those with allergies.

We see evidence of climate disruption every day, right in our own backyard. The ragweed pollen season has increased by over two weeks in the past 15 years, causing plenty of discomfort to those with allergies. Extreme weather events and changes to the growing seasons threaten our state’s agricultural base and electrical systems. The increasing number and intensity of floods and droughts cause physical injuries and damage homes, property, and businesses. Warmer summers paired with milder winters have allowed disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks to survive longer and spread further north, resulting in a growing number of cases of infections like Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

There is something we can do about it.

Human activity is overloading our atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other climate-altering emissions, steadily driving up the planet’s temperature and creating significant and harmful impacts on our health and environment. Electricity production accounts for more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the majority from which come from coal-fired power plants. In contrast, renewable energy sources produce electricity with little to no greenhouse gas emissions.

A sound path forward
A recent joint study from Harvard and Syracuse University researchers published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change found that we will achieve the greatest clean air and health benefits with a combination of stringent targets for carbon dioxide emissions while promoting demand-side energy efficiency and clean energy sources. This is precisely the path that Minnesota is on, and one we can’t afford to veer away from.

Minnesota has long been a leader in investing in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources. It’s not only been a driver of healthier communities, but also of healthier economies. We have one of the strongest clean energy economies in the nation. If we maximize our clean energy production potential in Minnesota, we could provide more than 35,000 jobs and more than $2 billion in wages and benefits, according to a report from A Renewable America. That’s a lot of jobs providing family-supporting wages and health benefits.

Legislative roadblocks
But we are now at a crossroads, where some are questioning our path and suggesting changes to our state’s energy policies that could disregard proven, existing programs in the fight to control climate change. For example, pending legislation would end our energy savings program that has saved more than $6 billion dollars and, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, employed nearly 10,000 Minnesotans in 2014. Proposed legislative roadblocks could also undermine opportunities from the creation of a state-developed Clean Power Plan that best meets our energy needs while meeting the new guidelines expected from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Our state has one of the strongest clean energy economies in the nation, as well of one of the healthiest economies for growth and jobs. We also have a passion for the outdoors, for clean air, and clean energy.

Our choice is simple, really.

We must support the expansion of renewable energy, efficiency standards, and flexible solutions to air pollution and climate change as we go into the next phase of our energy system. We have the people, the resources and the talent to make this happen.

This is a great state to live in. Let’s keep it that way.

Robert Moffitt is the communications director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota.

News Watch: May 28

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Energy; Legislature & Agency; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Pollinators; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
 
Energy
 
Legislature & Agency
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks and Trails
Bemidji Pioneer: Cleaning up Cameron Park 
 
Pollinators
 
Transportation
 
Water
 
Wildlife

Minnesota Environmental Partnership Issues Statement on Governor’s Vetos

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Saint Paul, Minn. (May 23, 2015) — Earlier today, Governor Dayton used his veto pen on two major budget bills: the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill, which contained a scaled back version of his buffer initiative and other provisions that would roll back Minnesota’s environmental protections; and the Jobs and Energy Budget Bill, which contained provisions that would undermine incentives for renewable energy uses.

Below is a statement from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

We thank Governor Dayton for his vetos today of the 2015 Omnibus Agriculture & Environment Budget Bill and Jobs and Energy Budget Bill. His decisions to veto these bills demonstrates his unflagging determination to protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, and the rest of our Great Outdoors

The Ag and Environment bill vetoed today rolled back many protections for Minnesota’s clean water and our long-standing tradition of citizen involvement and oversight of our pollution control agency. The Legislature missed opportunities for charting a new course to protect and restore our most polluted waterways. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership and our coalition of 70+ partners are relieved and grateful that it will not become law. In his veto letter, the Governor insists the Legislature return and address core elements of this bill including funding to address the avian flu crisis, Minnesota’s parks and trails systems, as well as the state Pollution Controll Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the Department of Agriculture. We call on the legislature to act quickly and pass a clean bill during the coming Special Session.

The Governor also vetoed the Jobs and Energy Budget Bill, which was passed moments before the close of the session, citing, among other reasons, a provision that would roll back Minnesota’s net metering law. Even though Minnesota’s clean energy economy is growing at record pace, the Legislature took a step back on solar energy, voting to limit access to clean energy for customers of rural coops and municipal utilities. That move will only hurt efforts to grow clean energy and was an unneeded change.

As the Legislature reconvenes to address these bills, as well as the unpassed Legacy bill, and vetoed Education bill, we urge them to listen to the thousands of Minnesotans who are speaking up for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors and pass clean bills

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Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.

News Watch: May 21

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Environmental Movement; Forests; Invasive Species; Land Exchange; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Pollinators; Toxics & Chemicals; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife; 

Agriculture & Food
Air Quality
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Forests
 
Invasive Species
 
Land Exchange
 
Legislature & Agency
Star Tribune: Letter: The Environment 
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks & Trails
 
Pollinators
 
Toxics & Chemicals
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
Associated Press: Target Field gets even greener (In MPR
 
Water
 
Wildlife

News Watch: May 19

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Biofuels; Climate Change; Energy; Environmental Movement; Global Issues; Invasive Species; Legislature & Agency; Oil & Pipelines; Pollinators; Sustainability; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; 

Agriculture & Food
Star Tribune: Letter: GMO Foods 
 
Air Quality
 
Biofuels
 
Climate Change
Duluth News Tribune: Climate change forum tonight at Duluth Depot featuring MEP member group Climate Generation
Northland’s News Center: Climate Minnesota storytelling encourages easy conversation featuring MEP member group Climate Generation
 
Energy
 
Environmental Movement
 
Global Issues
 
Invasive Species
 
Legislature & Agency
MPR: Environment groups brace for last-minute legislative deals featuring MEP‘s Steve Morse & Mike Bull of MEP member group Center for Energy and Environment 
MPR: Environmentalists want another veto from Dayton featuring MEP‘s Steve Morse & Trevor Russel of MEP member group Friends of the Mississippi River 
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Pollinators
 
Sustainability
 
Transportation
 
Water
Associated Press: Deal reached over Minnesota wild rice sulfate standards (In Pioneer Press) featuring Paula Maccabee of MEP member group WaterLegacy 
 
Wildlife

Legislature misses the mark on environmental issues; advocates urge Governor to stand his ground

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May 18, 2015, St. Paul, Minn – As the Minnesota Legislature prepares to adjourn later today, it’s clear that the outcomes of this Session will be marked by steps backward and missed opportunities for the precious Great Outdoors Minnesotans value dearly.

“When we ask Minnesotans what they value most about our state, they talk about our lakes, rivers, streams, forests, prairies and wildlife,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP). “The Legislature had several opportunities to make transformative change for our waters, air, and land. Instead, they allowed political maneuvering and special interests to lead them in a direction that is disappointing for all Minnesotans. 

 

One Step Forward and Three Steps Back on Water Quality

Governor Dayton has repeatedly stated that making improvements on water quality was one of his top priorities and one that he wants to leave as a legacy, including his landmark proposal for permanent vegetative buffers between agricultural lands and all rivers, streams and lakes in the state. While a deal on buffers was reached early Monday morning, MEP and its coalition of 70+ environmental and conservation organizations are disappointed that it falls far short of the Governor’s proposal. Instead, the bill is a modest step forward by creating enforcement of current laws and accelerating their implementation.

“No one should be under the impression that this buffer law will clean up our waters,” said Morse. “It is significantly weakened from the Governor’s proposal. While it will have a modest positive impact, the waters of Southwestern Minnesota will remain unswimable and undrinkable. We have a long way to go to making the transformative change that the Governor envisions.”

MEP is pleased that the Legislature passed a $1 million funding package for the Forever Green Program at the University of Minnesota for research that will accelerate development of economically viable perennial and cover crop options. The University research initiative is a multi-year effort that will develop the next generation of high-efficiency, smart cropping systems that increase farm profitability and productivity while improving soil health, wildlife habitat, and water quality.

However, the Legislature missed the mark on several key areas of the Agricultural and Environment Omnibus Budget Bill having final votes today, including:

  • Abolishing the Citizens’ Board of the Pollution Control Agency: The Citizens’ Board has worked well and is a model we can be proud of. Eliminating it is simply bowing to special interests. 
  • Raiding Dedicated Environmental Funds: Even with $1 billion on the bottom line, this bill raids funds that are to prevent old landfills from contaminating our groundwater and surface water and clean up the pollution where it occurs.
  • Breaks the Compromise Agreement on Biofuels: The signed agreement between energy, agriculture, and environment stakeholders would establish the next-generation biofuel industry in Minnesota. This bill violates that agreement, undercutting our ability to establish perennial crops for ethanol production and develop new beneficial agricultural systems to protect and restore our lakes, rivers and streams in some our most polluted watersheds in the heart of ag country.
  • Provides Funding to Promote False Pollinator Labelling:  The Legislature voted to allow deceptive advertising for “pollinator-friendly plants” that need only not kill bees upon first contact.
  • Rolling Back Wild Rice Standards: This language defies the Federal Clean Water Act by limiting the PCA’s authority to enforce our state water quality standards.
    Surprise Sulfide Mining Amendment: The bill exempts sulfide mining waste from solid waste rules. This amendment was never introduced as a bill or heard in any committee, and its future effect is unknown. Exempting as-of-yet unknown waste streams from potential sulfide mines is an unnecessary risk to water quality and public health.
  • Red River Rules Suspension: Delays enforcement of updated nutrient pollution permits for wastewater treatment facilities in the Red River watershed until 2025, unless approved by the U.S. EPA, North Dakota Department Health, and EPA Regions 5 & 8.
  • Polluter Amnesty: A polluter amnesty provision delays enforcement and waives penalties for regulated parties that self-report violations of environmental regulations. This provision needlessly strips the MPCA of its powers to hold polluters accountable for protecting our natural resources.

“Overall, the Ag and Environment Omnibus moves us in the wrong direction for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors, and it’s not what the people of Minnesota want,” said Morse. “Our coalition of 70 environmental and conservation nonprofits, representing over 450,000 Minnesotans urge the Governor to stand his ground for improving water quality and veto this bill.”

 

 Legislators run out of gas on transportation bill

Upon entering the Legislative Session in January, the House, Senate and Governor all agreed that fixing Minnesota’s ailing transportation systems was a top priority, yet for another year in a row, there appears to be no deal in site.

“It’s unacceptable that lawmakers are leaving for another year without passing a comprehensive transportation funding bill,” said Morse. “Our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair, posing dangers to drivers and passengers daily. On top of that, transportation is the largest contributor of air pollution, and it only gets worse with traffic congestion. Minnesotans have waited too long for a long-term, multi-modal transportation investment.”

 

Clean energy goes nowhere

In its final hours tonight, Legislature is working  to merge two vastly different energy policy bills. Gone are early priorities would have moved Minnesota’s growing clean energy economy forward, creating good jobs, including increasing the renewable energy standard to 40% and increasing the energy efficiency standard to 2%. The House plan now calls for rolling back much of the renewable energy policy and removing any flexibility Minnesota has to creating a plan to meet the federal EPA’s Clean Power Plan targets.

“The Governor has stated he wants to see Minnesota move toward a clean energy future,” said Morse. “The Legislature has already removed any hope of moving forward on that front, and the best we can hope for is that they don’t lead us backward.”

 

 

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Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.