MEP and members urge consideration on key priorities and concerns at legislature

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Minnesota Environmental Partnership and our member groups delivered the following letter to Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Conferees calling their attention to the priorities and concerns of the environmental and conservation community of Minnesota.

Dear Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill Conferees:

As the Conference Committee convenes to consider differences in the House and Senate versions of the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.F. 2749 and S.F. 2356), the undersigned organizations call your attention to the following priorities and concerns of the environmental and conservation community of Minnesota. These issues are key to protecting Minnesota’s Great Outdoors through effective environmental review, local control of zoning, and forward-looking energy policies providing us clean water, healthy air, and abundant wildlife for future generations.

SUPPORT Senate Position: University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative (Senate Article 3, Sec. 2: lines 57.14 – 57.27).
The Forever Green research and outreach is needed to accelerate development of economically viable perennial and cover crops that enhance water quality, soil health and habitat while providing expanded profitable cropping options for producers.

Language: $1,000,000 the second year is for grants to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota to fund the Forever Green Agriculture Initiative and to protect the state’s natural resources […] available until June 30th, 2018.

SUPPORT Senate Position: $85 million for border-to-border broadband grants in FY 2016 and FY 2017 (Senate Article 5, Sec. 2: lines 102.24 – 103.3).
Expanding broadband internet access in rural Minnesota is a critical initiative for economic development. The House position of $15 million in FY 2017 and $25 million in FY 2018 would delay critical investments and is insufficient to meet the need. Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of applications to the border-to-border broadband grant program have gone unfilled over the last two rounds of applications.

Language: Sec. 2. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Border-To-Border Broadband Development Program. (a) $85,000,000 in fiscal year 2017 […] is a onetime appropriation.

SUPPORT Senate Position: Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program (Senate Article 7, Secs. 2, 3, 4 & 19: lines 165.27-165.30; 166.25-166.28; 167.1-168.11; and 177.18-178.14).
Establishes the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program to provide incentives to landowners to grow perennial crops for use in biomass processing facilities and for livestock. The program will select two pilot watersheds with access to viable proposed biomass facilities. Priority will be given to agricultural lands in those watersheds that implement watershed clean-up plans. The funding provides development of an in-depth feasibility study and detailed program plan to implement the program, including maximizing the use of federal funds.

Appropriation Language (165.27-165.30; 166.25-166.28): $115,000 the second year is for the working lands program feasibility study and program plan. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2018.
and
$479,000 the second year is for the working lands program feasibility study and program plan. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2018.

Policy Language (167.1-168.11; and 177.18-178.14):
Sec. 4. [103F.519] WORKING LANDS WATERSHED RESTORATION PROGRAM.
Subdivision 1. Definitions. (a) For purposes of this section, […] proposed biomass processing facility.
and
Sec. 19. FEASIBILITY STUDY AND PROGRAM PLAN; WORKING LANDS WATERSHED RESTORATION PROGRAM.
(a) The Board of Water and Soil Resources shall develop a detailed plan to implement Minnesota Statutes, section […] and to the Clean Water Council.

OPPOSE House Position: Weakening community zoning rights (House Article 10, Sec. 65: lines 198.11 – 199.4).
Current law is working and should not be changed. This language weakens the interim ordinance emergency power that allows cities to quickly put a temporary freeze on specified types of proposed development, giving the community time to study the issue, review their existing authority and, if necessary, create the appropriate zoning ordinances. This right is essential when the community is caught off-guard by potentially harmful proposals not anticipated by existing zoning ordinances. The language unnecessarily delays cities from enacting an interim ordinance that “prohibit activities relating to housing.”

Language: (c) If a proposed interim ordinance by a statutory or home rule charter city purports to regulate, restrict, or prohibit activities relating to housing, a public hearing must be held following a ten-day notice […] section is effective for interim ordinances proposed on or after August 1, 2016.

OPPOSE Senate Position: DNR Pineland Sands aquifer study that undermines established environmental review practices (Senate Article 4, Sec. 2: lines 82.14 – 82.17) R.D. Offut has proposed expansion of chemically-intensive potato production in the Pineland Sands aquifer (Cass, Hubbard, and Wadena counties), an aquifer which is highly vulnerable to contamination and already stressed by high rates of clearcutting and irrigation. This study allows that expansion to move forward before impacts are fully assessed, rather than following standard environmental review procedures. The memorandum of understanding between the DNR and Offut fundamentally undermines environmental review, a well-established public process that studies impacts before permitting in order to consider mitigation.

Senate Language: $1,000,000 the second year is for an impact study of irrigation on the Pineland Sands aquifer. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2019.

OPPOSE House Position: Micro-managing of lakes to use as storm water ponds (House Article 2, Sec. 35: lines 51.2-51.15).
This provision mandates the water level of Big Lake, replacing science and established public water laws with politics by having the Legislature determine the lake level. Micromanaging DNR by dictating permit requirements sets a terrible precedent for our natural lakes. Farmers favor a lower level in order to crop closer to the lake and the watershed district wants to use the lake as a stormwater pond for the City of Herman. The DNR opposes the language in the House bill, and no Senate companion was even introduced.

Language:
Sec. 35. WATER LEVEL CONTROL PERMIT FOR BIG LAKE; GRANT COUNTY.
Notwithstanding Minnesota Statutes, sections 103G.407 and 103G.408, the commissioner of natural resources must issue a permit to the Bois de Sioux Watershed District […] domain.

OPPOSE House Position: Phase out the Renewable Development Fund (House Article 16, Sec. 4: lines 134.6 to 134.16).
Section 4 phases out the Renewable Development Fund (RDF). The House language places cap on the cumulative amount of annual transfer payments that Xcel makes to the RDF for each cask of high-level nuclear waste. This transfer payment requirement was part of a long-term agreement with the Prairie Island Indian Community, Xcel Energy, and other stakeholders. Any change should be done in partnership with all of the original stakeholders. The RDF pays for research and development of clean energy projects that drive our energy system forward.

Language: Subd. 1a. Payment termination. (a) The commissioner shall track the cumulative transfers made to the account each year since 1999 for each dry cask containing spent fuel that is stored at an independent spent-fuel storage facility at Prairie […] ceased operation.

OPPOSE House Position: Expanding and restructuring the Public Utilities Commission (House Article 16, Secs. 5 & 6: lines 134.18 to 135.21).
House language would increase the number of PUC members from 5 to 9 and appoint them from compound districts. Major changes should not be made without full public hearings.

Language: The Public Utilities Commission shall consist of five nine members, eight of whom shall each represent one of the state’s congressional districts, and one member appointed at large. At the time of appointment, each member, except for the at-large appointee, must reside in the congressional district the member is to represent […] following final enactment.

OPPOSE House Position: Regulating Community Solar Garden contracts at the PUC (House Article 16, Sec. 7: lines 137.1 to 137.26).
Community solar allows anyone with a utility bill to invest in local energy that supports solar businesses right here in Minnesota. The PUC doesn’t have the expertise or capacity to analyze individual customer contracts – this would simply add red tape for consumers and businesses. This section will potentially derail hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Minnesota—much of this investment in greater Minnesota.

Language: (9) certify that the utility and the owner of a solar garden will submit copies of all marketing and promotional material and sample contracts to the commission, and that the materials will be updated periodically; […] on or after that date.

OPPOSE House Position: Exempting the energy used for Pipelines from the Conservation Improvement Program (House Article 16, Secs. 8 & 9: lines 137.27 to 142.3). Minnesota’s Conservation Improvement Program helps cut waste from our energy system, saving consumers, businesses, and utilities money. The implementation of that program involves dozens of utilities, program implementers, and independent nonprofits who specialize in energy savings.

OPPOSE House Position: Exempting Municipal and Cooperative utilities from the 1.5 percent Energy Efficiency savings goal (House Article 16, Sec. 10: lines 142.4 to 142.29). The goal currently in place has served our state well by driving the success of utility programs to meet and exceed a specific benchmark. Instead of exempting them, continue the discussion with the municipal and cooperative utilities of how to improve and expand the CIP program.

OPPOSE House Position: Exempting interstate pipelines, including future proposals and those currently under review, from the Certificate of Need permitting process at the Public Utilities Commission (House Article 16, Sec. 11: lines 143.24 – 144.20). The Certificate of Need process facilitates input from all stakeholders, including local governments and the public, and provides an important early vetting process for projects that could eventually involve the use of eminent domain authority. The process evaluates such factors as forecasted demand for the energy, alternative proposals to meet demand and considerations of the consequences to the public of building the pipeline. This language offers no alternative process for Minnesota to determine the need for an interstate pipeline.

Language:
; or
(8) an interstate pipeline traversing Minnesota whose termini lie outside the state. […] date of this section.

OPPOSE House Position: Prohibiting solar development on sites where 3 or more acres of trees would be cut down (House Article 16, Sec. 13: lines 144.31 to 145.5). This amendment is makes growing solar businesses jump through a hoop that not a single other industry is forced to jump through.

Language:
Sec. 13. [216E.023] PROHIBITION; SITING SOLAR SYSTEM; TREE CUTTING. No state or local site permit may be issued for a solar energy generating system that would contribute to meeting the requirements of section […] following final enactment.

OPPOSE House Position: Prohibiting use of state funds for implementing the Clean Power Plan (House Article 16, Sec. 18: lines 146.21 to 146.31). Minnesota has a history of passing common sense, bipartisan energy policy. These policies have put the state in a strong position to meet the Clean Power Plan goals. With more than 54,000 clean energy jobs already in Minnesota, the Clean Power Plan gives us the opportunity to continue moving that job growth forward.

Language:
Sec. 18. PROHIBITION ON EXPENDITURE OF STATE FUNDS; CLEAN POWER PLAN. No state agency shall expend state funds to develop a state plan as required by the federal Clean Power Plan unless and until a final decision in the case of West Virginia, et. al., v. United States Environmental Protection Agency […] amendments made to the plan.

Thank you for your commitment to protecting our Great Outdoors and giving these issues your full consideration. If you have questions or would like further information, please contact Matt Norton at mattnorton@mepartnership.org or 651-290-0154.

Sincerely,
Steve Morse, Executive Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis
Audubon Society of St. Paul
Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability
Clean Water Fund/Action Alliance
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Environment Minnesota
Fresh Energy
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota
Mankato Area Environmentalists
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Food Association
Minnesota Forestry Association
Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group
Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
Friends of The Mississippi River
Friends of The Parks & Trails of St. Paul & Ramsey County
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Izaak Walton League of America – Minn. Division
Kids for Saving Earth
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
MN350
Renewing the Countryside
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Save Lake Superior Association
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Transit for Livable Communities
Voyageurs National Park Association
WaterLegacy

News Watch: May 12

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Energy, Oil & Pipelines, Parks & Trails, Pollinators, Transportation, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Agriculture & Food
MinnPost: ‘Urban farming’ produces little food but lots of social benefits

Climate Change
New York Times: In novel tactic on climate change, citizens sue their governments

Editorial, Mankato Free Press: Our View: Climate and fires: Smoke signals more trouble ahead
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Devil is in details of Clean Power Plan

Energy
Duluth News Tribune: Allete CEO commits to renewable energy sources
New York Times: Canada fire deals staggering blow to oil sands industry and economy
The Hill: Forecast sees largest growth for renewable energy sources

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Readers’ view: Speak up for community solar power at grass-roots level
LTE, Mankato Free Press: Mankato should invest in solar energy

Invasive Species
AP: Barrier completed to block Asian carp from Great Lakes (In MPR)
Star Tribune: Zebra mussel enforcement gets new weapon — mandatory education for rule breakers

Oil & Pipelines
City Pages: Enbridge’s oil pipe dream, and the Minnesotans who don’t believe them

Parks & Trails
Star Tribune: Advisory group finalizes $95 million list of ideas for Lakes Harriet and Calhoun
Star Tribune: Bold and new: National parks posters of early 20th century go modern

Pollinators
MPR: Bee colony losses up from last year, study says

Transportation
AP: Transportation debate in focus as budget negotiations begin
Duluth News Tribune: Transportation funding in Minnesota’s legislative headlights
Mankato Free Press: Lawmakers: Transportation deal still up in air
MPR: Light rail cash in limbo as Minnesota lawmakers talk transit
Pioneer Press: Newport’s transit station to get new neighbors
Politics in MN: MN businesses push funding for transit, transportation
Star Tribune: Big business joins final push for $1.79B Southwest light-rail funding
Star Tribune: Legislators hoping for transportation, public-works bill are on edge

Commentary, Mankato Free Press: My View: Compromise on gas tax to fund roads

Water
Atlantic: Who Gets to Drink From the Great Lakes?
Austin Daily Herald: County backs proposal to align water plans
Duluth News Tribune: Effort to name St. Louis River a National Water Trail raises questions
MPR: Who gets the scarce water?
NPR: California governor makes some water restrictions permanent (In MPR)

LTE, Echo Press: LETTER: Need action to protect surface and ground water

Wildlife & Fish
Star Tribune: Government culling of Minnesota’s wolves could place them in greater danger

News Watch: May 9

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Energy, Mining, Oil & Pipelines, Parks & Trails, Pollinators, Pollution, Transportation, Waste & Recycling, Water

Agriculture & Food
NPR: The environmental cost of growing food (In MPR)

Climate Change
Energy Wire: Clean Power what? Most Americans haven’t heard of climate rule
Commentary, Star Tribune: Rash Report: Climate-conflict link should rally global action

Energy
AP: GOP states benefit from renewables (In Politics in MN)
Midwest Energy News: Tree removal for Minnesota solar project prompts legislative action
Rocky Mountain Institute: Green Giant 3M signs first-ever PPA with Invenergy
Star Tribune: What price solar? Flurry of applications raises questions in exurbs

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota Power’s view: Tapping into solar power easier with program, without panels
Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Local view: Minnesota Power interested only in self with solar proposal

Mining
Commentary, MinnPost: Copper-sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota is not worth the risk
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: PolyMet backers overlook the many costs of sulfide mining

Oil & Pipelines
MPR: Oil pipeline debate heating up again in northern Minnesota

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Pipelines are safe; it’s time to move forward

Parks & Trails
Star Tribune: Minneapolis trails converge at railroad river bridge, but will they ever be able to cross?

Pollinators
AP: University of Minnesota student marketing team creates buzz (In Star Tribune)
Star Tribune: Gardeners flock to bees’ defense and push to dump pesticide

Pollution
Star Tribune: Cancer fears fester over St. Louis Park Superfund site

Transportation
MinnPost: Political fights over light rail projects in Minnesota are nothing new
MPR: Transportation talks resume with new gas tax offer
Pioneer Press: Minnesota lawmakers offer transportation concessions, but deal still distant  

Commentary, Austin Daily Herald: State needs to address transportation
Commentary, Star Tribune: Minnesota businesses need transit, and we need it now
Commentary, SC Times: Be skeptical of state’s Northstar Costs
LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (May 9): Light rail, Northstar rail

Waste & Recycling
Star Tribune: Minneapolis seeks to increase organics recycling

Water
Pioneer Press: No Minnesota bonding bill this year? With Senate defeat, maybe

What is CREP? It’s another tool to revitalized our water quality

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CREP Restored Wetlands cr- MN BWSR

Credit: Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

With a little over two weeks left, the legislature is nearing the end of the 2016 session and there is still much to be completed.  One of those items is the capital bonding bill – a budget primarily funded through the issuance of state general obligation bonds.  While most people think of bonding for road projects or constructing a new community center, state agencies also use bonding for land acquisition and conservation easement programs. 

This year, the state’s Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) requested $30 million which is especially important because it will provide vital state money to leverage federal dollars through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) partnership.  The goal for CREP is to enroll a total of 100,000 acres in the southern and western parts of the state over five years.  Land will be prioritized based on expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts and the benefits to water quality.  To participate, landowners can voluntarily sign first a CRP contract for 15 years and once that expires, the enrolled land will automatically be place into the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve perpetual easement program. 

This 5-year investment in water quality will provide:

  • A way to prioritize and target strategic water quality practices to improve water quality through wetlands restoration and drinking water wellhead protection,
  • An important mechanism for implementing the stream buffer law by helping farmers and landowners install their buffers and maximizing payments and opportunities for producers to put voluntary conservation practices on the ground,
  • A highly successful locally-led delivery system, centered on the strengths of Minnesota’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts while also utilizing other local partners, and
  • An estimated 800 jobs through wetland restoration and buffer implementation work if the request is fully funded.

In order to meet the program acreage goals – 50,000 acres of buffers, 30,000 acres of restored wetlands, an additional 15,000 acres of restored wetlands in floodplains, and 5,000 acres near wellheads (the drinking water source for many small towns) – the state will need to provide funding through a variety of sources.  Bonding is critical to ensure the state has its initial investment lined up and ready to go once the program kicks off.  With an expected 2:1 match from the federal government, Minnesota will miss out on a significant amount of funding if the bonding request is not fully funded. 

However, the Senate released its bonding bill first and it fails to invest in the RIM/CREP partnership.  Only $1.5 million was allocated for RIM bonding and is far from sufficient to show the federal government how committed the state is to the proposed partnership.  As the House continues to work on its own bonding bill, we must make sure every legislator knows the importance of CREP and how vital it is to invest bonding dollars in it. 

As the home to the headwaters of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, Minnesota is a key location for resource protection and we owe it to our future generations to protect this water rich state.  

News Watch: May 5

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

Climate Change
Commentary, Bloomberg View: Climate change: The psychology of inaction (In Star Tribune)
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Need for action is real on climate change
LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (May 4): Climate change

Energy
Duluth News Tribune: Duluth comes up empty on steam plant request
Inside Climate News: Fossil fuels on Federal Lands: phase-out needed for climate goals, study says
Mankato Free Press: City of Mankato considers 4-megawatt solar garden investment
MinnPost: Bakken wells drove a sudden reversal of global decline in ethane emissions
New York Times: Exxon Mobil back fuelcell effort to advance carbon capture technology
Post Bulletin: Goodhue commissioners approve solar project
Republican Eagle: Permits for solar gardens allowed in wetlands
SC Times: Stearns nixes moratorium on solar projects
VOX: Solar power is contagious. These maps show how it spreads.

Commentary, SC Times: Stearns board’s solar decision makes sense
Editorial, Duluth News Tribune: Our view: Don’t give up on Duluth Steam Plant

Mining
Commentary, SC Times: Signs point to no mining near BWCA

Oil & Pipelines
Bemidji Pioneer: ENERGY: Meeting brings out those in favor, those opposed to pipelines
Star Tribune: Mixing oil and water: Pipeline flow increases under St. Croix River and its tributaries featuring MEP member group St. Croix River Association

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: In response: Oil pipelines put state waters at risk

Parks & Trails
MPR: How memories are made in America’s national parks
MPR: Mpls. park board pioneers new formula for allocating upgrade money

Transportation
Austin Daily Herald: ‘Backbone of Minnesota’ transportation funding moving slow at legislature
Pioneer Press: Debut of St. Paul’s Margaret Street Bikeway is Saturday
Pioneer Press: In St. Paul, hundreds did Walk/Bike to School Day
Star Tribune: St. Paul campaign highlights right of way for walkers
Star Tribune: Crosswalk safety focus of ‘Stop for Me’ event Tuesday in St. Paul
Star Tribune: Bike lanes to be added along Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul

Commentary, SC Times: Keep Northstar to St. Cloud in play

Waste & Recycling
Star Tribune: Minneapolis aiming to top projections for organics pickup

LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (May 3): Recycling

Water
MPR: Water issues transcend partisan rancor at state capitol, kind of
MPR: ‘Climate One’ series: Water World
MPR: Educators in Flint step up efforts to reach youngest victims of tainted water
NPR: Amid water crisis, Obama prepares to visit Flint, Mich. (In MPR)
NPR: Obama to Flint: I have your back (In MPR)

Editorial, Duluth News Tribune: Our view: Maintain momentum to clean up Great Lakes

News Watch: May 2, 2016

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

Agriculture & Food
MN Daily: Reaping the benefit of urban greenery

Commentary, Star Tribune: Counterpoint: The downside of cage-free eggs

Bonding
MinnPost: Senate Democrats’ $1.5 billion infrastructure proposal sets up clash with House Republicans
MPR: Senate Dems propose $1.5 billion construction plan

Climate Change
Bloomberg: 14 states seek Clean Power Plan guidance despite stay
The Guardian: Peabody coal’s contrarian scientist witnesses lose their court case featuring MEP member groups Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, and Sierra Club

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Minority families would bear brunt of Clean Power Plan

Energy
Midwest Energy News: Q&A: An energy storage solution may already be in your basement
Midwest Energy News: Vision for improving Minneapolis air quality calls for more electric cars
MPR: Wind energy setting records in Minnesota
SC Times: Stearns to hear input on solar moratorium

LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Column on coal supply was just plain wrong

Mining
MinnPost: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner: Permitting process for taconite mines ‘on pause’ featuring MEP member groups Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacyand WaterLegacy

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Environmentalists’ Views: Four questions PolyMet won’t answer by Scott Strand, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Paul Danicic, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and Paul Austin, Conservation Minnesota
Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Drawn-out mining permitting dampens economic growth
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Nolan naive to think feds won’t block mining

Oil & Pipelines
Duluth News Tribune: Have your say on pipeline projects

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Enbridge’s view: Public input urged on pipeline projects
Editorial, Duluth News Tribune: Our view: Pipeline delays only stall economic boon
LTE, Brainerd Dispatch: Reader Opinion: Pipeline hearings
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Pipeline projects threaten Minnesota’s clean water

Pollinators
MN Daily: Sun helps guide monarchs home

Transportation
MPR: Dayton pushes transportation spending plan, but talks are in low gear
Pioneer Press: Minnesota legislators promise transportation funding plan
Pioneer Press: Real World Economics: Economic estimates usually imprecise at best
Star Tribune: The Drive: Metro Transit adds new bus services to boost ridership
Star Tribune: Seven DFL state senators threaten to withhold votes for bonding bill over Southwest light-rail line

Commentary, Brainerd Dispatch: Guest Opinion: Minnesota’s roads and bridges need to be addressed
Editorial, SC Times: Legislators, let’s extend Northstar
LTE, Echo Press: LETTER: Find compromise on paying for safe roads and bridges

Waste & Recycling
LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (May 1): Recycling

Water
Duluth News Tribune: PCA commissioner pumps Duluth water projects
SC Times: Review of public waters, ditches buffer maps underway 
Star Tribune: Anderson: Dirt poor? Not this farmer near Northfield

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: A Great Lakes’ view: Waukesha’s water request may end up in court
Editorial, Star Tribune: Great Lakes Compact must be protected, with no exceptions

News Watch: Apr. 28

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Today’s Topics: Climate Change, Energy, Oil & Pipelines, Parks & Trails, Pollinators, Transportation, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Climate Change
MinnPost: Microbiomes essential to healthy soils may adapt poorly to changing climate
MPR: Greenland’s glaciers likely melting faster than thought

Energy
Midwest Energy News: In Minnesota, waste-to-energy debate firing up once again featuring MEP member groups Sierra Club and MPIRG
Post Bulletin: Rochester picked for German energy partnership
Republican Eagle: Planning commission says ‘no’ to solar in wetlands

Oil & Pipelines
Brainerd Dispatch: Public can comment on upcoming Sandpiper, Line 3 study
Reuters: Canadian regulator approves Enbridge Line 3 with conditions (In Duluth News Tribune)

Parks & Trails
MinnPost: Which Minneapolis parks are the highest priority for repairs?
MPR: Minneapolis parks could get major funding boost
Star Tribune: Minneapolis parks, roads maintenance plan clears key council hurdle

Pollinators
Commentary, West Central Tribune: Minnesota Opinion: Here’s the buzz on how to help out our bees

Transportation
Politics in MN: Research links rising property values to LRT
Star Tribune: Red Line bus service, which links MOA to south suburbs, to get $15M tune-up
Star Tribune: Access to transit helping boost home values in parts of Twin Cities

Commenary, Mankato Free Press: Compromise needed on long-term road funding
Editorial, Mankato Free Press: Our View: Transportation: We all lose with gridlock on road-transit bill
LTE, Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Northern Lights Express is good for the economy

Water
Austin Daily Herald: An overflow of cleanup efforts; Plenty of ways for public to support waterways
Duluth News Tribune: Effort to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes expands
Duluth News Tribune: House passes Great Lakes funding bill
MPR: Walking the waterways to raise awareness
MPR: Water around the world: Three views

Wildlife & Fish
Bemidji Pioneer: No critical habitat order for northern long-eared bats

News Watch: Apr. 25

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Energy, Invasive Species, Mining, Parks & Trails, Pollinators, Transportation, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Agriculture & Food
Star Tribune: Target tests food transparency ideas at Edina store
Star Tribune: Organic farms still on the rise

Commentary, Star Tribune: The new humane economy goes cage-free chic

Climate Change
AP: 171 states signing landmark Paris deal on climate change (In MPR)

Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Local View: Expect more floods, droughts with climate change
Commentary, Duluth News Tribune: Pro/Con; Should climate change deniers be prosecuted?  
Commentary, MinnPost: Minnesota’s true costs of pollution

Energy
Midwest Energy News: Report: Efficiency could provide big benefits to low-income renters
Public News Service: Report: Minnesota air-quality improves amid tougher standards

Invasive Species
Star Tribune: Study reveals zebra mussels’ effects on Lake Minnetonka
Timberjay: Hatchery takes steps to halt spread of invasives

Mining
Duluth News Tribune: Nolan: Interior not plotting to ban mining near BWCAW
Ely Echo: Interior Secretary’s speech hints of action to protect BWCAW, Novak in D.C. lobbying for copper mining

Parks & Trails
Commentary, Star Tribune: Minneapolis park funding: Take the 20-year City Hall plan
Commentary, Star Tribune: Minneapolis park funding: Quit the shell games

Pollinators
Editorial, Post Bulletin: Our View: Bees, farmers can work together

Transportation
Duluth News Tribune: Recycling bicycles: Bike Swap moves hundreds of two-wheelers, benefits United Way

Commentary, Post Bulletin: Advisory board: Is it time to raise the state’s gas tax?
Commentary, SC Times: Share your transportation troubles
Commentary, Star Tribune: Fund state transportation fully — and do it now
Editorial, Star Tribune: Met Council reform could be a transportation deal maker for Legislature
Editorial, West Central Tribune: Tribune editorial: It’s time to invest in broadband, transportation

Water
Bemidji Pioneer: A protector of water and soil: Pipestone farmer part of first wave of producers in state’s new Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program
Brainerd Dispatch: Tips to protect, conserve water resources
Duluth News Tribune: Dayton honors ‘water heroes’ on Earth Day
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Great Lakes officials trim Waukesha’s water request (In Duluth News Tribune)
MPR: Documentary about Flint water crisis: ‘Not Safe to Drink’
MPR: Jonathan Foley on food, water and the global environment
MPR: Proposed water bill to replace lead pipes, boost Iron Range economy
Politics in MN: Status Report: IRRRB changes, runoff buffers, omnibus bills
Pioneer Press: Those strips of land between cornfields and water clarified, set for signing
Star Tribune: Buffer bill passes, sent to Gov. Mark Dayton for signature
West Central Tribune: Fighting nitrates in southwest Minnesota

Editorial, Post Bulletin: Our View: Action needed to protect our water

Wildlife & Fish
Pioneer Press: Viroqua: Mecca for Driftless stream trout

LTE, Star Tribune: Readers Write (April 25): Wolves at Isle Royale, funding Minneapolis parks

Broadband For All: Supporting Sustainable Development in Greater MN

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This issue is perhaps a little unexpected, coming from us. Why would I take time on Earth Day to tell you about broadband development and environmentalism? It’s very important.

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It’s 2016, and there are still many parts of rural Minnesota without access to the internet. According to the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, 20% of rural Minnesota households lack access to high-speed broadband. There is broadband funding legislation currently being heard in both the Senate and the House, but the two bodies of government need to compromise on the amount of funding. The Governor have proposed $100 million, but the House has only proposed $28 million. 

Health Care Improvements: Broadband is hugely important in the health care industry. Most of our health systems are hooked up to the net, but if there isn’t the infrastructure for high-speed broadband already in a community, the hospitals and clinics need to take on the added burden of upgrading their system. Without access to broadband, it is increasingly difficult for clinics and hospitals in greater Minnesota to stay up to date and meet the needs of Minnesota residents. 

The primary reason MEP supports this initiative is this: Funding broadband is critical to making the move from extractive or other environmentally damaging industries toward a green economy.

Moving Beyond Extraction: Jobs and economic development depend on internet access. So much of the push toward extractive industries in Minnesota is driven by a need to develop the economy. Jobs are desperately needed in rural Minnesota, in particular on the Iron Range. Without development of new infrastructure to facilitate new industries, there will only be a continued expansion of mining and other environmentally destructive industries. The pollution from mining industries far outlasts the time when the mine is operating – for example, the PolyMet mine would require hundreds of years of water treatment, but would only create jobs for 20 years.

In an economy so dependent upon fossil fuels and extraction, throughout Minnesota and the United States we need the infrastructure in place to shift our economy away from traditional production. Access to broadband is one of the critical tools that we need to develop more sustainable businesses. The energy sector is changing rapidly at the moment, as well as the types of business that are taking off in Minnesota. Broadband connects us to the global economy, and it allows for the growth of sustainable and green businesses.

Creating the Rural Green Economy: There are new forms of businesses that have risen because of the unprecedented access to information that the internet provides. Sustainable energy – and energy projects broadly – rely on the internet for their operation. The grid system has become connected in a way it wasn’t before. In order to expand renewables and move toward distributed energy systems, we will need access to high-speed broadband in greater Minnesota. 

Green businesses thrive online. Local apiaries, native and heirloom seed exchanges, and other products could be produced remotely and then sold online. In fact – it’s almost a requirement to have a website in order to gain credibility in the business community these days. These statements may be obvious to you, but in light of the fact that 20% of rural Minnesotans don’t have access, they are important to remember.

Finally, if there were greater access to high-speed internet, there would be more opportunity for consultant business. Many people may be interested in moving to a smaller community, but concerned that they won’t be able to work in their field. Access to internet would allow for more people to work from home, to bring their expertise to rural communities, and thrive in smaller spaces.

It’s not just a luxury in 2016 to have access to the internet – it’s a necessity. Whether  you are job-searching, starting a business, or just trying to expand your business, it’s important to have access to the internet to grow and expand.

Tell your legislators to support full funding for Broadband and sustainable, self-reliant communities today.

Forever Green, Forever Clean

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Clean water is a Minnesotan value. We all have our favorite body of water that we escape to, whether it’s the Mississippi River running through the Twin Cities or an isolated lake in the Boundary Waters. The connections we as Minnesotans feel to our water is something that unites us all. Just as we treasure our clean water heritage, farming is an equally important part of our state’s economy and history. These two integral parts of Minnesota’s culture often come in to conflict with each other, as the fight to restore water quality often places much of the blame on agricultural practices.

We don’t need to pit clean water against agriculture in order to have vibrant, thriving farming communities and waterways that are swimmable, fishable and drinkable. Minnesota has the tools to reimagine our traditional practices into sustainable, economically feasible options through the University of Minnesota’s work with the Forever Green Initiative. This isn’t an either or situation. We can have clean water and farming coexisting side by side, which will benefit Minnesotans for many generations to come.

On April 19th, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and the University of Minnesota welcomed Governor Dayton and other state officials to hear more about the Forever Green initiative and tour the research first hand as part of Water Action Week. The Forever Green Initiative relies on funding through the Minnesota Legislature and is a key component of MEP’s Clean Water and Living Landscapes initiative this session. This vital program needs steady reliable funding so research can continue uninterrupted for many growing seasons to come. 

Tour of 'Forever Green' research at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus.  April 19, 2016.

Pennycress, a Forever Green winter annual cover crop used for advanced biofuels production. Credit: David Hanson, University of Minnesota

Agricultural runoff is the largest source of pollution in Minnesota’s waterways. The annual crops that make up the majority of Minnesota’s farming systems are only growing for three to four months out of the year, leaving fields exposed to the elements for the other eight months. Without root systems or vegetative cover in place, the soil is susceptible to erosion and runoff, leaving it and the chemical fertilizers it contains to be carried into nearby waterways.

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Demonstration showing runoff from different forever green crops compared to bare soil

Luckily, there are solutions that farmers can employ that work with their existing agricultural practices, and even add value to their crops. The University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative researches perennial and cover crops that can extend the growing season and preserve soil and water health. The Initiative works on finding solutions that farmers can employ easily, giving them the freedom to choose a method that doesn’t hurt their bottom line. However, they are also focused on developing new innovate farming techniques that move away from the traditional annual cropping system of farming to perennial year round cover.

One of the most exciting crops in development is Kernza, an intermediate perennial wheatgrass grown that the Forever Green Initiative sees as one of its breakout stars. Unlike traditional wheat, the Kernza plant comes back year after year; reducing tilling and the need to buy seed each season. Because it is a perennial, Kernza’s roots extend deep into the ground, making it more able to withstand periods of drought. These long roots hold the soil in place while the plant is dormant during the winter months, preventing it from blowing away or washing into waterways. 

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Kernza’s dense roots hold soil in place, and filter clean water

Not only do perennial crops like Kernza prevent runoff into lakes, rivers, and streams, they also improve soil quality by adding nutrients back into the soil. Agricultural systems that replenish their own nutrients don’t require expensive fertilizers, cutting costs for farmers. It’s also an economically viable crop – local restaurant Birchwood is already using it in their kitchen, and other small businesses are testing out its uses as well. 

 

Forever Green is changing the way we practice farming in Minnesota without farmers having to sacrifice their economic future. We need to continue funding the innovation of Forever Green for generations to come. Projects that create solutions for farmers as well as water quality must be a priority for our state. Accelerating the development of economically viable perennial crops will move us forward towards cleaner water and healthier soil. In order to continue long term growth, we need long term investment in this research as it is ongoing over several growing seasons. Let’s make a smart investment in our future and fully fund the Forever Green Initiative for years to come.

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Governor Dayton tries Kernza scones from Birchwood

Tour of 'Forever Green' research at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus.  April 19, 2016.

They’re a hit! Gov. Dayton with Don Wyse, lead researcher on the Forever Green Initiative. Credit: David Hanson, University of Minnesota