News Watch: Jun 11

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Clean Power Plan; Energy; Invasive Species; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Outdoor Recreation; Pollinators; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife; 

Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Clean Power Plan
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Invasive Species
 
Legislature & Agency
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
Star Tribune: Letter: Pipeline Protest 
 
Outdoor Recreation
 
Pollinators
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
 
Wildlife

No more tar sands? Easy as 1-2-3

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“ONE: We are the people.”

“TWO: We are un-i-ted.”

“THREE: We will not let you build this pipeline.”

Of all the chants that rang through the streets of downtown St. Paul during Saturday’s Tar Sands Resistance March, that’s the only one still ringing through my head. It was a beautiful day for a march. Five thousand people, from all over the Midwest, sang and chanted their way from the Mississippi River to the State Capitol lawn.

Okay, get the rhythm: da DA da DA da… da DA da DA da

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“ONE: We are the people.”

This was the most diverse gathering of protesters and activists I’d ever been in. Native Americans organized the event and led the march with sacred ritual and dance. Landowners affected by pipeline projects came from northern Minnesota, from Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan. The faith community had the best flags and banners. There were “Raging Grannies” from Grand Rapids and infants in strollers. Rev Greenwood from the Hip Hop Caucus emceed the stage event alongside Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Movement. It’s pretty easy to claim that “We are the people” when it looks like everyone is there. Watch Indigenous Environmental Network’s video from the march here.

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“TWO: We are un-i-ted.”

The message was pretty clear. No more pipelines. No new pipelines. Not here in the water-rich Midwest. This wasn’t tepid bargaining language. No one was demanding “Balance water quality impacts and economic development…NOW!”

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“THREE: We will not let you build this pipe – line.”

If you could ever measure the level of people power, your meter would have been at 110% on Saturday. For a few hours, at least five thousand people knew in their hearts that, driven by their collective will, they will stop corporations like Enbridge and TransCanada from carrying any more tar sands or fracked oil across the Midwest. That’s the energy that packs public hearings, that inspires people to lie down in front of bulldozers, that shifts the vote toward candidates who support clean water over dirty power.

So it’s one, two, three, and go. Let’s keep that energy, the diversity and the unity, the clarity of purpose.

At the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, we are working to inform landowners along the Minnesota pipeline routes and help them to get involved. We’ll keep working to protect Lake Superior from impacts of crude oil shipping. We’ll keep working on that united voice for the Great Outdoors of Minnesota.

That chant might just keep ringing until the work is done.

News Watch Jun. 8

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Invasive Species; Legislature & Agency; Oil & Pipelines; Pollinators; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife;

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Invasive Species
 
Legislature & Agency
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Pollinators
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
 
Wildlife

Minnesota Environmental Partnership Issues Statement on Revised Ag and Environment Bill

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Saint Paul, Minn. (June 5, 2015) — Earlier today, the Minnesota Legislature released a revised version of the Ag and Environment Budget Bill, following Governor Dayton’s veto of the bill on May 23. The Governor vetoed the bill citing the many roll backs on Minnesota’s environmental protections. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) and its 70 member organizations applauded the Governor’s move calling for a clean bill.

Below is a statement from Minnesota Environmental Partnership executive director Steve Morse on the revised bill.

“We in the environmental community are extremely disappointed in the revised bill released by Legislature today,” said Morse. “The bill largely has not changed since its original version. With the exception of a modest improvement on water quality with more enforcement of vegetative buffers, this bill is absolutely a step backwards for Minnesota’s environment.

“Minnesotans want to protect our heritage of plentiful, clean water. They want to protect the Great outdoors they love and leave a legacy of clean water, and abundant wildlife for future generations. Instead, this Legislature has delivered, again, one of the most anti-environment pieces of legislation we’ve seen in decades.

“We’re grateful to those that have defended our Great Outdoors and opposed this package of rollbacks, and we call on them again to reject this bill with its anti-environment provisions.”

This afternoon, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and 35 other environment and conservation organizations delivered a letter to the Legislature detailing the bad provisions they object to and changes, if any, in the latest version of the bill. 

# # #

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.

www.mepartnership.org

www.facebook.com/MinnesotaEnvironmentalPartnership

www.twitter.com/MEPartnership

News Watch: Jun. 4

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Environmental Health; Frac Sand Mining; Invasive Species; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Environmental Health
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Invasive Species
 
Legislature & Agency
MinnPost: How the MPCA’s Citizens Board did itself in featuring MEP‘s Steve Morse 
 
Mining
Governor Arne Carlson Blog: Raw politics and the office of state auditor 
 
Oil & Pipelines
Northlands News Center: Environmental activists gear up for anti-tar sands oil protest featuring MEP‘s Andrew Slade
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water

News Watch: Jun. 1

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Today’s Topics: Clean Power Plan; Climate Change; Energy; Legislature & Agency; Natural Disasters; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Water; Wildlife;

Clean Power Plan
 
Climate Change
Brainerd Dispatch: Opinion: Climate change denial 
 
Energy
Red Wing Republican Eagle: Letter: City has chance to lead with solar written by J. Drake Hamilton of MEP member group Fresh Energy
 
Legislature & Agency
Natural Disasters
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks & Trails
 
Transportation
 
Water
 
Wildlife

23 DFL Senators Calling for Preservation of MPCA Citizens Board are Supported by 2012 EQB Study No One Got to Hear About

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Late on the night of Saturday, May 16, language was inserted into the conference committee report on HF 846, the Agriculture and Environment Finance Bill, eliminating the 48-year old MPCA Citizens Board. A bill to substantially reduce the authority of the Citizens Board (HF 1394) was previously heard in the House, but its companion was never heard in the Senate and, ultimately, the language to completely eliminate the Board was never introduced for debate or public testimony as a bill.

Governor Dayton, with the support of many citizens and environmental groups, rightly vetoed HF 846, citing the elimination of the Citizens Board as a top concern. On Monday, 23 DFL Senators sent a letter to the Governor applauding his veto of the bill and identifying four top areas of concern, the first being the elimination of the Citizens Board. Former members of the Citizens Board and MPCA leadership have also expressed their support for preserving the Board, extolling its importance for public input and democratic decision-making at the MPCA.

Dave

Unfortunately, Governor Dayton has since indicated that he’s conceding the Citizens Board in exchange for compromise yet to be revealed on other provisions. We remain hopeful that the death knell has yet to be sounded and that DFL legislators will maintain their commitment to preserve the Board during the imminent special session.

Gove

Established in 1967, the Citizens Board creates an open and transparent process for MPCA decisions that guards against undue corporate influence and provides citizens with meaningful opportunities to have their interests heard and considered. As explained today in a MinnPost article by Doug Grow, efforts to eliminate the Citizens Board have been driven by corporate agricultural interests largely in response to an isolated instance in which the Board ordered that a corporate farm prepare an environmental impact statement prior to building a massive daily operation that local citizens worried would cause water and air pollution and effect surrounding property values.

Loni

What has received less attention is that, in 2011, Governor Dayton directed the state’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to conduct a comprehensive examination of and to make recommendations for how to improve the environmental review process and environmental governance in general. One of two policy issues the EQB addressed its study report was whether and how the Citizens Board is beneficial to the MPCA’s decision-making process. In evaluating the issue, the EQB analyzed four alternative scenarios, one of which was to eliminate the board entirely. The benefits and drawbacks identified by the EQB of doing so speak for themselves:

Possible Benefits:

  • “Eliminating the Citizens’ Board meeting step would remove an average of 45 days off project timelines, saving project proposers time and money in the short term.”
  • “MPCA staff time would be saved by not having to prepare a board presentation.”
  • “Cost savings to MPCA budget: per diem of Board Members because of reduced meetings (don’t need to meet every month) and staff time.”
  • “Interested parties still have an opportunity to talk with MPCA staff, submit formal comments on the documents, and attend public informational meetings.”

Possible Drawbacks:

  • “Interested parties may potentially take their disputed issues to the Court of Appeals, adding to the project timeline and costs…Time saved from not going to the MPCA Board may be negated because the project may end up in the Court of Appeals.” 
  • “Building a stronger public record through presentations, questions, decisions from a 9-member Board would not exist.” 
  • “A new commissioner may not be ready to make certain controversial decisions because they are not familiar with the issues and trained in the process. The new commissioner will need time to get up to speed.” 
  • “Final permit requirements may not satisfy interested parties. Citizens’ Board meetings can and do have an impact on final permit and environmental review decisions. Project proposers have made changes to their projects as a result of testimony of interested parties in front of the Board. Although some of these changes may not have been significant to the project proposer, it made a difference to the citizens involved.” 
  • “Interested parties and proposers would not have a chance to appear directly before the decision makers in a public forum, voice their concerns, and have them addressed in real time.” 
  • “Part of the checks and balances system and a more transparent process on contentious project decisions is gone.” 
  • “Although a public record is built, it may not stand up as well as through judicial review as the one built through the Citizens’ Board process, which provides additional public meeting input and back and forth dialogue with refinement/resolution of issues.” 
  • “Loss of diversity of perspective from nine Board members to just Commissioner.” 
  • “Interested parties have expressed concern that they would not get an audience with the commissioner on controversial projects.” 
  • “Decision on proposed project may be political if commissioner only makes the decision.”

Ultimately, the EQB resolved that:

“1. No major changes should be made to the role of the MPCA Commissioner and the MPCA Citizens’ Board in bringing permits and environmental review documents to the Citizens’ Board for decision;

2. The MPCA should evaluate and recommend specific changes to the MPCA Citizens’ Board process and the environmental review process including 1) automatic triggers that bring projects before the Board for decision; 2) timeliness of submittal of materials to the Board for inclusion into the record; and 3) review of mandatory category thresholds and environmental review program improvements currently underway.”

Quite significantly, the EQB’s resolution won praise from industry. For example, Tony Kwilas, director of environmental policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, stated “The earlier citizen and public involvement, the better. Because then it will answer most of the questions that the citizens and public usually have. . . . Anytime we can involve the public and get citizen input earlier in the process, I think is a good thing.”

Merritt

 

Paul

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.