News Watch: Nov. 11

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Today’s Topics: Climate Change; Energy & Efficiency; Invasive Species; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Wildlife & Fish

Climate Change
MinnPost: In Keystone XL rejection, many see a campaign on climate that won’t fade away
Star Tribune: The good fight: Defend the Clean Power Plan

Energy & Efficiency
Midwest Energy News: Commentary: While Xcel slow-walks on solar, customers can’t wait by John Farrell of MEP member group Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Rochester Post Bulletin: Energy is opportunity in Rochester’s future
SC Times: Sartell OKs its first solar garden
Utility Drive: Report: Minnesota efficiency program returns $4 for every $1 invested
WCCO: Group Worried Xcel’s Solar Program Won’t Kick In Before Credits Expire

Invasive Species
Star Tribune: Washington County vows to fight spread of emerald ash borers

Duluth News Tribune: Views on PolyMet final Environmental Impact Statement
Pioneer Press: Turning PolyMet ‘upside down, inside out, backwards and forwards’ cost a lotfeaturing MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Pioneer Press: A long, careful process toward copper-nickel mine
Timberjay: Ely can’t have it both ways by Becky Rom of MEP member group Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness

LTE, Timberjay: Sulfide ores best mined in the desert

Oil & Pipelines
MPR: Investigation probes what caused 2 Wis. train derailments featuring MEP member groupCenter for Biological Diversity
Pioneer Press: Minneapolis City Council resolution targets oil train safety
Rochester Post Bulletin: No environmental impacts seen in Alma ethanol spill
Star Tribune: Derailments bring safety worries to the fore
Star Tribune: The president’s long game on fossil fuels

SC Times: Input sought on regional bicycle network
Star Tribune: NexTrip goes digital at metro area bus stops

Wildlife & Fish
MPR: DNR OKs taking more winter walleye from Upper Red Lake

PolyMet’s Perilous Precipice: Say No to Falling Off the Cliff

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KLblog1-Lori AndresenLake Superior Headwaters, St. Louis River – Minnesota (Source: Lori Andresen)
Downstream of the proposed PolyMet Mine

The PolyMet final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released to the public November 6th, 2015. How did PolyMet ever get this far? And why?

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rated PolyMet’s draft EIS as EU-3, Environmentally Unsatisfactory-Inadequate. Here are some quotes from the comments: “The EPA believes that the project will exceed water quality standards because of discharges during the life of the mining operation and on a long-term basis, including the post-closure period. These water quality impacts are largely related to water that contacts acid-generating waste rock … and to wastewater escaping the tailings basin through seeps and in ground water.  …the analyses of the hydrogeological profiles at both the mine and processing site are inadequate to determine the full extent of impacts or to justify mitigation options. Consequently we believe that the DEIS likely underestimates water quality impacts and the project is likely to have additional unmitigated long-term discharges. EPA has identified information gaps relating to groundwater impacts, groundwater-surface water interaction, tailings basin stability and containment, and groundwater discharges to surface water. Furthermore, EPA does not agree with the compensation described for wetlands impacts… The DEIS did not provide information on financial assurance…”

The above are the same concerns brought forth by environmental groups as they made their way through hundreds of pages of the DEIS. These concerns included: “There is inadequate analysis. There is no substance to conclusions that claim there will be no water pollution. The scale of the mining operation is such that it will be impossible to contain water pollution. The tailings basin purchased from the former LTV Mining Company by PolyMet is already leaching sulfates and other pollutants into the watershed and is not designed to contain the amount or type of tailings that would be produced by PolyMet. The wetland loss at PolyMet’s NorthMet mine (nearly 1,000 acres direct/ 6,500 acres indirect) would be the single largest loss ever permitted by the St. Paul Army Corps of Engineers. The US Forest Service could deny an open pit mine operation on our public lands within Superior National Forest, rather than negotiating a land exchange that would privatize 6,500 acres of Superior National Forest lands, impacting wildlife and wildlife corridors. Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) and heavy metal pollution will be a problem for hundreds to thousands of years.”

The Devil Is in the Details

The PolyMet project should have been shelved in 2010. Instead, the Supplementary Draft EIS was released in December of 2013. In preliminary documents circulated prior to the SDEIS, environmental groups noticed that water treatment would be needed for at least 200 years at the mine site and at least 500 years at the plant site. PolyMet’s plan for perpetual treatment at its sulfide mine should not have been allowed to proceed, as long term treatment goes against Minnesota state law (CHAPTER 6132, NONFERROUS METALLIC MINERAL MINING, 6132.3200 CLOSURE AND POSTCLOSURE MAINTENANCE. Subpart 1. Goal. The mining area shall be closed so that it is stable, free of hazards, minimizes hydrologic impacts, minimizes the release of substances that adversely impact other natural resources, and is maintenance free.)

But instead, the agencies relegated the water treatment statement to one mention within the depths of the SDEIS, claiming that only passive water treatment would be needed at the mine site, and relying on Reverse Osmosis (RO) water treatment at the plant site, post closure.

The Dunka mine site, where LTV Mining Company removed some layers of sulfide-bearing rock in order to extract the taconite underneath, is a clear indication that passive water treatment is not enough.  Toxic heavy metals continue to drain from the Dunka mine waste rock into Bob Bay of Birch Lake. The passive water treatment proposed by the DNR appears to be dilution, as the contamination seeps into wetlands and eventually into a larger body of water. Active water treatment proved too expensive for the mining company, and the DNR has allowed the use of man-made wetlands as a stop gap solution to the ongoing pollution; these wetland materials need to be periodically dredged, removed, and then replaced with new material. (For more information, see “Mining Vs Water, Dunka site exposes breakdown in mine regulation,” Timberjay 10-7-15.)

The reverse osmosis (RO) pilot test that was prepared for PolyMet by Barr Engineering does not reflect the quantity or quality of water that would need to be treated upon mine closure.  It is known that RO is not effective on a large mining scale, as it is too costly, and because the concentration trapped in the RO filters is highly toxic and needs special containment. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency exempted Mesabi Nugget from using RO as “not technically feasible” and because it “would cause the discharger undue hardship.” In other words, RO was rejected due to the uncertainty of its effectiveness and its prohibitive cost. (Mesabi Nugget Delaware, LLC NPDES/SDS Permit No. MN0067687, pages 6-9, October 12, 2012) In addition, RO might be a moot point. If sulfate standards to protect wild rice are weakened by agency and legislative initiatives, or mining companies are given a variance from meeting existing standards, RO need never be installed.

SOS blog- Animas River

Animas River Mine Spill, August, 2015 – Colorado (Source: EPA)

Muddying the Toxic Waters

The SDEIS should have been the end of PolyMet. But instead, the final EIS (FEIS) has been publically released. Already, in preliminary documents reviewed over the summer, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) has found major discrepancies in the water modeling. GLIFWC’s results using the same water modeling program done for PolyMet by Barr Engineering found that, upon closure, and due to the proximity and interconnectedness of PolyMet and the Peter Mitchell taconite mine at Babbitt, water from PolyMet would flow north into the Rainy River  watershed. This would increase pollution to both the Rainy River and Lake Superior watersheds; while adding pollution to the Rainy River watershed, water would be drained from the Lake Superior watershed, leaving the pollution there more concentrated. In its faulty final EIS process, the DNR is circumventing this information, and rather than running its own modeling, is relying on something called “adaptive management,” a concept that allows them to adapt to a problem as it comes up.

But the DNR record shows limited success in problem solving. Right now, all six taconite mines are operating under expired permits or variances–whereby the mine can continue polluting while claiming it will comply with standards somewhere down the line.  In effect, the taconite mines have been allowed to continue mining and to expand without meeting existing environmental standards.

For example, the issue of mercury and sulfates impacting our fish and wild rice has not been resolved. The DNR is attempting to figure out how to control ongoing sulfate pollution from Minntac’s tailings basin, while at the same time allowing Minntac to add more tailings as it expands. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is being pressured by legislators to lower or adjust the sulfate standard in order to accommodate mining expansion.  Proposed adjusting of the standard to fit various waterways would be basically impossible to monitor or enforce–thus perpetuating the problems caused from mining pollution. Yet the same agencies that have failed to control taconite pollution are now set to permit higher polluting sulfide mining.

Agency Bias and Political Influence

The Lands and Minerals Division of the Minnesota DNR is responsible for permitting our mines. If the agency stopped promoting mining, the agency division would basically put itself out of business.

Political leaders would also like to see PolyMet permitted and ready to go before the 2016 elections.  Copper-nickel sulfide mining has become a hot-button issue, splitting the Democratic Party in Minnesota. Governor Dayton is trying to play the middle by calling for “Community oversight” that would ensure that PolyMet is meeting pollution control standards.  If our agencies can’t (or won’t) enforce mining companies to meet standards, how will an “Independent Citizens Group” have the knowledge and authority and will to do so? Conversely, the call for a Citizen’s Authority acknowledges that our current regulatory agencies, such as the DNR Lands and Minerals Division, are ineffective and need to be replaced.

Mount Polly Mine Disaster, August 2014 – B.C., Canada (Source: Cariboo Regional District)

Mount Polly Mine Disaster, August 2014 – B.C., Canada (Source: Cariboo Regional District)

 Major Mining Disasters

Agencies and politicians would like to permit PolyMet before any more environmental disasters involving hard rock sulfide mining hit the news. In August of 2014, a breach in the tailings basin at the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia became the largest mining waste spill in Canada’s history. Despite approval to restart, there are still no long-term plans regarding site clean-up costs, water treatment, and mining wastes management. (“No Reason to Celebrate One Year After Mount Polley Disaster” Mining Watch Canada, July 31, 2015) After the Mount Polley disaster, a panel of experts recommended using a filtering process to dry stack tailings, which would be much less of a risk for dam failure than the current wet tailings. Mining companies in Canada are resisting this improvement as being too costly in a wet environment. PolyMet has also rejected using such a system at their proposed NorthMet Mine.

All six of Minnesota’s taconite tailings basins are wet, potentially placing them at risk for breaches. NorthShore Mining’s Milepost 7 tailings basin is particularly precarious, as a dam break would send the tailings downhill and directly into Lake Superior. On February 2, 2012, HibTac discovered a crack  on the Western Dam South, which extended approximately 1,000 linear feet, resulting in discharges into adjacent wetlands, as reported by the Army Corps of Engineers, 2012 -00623-DWW.

The former LTV Steel Company tailings basin purchased by PolyMet has already been faulted for being unstable. In PolyMet’s case, the problem is more serious due to the low grade nature of the copper-nickel mineralization (less than 1%) and the great amount of waste material (99%) and the heavy metals and contaminants associated with the sulfides that would be added to the existing taconite tailings basin.

As further evidence of ongoing sulfide mining pollution, a U.S. mining disaster occurred in August of 2015 when 3 million gallons of wastewater and sludge from the dormant Gold King Mine poured into a tributary of the Animas River in Colorado.  Workers for the EPA were trying to install a pipe to drain water from the abandoned mine so that they could eventually plug the mine and prevent contaminated water from seeping out. Instead, the force of the water broke through the existing dam, turning the entire river a bright orange with mine waste pollution.  Unfortunately, this whole western region is riddled with abandoned mines, all seeping into ground and surface waters, while the EPA is lacking in money to clean up these super-fund sites.                                                                                                                                        

What kind of financial assurance would PolyMet need to post in order to cover potential tailings basin failure, as well as covering over 500 years (virtually forever) of water treatment? This issue isn’t even addressed in PolyMet’s FEIS.  Instead it will be negotiated between the DNR Division of Lands and Minerals and PolyMet–both with immediate and direct interest in the permitting of PolyMet.

To further highlight the potential for mine disasters, on November 5, 2015, an iron ore mine tailings dam burst in Germano, Brazil, resulting in at least 15 casualties and the evacuation of two towns.  The mine is owned by Samarco, a joint venture between Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s BHP Billiton, major players on the mining scene.

An Earthworks press release (Fatal Brazilian mine waste disaster shows modern mining is increasingly dangerous) on November 6, 2015, states, “A recent report, The Risk, Public Liability & Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failure demonstrates that catastrophic mine waste failures are increasing in frequency and severity because of — not in spite of — modern mining techniques…”

Market Weakness

Of further concern are weak market conditions for metals. Glencore, the major investor in PolyMet, has lost 60% of its share value over the past year. The company over-expanded when the market was high, taking on a debt load that has now become a burden. Any delay or problems in PolyMet’s NorthMet project might mean that Glencore would pull out of the project in an attempt to further dump its debt.   See “Counterpoint: PolyMet’s Minnesota copper-nickel project is risky business,” Star Tribune, October 28, 2015 for more information. 


Decisions are being made right now that will likely impact the next 25 generations to inhabit this area. We are placing our immediate desire for metals above the long-term need for clean water. Decision makers are swallowing the philosophy of mass consumerism that requires ever-expanding consumption of goods–a concept which is out of balance with the natural world and resources of the planet.

We currently do not have the technology to mine highly disseminated low grade metals out of sulfide ores without degrading and polluting our environment for the next 500 years (or longer). Nor do we have the technology or the political will to clean up the pollution that is already here.

Northeast Minnesota contains the headwaters of three great watersheds–north to Rainy River, east to Lake Superior, and south to the Mississippi. The Arrowhead has been known as one of the most magnificent areas of the state, for its majestic forests, wetlands, and waters. Superior National Forest is a treasure for the citizens of this state and nation.  We all bear responsibility for what we will leave behind for the generations ahead. Clean water is a valuable resource in its own right.

It is time to say “No” to PolyMet for once and for all. Take the time to submit a comment on the PolyMet FEIS, which was released on November 6. No public meetings have been scheduled during the comment period, ending on December 14. Check or other environmental sites for more information.

Elanne Palcich
Chisholm, Minnesota

News Watch: Nov. 9

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

Agriculture & Food
MinnPost: EPA’s broader ban on an insecticide is overdue, court-ordered and incomplete
Pioneer Press: Can University of Minnesota make Kernza the wheat of the future?
Star Tribune: Talking GMOs and future of farming with Monsanto’s Robert Fraley

Climate Change
City Pages: By 2050, climate change will radically change Minneosta. And it won’t be pretty
NPR: N.Y. attorney general investigates whether Exxon Mobil lied on climate change (In MPR)

LTE, Red Wind Republican Eagle: Letter: Who will walk the talk of climate change?

Bemidji Pioneer: Environmental report on NW Minnesota transmission line released
Star Tribune: Couple living near wind turbines in SE Minnesota say noise disrupting their lives

AP: PolyMet review: Water treatment needed long term (In Politics in Minnesota)
Duluth News Tribune: Twin Metals continues tests near Birch Lake
Duluth News Tribune: PolyMet primer: Where we go from here
Duluth News Tribune: PolyMet final environmental review made public featuring MEP member group Water Legacy
Kare 11: DNR: PolyMet’s mining plan meets standards featuring MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Mankato Free Press: PolyMet review calls for cleanup assurance, monitoring featuring MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
MPR: Key question in PolyMet mine fight: Whose data to trust? featuring MEP member group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
MPR: DNR: PolyMet mine safeguards would protect NE Minn. environment featuring MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
MPR: What’s next for PolyMet mine?
NPR: Mine wastewater floods countryside in Brazil after 2 dams fail (In MPR)
Reuters: Dam burst at Brazil mine devastates town, dozens still missing (In Duluth News Tribune)
Timberjay: DNR releases PolyMet Final Environmental Impact Statement
Star Tribune: PolyMet clears a hurdle with Minnesota regulators, though battle isn’t overfeaturing MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
WCCO: Report Says Proposed PolyMet Mine Meets State Standards featuring MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s Views: Boycott businesses that don’t support mining

Oil & Pipelines
AP: Train derailment spilled thousands of gallons of ethanol
AP: 2nd train derails in Wisconsin in 2 days, spills crude oil
Brainerd Dispatch: ‘Love Water, Not Oil’ event planned Thursday
InForum: Some Minnesotans still benefit from North Dakota oil; others wait for prices to rise
KSTP: Investigation: Environmental Oversight of Pipelines in Minn. Lacking featuring MEP member group MN350
MPR: Oil boom means sky watchers hoping for starlight just get stars, lite
NPR: President Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline plan (In MPR)
Reuters: Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline (In Duluth News Tribune)
Star Tribune: More than 18,000 gallons of ethanol spilled into Mississippi River after Wisconsin train derailment
Star Tribune: Keystone XL would have helped N.D. move some of its oil featuring MEP member group Sierra Club North Star Chapter
Star Tribune: Minnesota congressional delegation splits on Keystone rejection
Star Tribune: Editorial counterpoint: BNSF goes far beyond ‘minimum’ for oil-train safety
Winona Daily News: With 18,500 gallons of ethanol spilled into Mississippi, questions remain on impact
Winona Daily News: Our view: Train safety too important to put off

MinnPost: How Minneapolis is getting more kids to walk and bike to school

Waste & Recycling
Star Tribune: St. Paul to expand recycling services by 2017 featuring MEP member group Eureka Recycling

MPR: Why California may be setting an example for other water scarce places

Wildlife & Fish
AP: Minnesota hunters prepare for Saturday firearms deer opener (In MPR)
MPR: Influx of injured eagles puzzles, stresses Raptor Center
MPR: Photos: Juvenile bald eagle preps to fly free after rehab
NPR: Big trouble looms for California salmon — and for fisherman (In MPR)

News Watch: Nov. 5

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Today’s Topics: Climate Change; Energy; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife & Fish

Climate Change
Brainerd Dispatch: Convocation talks climate change at CLC featuring MEP member groupClimate Generation
GreenWire: CLEAN POWER PLAN: 44 states take sides in expanding legal brawl
MinnPost: Good news: Antarctic ice is growing. Bad news: Sea levels are still rising.
Spokesman Recorder: Black churches show support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan

LTE- Alexandria Echo Press: LETTER: Republicans break ranks on climate change

Austin Daily Herald: Couple: Wind farm substation components overshot permitted space
Duluth News Tribune: Environmental review ends for Great Northern powerline
Finance & Commerce: Sustainable: Some businesses embrace community solar gardens
KQDS: Minnesota Power’s Great Northern Transmission Line reaches Major Milestone
KSTP: City of Jordan Moves Toward Solar Energy
Midwest Energy News: In Minnesota town, activists create a movement for community solar
Star Tribune: Xcel seeks 9.8 percent electric rate hike in Minnesota over three years
WCCO: Thinking Of Going Solar? Online Calculator Compares Power Costs

LTE- Duluth News Tribune: Local view: Minnesota Power has opportunity to shine even brighter with solar

Duluth News Tribune: Our view: Embrace PolyMet’s milestone
Timberjay: Dayton wants financial review

LTE- Duluth News Tribune: Geologist’s view: Minnesota will make sure mining done safely
LTE- SC Times: Vital report looms for mining plan

Oil & Pipelines
AP: Pipeline protesters refusing to leave Enbridge office are arrested and taken to jail (In Star Tribune)
LA Times: Company asks for Keystone XL pipeline delay (In Duluth News Tribune)
Duluth News Tribune: Several protesters arrested at Enbridge offices in Duluth featuring MEP members group MN350 and MPRIG
MN Daily: Students protest oil pipeline featuring MEP member group MPIRG
MPR: ‘Black Gold Boom’: The decision to drill
NPR: 5 things to know about the Keystone XL pipeline (In MPR)
Piolet Independent: Friends of the Headwaters support EIS for Sandpiper pipeline projectfeaturing MEP member group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Star Tribune: Keystone XL delay is a setback for public safety in Minnesota

Parks & Trails
Pioneer Press: Walk-bike trail planned for former TCAAP site in Arden Hills

Austin Daily Herald: Putting the pedal to the metal; Austin kicks off Bike Friendly effortsfeaturing MEP member group BikeMN
Spokesman Recorder: Blue Line transit extension through North Mpls revised
Star Tribune: Pop-up demo of proposed North Side greenway delayed until spring
Star Tribune: Southwest LRT foes channel Seuss’ Lorax in “Speak for the Trees” event
Star Tribune: Streetcar vs. rapid bus study for West Broadway nears completion

Waste & Recycling
MN Daily: U area lags with recycling
Waste360: Anaerobic Digestion’s Role in Dealing with America’s Food Waste featuring MEP member group Institute for Local Self Reliance

Mankato Free Press: New ag water quality project launched
MinnPost: Keep pressure on officials to reduce Mississippi River pollution by Peter Suechting of MEP member group Environment Minnesota

Wildlife & Fish
MPR: DNR busts Minnesota snapping turtle poachers, frees turtles
MPR: Snowy owls coming to Minnesota earlier and more often
Pioneer Press: Dayton: Time for Minnesota to get tough on turtle poachers
Pioneer Press: County attorney says Dayton wrong to blame her office for turtle poaching case

News Watch: Nov. 2

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Biofuels; Climate Change; Energy; Frac Sand; Environmental Justice; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Water; Wildlife & Fish

Agriculture & Food
AP: Interest in ag, environment jumps at University of Minnesota (In MPR)
MPR: Rising temps make farming possible in subarctic Alaska

Duluth News Tribune: IRRRB approves Sweetwater Energy financing deal

Climate Change
Bemidji Pioneer: LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Leaders need to address climate change
Detroit Lakes Online: Climate MN seminar set Monday in DL featuring MEP member group Climate Generation
MPR: Climate Cast: What is permafrost and why does it matter?
Red Wing Republican Eagle: High school hosts regional climate conference

Mankato Free Press: Conserving proves to save big bucks
Midwest Energy News: Minnesota firm’s innovative waste-to-energy technology takes shape in Oregon
MinnPost: How can Minnesota implement efficient local energy that runs on wood? by Will Nissen of MEP member group Fresh Energy

Environmental Justice
Spokeman Recorder: Why we must fight for environmental justice in 2016

Frac Sand
Leader Telegram: Midwest’s frac sand industry falters as oil prices drop (In Pioneer Press)
Red Wing Republican Eagle: Demand for silica sand ebbs, flows with oil prices

Brainerd Dispatch: Guest Opinion: Minnesota can regulate mining safely
Duluth News Tribune: Mining company’s community involvement highlighted in Dayton’s trip to U.P. mine
Duluth News Tribune: Local view: Duluthians, let’s support progress, not NIMBYism
Duluth News Tribune: Can canoeing and mining coexist? Yes: Northland needs both mining and pristine nature
Duluth News Tribune: Can canoeing and mining coexist? No: Sulfide mining threatens our water and natural areas
Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Coalition avoided good science in mine stance
Duluth News Tribune: Local view: PolyMet opponents prosper by using metal
Ely Echo: Foes slam copper mining
Ely Echo: … let the process continue based on facts and science rather than opinion, sensationalism, and misrepresentations
InForum: Capitol Chatter: PolyMet unaffected by new rice rules, at first
InForum: Dayton says mine, community need interaction
MPR: Gov. Dayton’s ‘due diligence’ on PolyMet copper mine
MPR: Dayton says PolyMet mine should have citizen oversight
MPR: Dayton on what’s next for proposed PolyMet mine
Star Tribune: Tiny tract of land slips away in Minnesota mine country
Star Tribune: Dayton lauds community monitoring of mine in Michigan
Star Tribune: Readers Write (Nov. 2): Receipts for gas, mammogram guidelines, PolyMet proposal, Benghazi
Timberjay: Ely Council called out for support of sulfide mining proposals

Oil & Pipelines
Star Tribune: State briefs: Pipeline opponents plan rally in Duluth
Star Tribune: Dayton’s angry letter highlights missed opportunity to improve oil-train safety

Parks & Trails
Duluth News Tribune: Public-private partnership benefits Duluth’s parks, waterways
InForum: Mountain biking mecca: Detroit Lakes rec area aiming for international distinction

Star Tribune: Doing nothing is the costliest transit plan for Twin Cities

Brainerd Dispatch: Guest Opinion: Clean water – Worth the price

Wildlife & Fish
Star Tribune: Lakeville South students will raise trout, star in educational video featuring MEP member group Trout Unlimited
Star Tribune: ‘Bat Week’ ends with contribution to world record attempt in Bloomington

News Watch: Oct. 29

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Biofuels; Climate Change; Energy; Frac Sand; Mining; Parks & Trails; Pollinators; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife & Fish

Agriculture & Food
Reuters: INSIGHT: GMO backlash threatens beet farmers as foodmakers swap sugars (InBrainerd Dispatch)

Duluth News Tribune: IRRRB, state offer $26 million for new biotech firm on Iron Range
Star Tribune: Flex-fuel stations to increase in Minnesota
Star Tribune: Sweetwater Energy proposes $52.8 million plant for Iron Range

Climate Change
MinnPost: Investigations add a new layer of shame to ExxonMobil’s cynical climate stance
MN Daily: City hosts global climate meeting featuring MEP member group Fresh Energy
Star Tribune: Now that we know what Exxon knew, what should Exxon do?

Midwest Energy News: For district heating utility in St. Paul, time’s up for coal
Midwest Energy News: Legal analysis aims to clear the air on third-party solar in Wisconsin, Minnesota
Pioneer Press: District Energy St. Paul going coal-free
SC Times: Solar gardens raise zoning questions
Star Tribune: District Energy St. Paul aims to drop coal within five years
Star Tribune: State is set to make a big leap into solar
Star Tribune: TenKsolar to replace failed equipment on solar power arrays

Frac Sand
Pioneer Press: North Dakota oil slump affects Minnesota sand mining, rail shipping

Duluth News Tribune: After visit to South Dakota mine, Dayton demands clean-up money in advance of PolyMet
Ely Echo: DeLorean needed to decipher the Governor’s decision on PolyMet
Minnesota News Network: Enviro group says Dayton should visit Canadian mining disaster before making PolyMet decision featuring MEP member group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
MPR: Dayton: PolyMet must set aside funds for mine cleanup
Star Tribune: Pondering PolyMet, Dayton visits site of South Dakota mining disaster featuring MEP member group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Star Tribune: Counterpoint: PolyMet’s Minnesota copper-nickel project is risky business
Timberjay: Dayton’s due diligence

Parks & Trails
Star Tribune: Natural gas pipeline would tunnel under Lebanon Hills Regional Park

MPR: Bee expert: USDA punished me for research on pesticides
Star Tribune: South Dakota scientist says USDA censored pesticide research

MinnPost: Is there a war on cars?
Star Tribune: Temporary downtown Mpls. bus shelter offers the comforts of home
Star Tribune: Price tag increases by almost $500 million for Bottineau Blue Line LRT
Star Tribune: More car-sharing options may be offered at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Waste & Recycling
Spokesman Recorder: Away with HERC, it’s garbage

Austin Daily Herald: Leaders pitch waterways projects to senators; Groups seek $7.8M in state bonding
Echo Press: Landowners invited to conserve wetlands featuring MEP member group Minnesota Land Trust
International Falls Journal: DNR provides buffer mapping project details
MPR: Changing the protection of wild rice waters: What you need to know
MPR: Testing chemical risk in MN lakes, scientists shrink to the cell level

Wildlife & Fish
AP: Supreme Court declines to hear Ely bear researcher’s case (In MPR)
Duluth News Tribune: State Supreme Court won’t hear Rogers’ bear case
MPR: DNR sets winter fishing regulations for Mille Lacs Lake
Star Tribune: 1 walleye, 5 northerns per angler on Mille Lacs this winter

Adventure advocacy to protect a precious canoe country

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Just a few weeks ago, Dave and Amy Freeman launched their canoe from River Point Resort and Outfitting Company on the Kawishiwi River. They were joined by more than 80 supporters, half of whom joined them to paddle the first mile. While a trip to the Boundary Waters isn’t out of the ordinary for this Grand Marais couple, this time they are spending an entire year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The Freemans’ A Year in the Wilderness adventure is more than an environmentalist’s dream vacation though– it’s adventure advocacy. They hope their effort will help prevent the threat proposed sulfide-ore copper mining by Twin Metals and other companies poses to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and support the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.  The Campaign, and its many local and national partner organizations, aim to permanently protect the pristine waters, unspoiled forests and sustainable economy of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its surrounding communities from these risks.

“We care deeply about this place and we will do everything within our power to ensure that it remains intact for the next generation,” said Amy Freeman. “This trip is about bearing witness to the very land and water we are all fighting to protect.”

During this expedition, the Freemans will camp at approximately 120 different sites and travel more than 3,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team.AmyDaveFreeman

Last year Dave and Amy, who were named National Geographic Adventurers of the year in 2014, completed their 2,000 mile and 101 day expedition, Paddle to DC, from Ely, Minnesota, to Washington, DC, to bring attention to the threat of these proposed mines.  

“We made a commitment to protecting the Boundary Waters when we embarked on the Paddle to DC, but we know we still have a lot of work to do to protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining and we want to do what we can to finish the job,” said Amy Freeman.

During their first month in the wilderness, Dave and Amy have been met by several resupply missions, orchestrated by the Campaign’s Expedition Manager Levi Lexvold, and made possible by many willing supporters. These bi-weekly resupplies of food and gear will continue throughout the year by dogsled, ski, snowshoe and canoe.

“We love the wilderness and want to continue to enjoy it. We want to share this canoe country with people during every season,” said Dave Freeman.

Sulfide-ore copper mining has never been done safely and now it threatens this national treasure. This toxic mining practice would harm the clean water, healthy forest, and wildlife habitat in America’s most visited wilderness for generations to come.

The Boundary Waters needs the help of all wilderness warriors to ensure its protection and preservation so future generations can enjoy this national treasure. You can help in protecting this amazing wilderness by signing the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters petition and you can follow Dave and Amy’s A Year in the Wilderness on our blog and by following #WildernessYear on social media.


The Value of the St. Louis River

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We ask that you reach out to MN Governor Mark Dayton, who has stated that the decision on PolyMet will be the most momentous of his term as governor, to tell him to say no to the Sulfide Mine that threatens the St. Louis River.   Governor Dayton is fluent in both the language of the heart and the balance sheet.   He must hear from us of the value of the St. Louis River and its watershed and understand that stopping PolyMet and other sulfide mining in Minnesota’s watery north is of critical importance to all creatures on this earth and in particular those in Minnesota’s northeast.

For many reading this, a poetic description of a river is a convincing testimonial to its value; others need only kneel beside a stream to grasp the value of the watershed.   But for some a different language is spoken and we must translate our understanding of a river’s value into dollars.   The value of the St. Louis River watershed seemed to me to be incalculable, an immense and powerful river, tea stained with natural tannins, lush wetlands, silvery fish, buzzing bees, and lands where ancient trees lay cool in the earth.  The river flows from a shallow wild rice lake near our home, past abandoned and struggling modern mining towns, through a tribal community with roots in the region thousands of years old.  The St. Louis River pours into a rare freshwater estuary, then into Great Lake Superior; all along the way it gathers water from an area of about 2.4 million acres in northern Minnesota, its benefits to all living things seem countless.     

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Photo by Lori Andresen

From the headwaters to the estuary we can see historical and modern evidence of strong desire to protect our valuable river.   A century ago the US, under the Weeks Act, purchased the lands in the headwaters region of the St. Louis River to protect the watershed.  The very deed to the land prohibits open pit mining and shows that our forbearers recognized the value of the headwaters of this watershed enough for our nation to use its funds to protect the land.    Open pit mining is prohibited in the existing deed.  In recent decades three quarters of a billion dollars have been spent to clean the estuary of harm from industries’ pollution in the last century.   Yet right now, the St. Louis River headwaters are threatened by sulfide hardrock mining that will pollute that which we have sought to protect and heal with our nation’s treasure.  The proposed PolyMet mine is contingent upon eliminating the protections of the Weeks Act; a “land swap” or exchange has been devised which circumvents laws protecting the land from the proposed enormous open pit strip mine.  The exchange will sacrifice nearly 1000 acres of wetland directly and vastly more with indirect harm.  It is as if the value of the headwaters, along with the effort and money spent to clean the river, has been forgotten by our elected leaders in their rush to show their support for extraction of minerals from the earth in this watery place, for the benefit of a few. 


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Photo by Ivy Vaino, Wild Rice on Water

Recently, I attended the presentation of a study “The Value of Nature’s Benefits in the St. Louis River Watershed.” Emerging from the science of Ecosystem Services Valuation, the first study of its kind of the St. Louis River watershed was produced by Earth Economics.   (Fletcher, A., Christin, Z. 2015. “The Value of Nature’s Benefits in the St. Louis RiverWatershed.” Earth Economics, Tacoma, WA.) Commissioned in a cooperative effort between the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the EPA, the study can be found here. The study details the economic benefits of ecosystem goods and services provided by the St. Louis River watershed. In the study, only those factors with rigorous scientific valuation were included in the tally; those lacking careful study were omitted.  Therefore, the present valuation must be considered a conservative underestimate of the ecosystem service benefits provided by the St. Louis River and its watershed.  In total, the river’s ecosystem goods and services are valued at $5 to $14 billion annually.  Listed by land cover type, the values include aesthetic information, air quality, biological control, pollination, soil formation and retention, recreation and tourism, energy, food, habitat, nursery, moderation of extreme events (including rainfall), water supply, waste treatment, energy, raw materials and carbon sequestration.

One of many factors, carbon sequestration, is of enormous concern to human kind, and much of the headwaters area is a large and complex peatland.  The study affixes a dollar value to carbon sequestration between $56,837,245,120 and $95,016,747,295 in the coming 7 generations. The rivers that form the watershed, for recreation and tourism alone, provide a value of $12,843 per acre per year.  

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Shrub wetlands’ value in moderation of extreme events in avoided damage and benefit transfer tally over $8000 per acre per year.    The report lists hundreds of values that have been identified and must be included in analysis of benefit and cost of the proposed PolyMet project, according to a recent directive from the White House Office of Management and Budget. 

“The headwaters of the St. Louis River have been mined extensively for their abundant iron.  This has resulted in significant downstream environmental and social costs that are frequently excluded from analysis of the mining industry.”  And “land conversion from forest and wetland for the creation of open pit mines creates contaminated landscapes and results in the loss of benefits like water purification, habitat and flood risk reduction”  From the Value of Nature’s Benefits in the St. Louis River Watershed, page 28.      

In Listening to Fletcher and Christin discuss their work, I realized that “incalculable” is simply not a helpful value when speaking to those making decisions, whether at the County Board or in Minnesota’s capitol or when addressing the United States government agencies where financial statements, taxes, royalties and election results are the language spoken.  We have the right to expect our government to consider the costs of their decisions, not just the benefits that are touted by corporations.  When we each write to Governor Dayton asking him to protect the St. Louis River, reminding him of the river’s value and the costs of harm to the river and watershed may help him understand and give him the courage to SAY NO TO POLYMET.    

Sign the petition asking Governor Dayton to stop this destructive mining project

Newswatch: Oct. 26

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Today’s Topics: Biofuels; Climate Change; Conservation; Energy; Invasive Species; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Pollinators; Transportation; Water; Wildlife & Fish

Duluth News Tribune: New biotech company eyes Iron Range

Climate Change
Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Common-sense action can reverse global warming
MinnPost: Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for Gov. Dayton to create quality jobs, reduce pollution
MPR: Climate Cast: Sea level rise analysis by Climate Central

AP: Cleanup effort focuses on Winona’s Sugar Loaf rock (In MPR)
Brainerd Dispatch: Crow Wing County: County razes rain gardens

Bloomberg News: Xcel CEO: Wind energy cheaper than natural gas
Midwest Energy News: Commentary: Voters want to hear a real discussion on energy
Midwest Energy News: Unique microgrid project to power Minnesota winery
Post Bulletin: Ivan Idso: Renewable energy goal puts city among leaders featuring MEP member group Climate Generation
SC Times: Plan booming for community solar gardens
Winona Daily News: Jenna Saunders: Solar farms are good for Winona County

Invasive Species
Duluth News Tribune: Emerald ash borer confirmed in Duluth
MinnPost: An investigation into those odd, fuzzy puffballs collecting beneath oak trees
MPR: DNR loses fight against zebra mussels in Christmas Lake
MPR: Officials: Emerald ash borer reaches northern Minnesota
Star Tribune: State halts zebra mussel project at Christmas Lake, citing failure of chemical treatments

Duluth News Tribune: Nolan, Peterson back Republican mining bill
MPR: Dayton to visit mines to help him decide on PolyMet featuring MEP member groupFriends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Star Tribune: On two-state tour, Dayton hopes to assess environmental safety of minesfeaturing MEP member group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Oil & Pipelines
Duluth News Tribune: Dayton moving up inspection timeline on Twin Cities railway transporting oil
Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Sandpiper will prevent, not cause, disaster
MPR: Dayton orders inspections as oil train traffic jumps in downtown Mpls.
Star Tribune: Dayton talks to BNSF CEO, orders swifter state inspections of new oil train route

SC Times: Beekeepers hope scholarship brings buzz to hobby
Star Tribune: Sweet trend: Rooftop to table

Star Tribune: More car-sharing options may be offered at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Duluth News Tribune: Shipwreck from 1937 possibly polluting Lake Erie
MPR: High and dry: A deep dive into the water crisis
Star Tribune: Minnesota, Como zoos are on the prowl to conserve water

Wildlife & Fish
AP: Ducks shot in Minnesota test negative for deadly bird flu (In MPR)
AP: Thousands of threatened bats to be relocated (In MPR)
Brainerd Dispatch: Guest Opinion: Wolf protections should be reconsidered
MPR: ‘Tis the season for drunken waxwings

Win some, lose some for Minnesota bees

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Originally published at Pesticide Action Network

PAN blog honeybees

It’s been quite a roller coaster. After a series of gubernatorial vetoes and late-night negotiations, the Minnesota legislative session came to a close on June 13. This time around, our legislators passed a bundle of worrisome agricultural and environmental policy that had Minnesotans across the state voicing their concerns loud and clear.

Here at PAN, we focused on fighting for state policies to better protect honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides. How did things shake out on our issues? Well, there was some good, some hopeful and some ugly.

Rolling back good progress

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. In 2014, I wrote about landmark legislation that Minnesota passed, making it the first state in the nation where a plant containing neonicotinoids or other bee-harming pesticides couldn’t be advertised as bee-friendly. This law was a small, common-sense step in the right direction — and it passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support.

But as it turns out, even a truth-in-labeling law as simple as this one raised red flags for pesticidemakers that fear losing marketshare. The pesticide industry came out in force in the 2015 session, and weakening bee-protective policies was among their top priorities.

This year, though PAN and our partners fought hard, the legislature watered down the labeling law. With these new changes, if a plant contains bee-harming pesticides at low levels, it can still be labeled as “bee-friendly.” The new law zeroes in on acute toxicity, ignoring the ways that chronic, low-level exposure to pesticides like neonicotinoids can impact colony health over time.

Backpedaling on good policy is disappointing, to be sure, but there’s a silver lining; sometimes ruffled (industry) feathers are a sign of progress being made.

Long term focus

Though PAN and our partners were committed to protecting victories from last year, we weren’t satisfied with just playing defense. We also worked with pollinator champions in the legislature to introduce an array of new bills that take proactive steps to safeguard pollinators.

One of PAN’s main objectives? Move the public conversation forward to raise awareness about the connection between pesticides and pollinator decline. To this end, we set out to find champions for bold legislation proposing a five-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids in Minnesota.

And we did it! Representatives David Bly (DFL-Northfield), Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) and John Persell (Bemidji), alongside Senators Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) and Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis), introduced a moratorium bill. Other legislators introduced additional bills calling for increased funding for research on integrated pest management (IPM) practices and alternatives to neonicotinoids; programs to create on-farm pollinator habitat; and restriction of neonicotinoid use on public lands.

None of these bills passed this session, but they were exciting opportunities to build momentum around the state and call the question: What will Minnesota decisionmakers do to save our state’s pollinators?

In addition to raising the profile of the connection between bee declines and pesticides, pollinator champions won a few other important victories. Minnesota passed a bill ensuring that no one in the state can purchase restricted-use pesticides online if they don’t have the proper license. Another bill will encourage — but not require — any entity receiving state funding for new conservation lands to plant habitat for monarch butterflies and minimize pesticide use.

What next?

The dust is settling from the legislative session, and there’s still a lot of work to do on state pesticide policy. Minnesota beekeepers consistently lose more bees than their counterparts in most other states: 51.2% in 2014-2015. And lawmakers in Minnesota had clear opportunities to support bee-friendly legislation, and for those most part, chose to weaken bee protections instead.

But more opportunities for positive change are on the horizon, with progress in motion for bees in Minnesota. Five Minnesota cities have already declared themselves“Honey Bee Havens” — bee-friendly cities that have pledged not to use neonicotinoids on public property and are doing their best to increase pollinator habitat. And the state has already passed important legislation, seen more good legislation introduced, and is in the process of conducting a review of neonicotinoids.

Minnesota’s policies haven’t yet caught up with the severity of bee decline. Neonics are still on the shelves at local hardware stores and still coating most corn and soy seeds, among others. And although decision makers at the federal and state levels have been busy passing the buck back and forth — with bees, beekeepers and farmers stuck in between — we’re building momentum for real progress.

Check out this great fact sheet on bee decline in MN