In Dayton Administration’s final days, pivotal decisions shape our environmental future

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Monday, January 7, the eight-year administration of Governor Mark Dayton will draw to a close with the inauguration of Governor-Elect Tim Walz. During the final full month of the Dayton administration, state agencies have issued three major decisions that will have wide-ranging consequences for Minnesota’s natural resources and public health – though none spell the end of the story on these key drinking water, mining, and climate issues.

MPCA surprises with permit denial, recommendation of regional study

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued a surprising decision in the case of the proposed Catalpa LLC swine factory farm, which was seeking a general permit to operate in Fillmore County. 

The MPCA announced that rather than requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as local neighbors had urged, it would deny this permit for the farm entirely in order to further study ways to prevent further pollution of the region’s drinking water.

Much of southeastern Minnesota sits on karst geology, a porous type of earth that allows pollutants like nitrates and other manure byproducts to easily seep into the groundwater. This can pose a major health threat to residents who rely on wells. The drinking water in many wells in the region already exceed basic health limits for nitrates. Because of this vulnerability, the MPCA has recommended a multi-agency review of the region’s groundwater before allowing Catalpa or similar projects to advance.

While the specific EIS for Catalpa requested by many community members won’t be carried out, this regional review offers an opportunity to seriously examine the impacts of industrial agriculture on the health and well-being of southeastern Minnesotans, and could contribute to responsible decision making by state agencies in the future. Catalpa has stated that they intend to reapply for an operating permit.

PolyMet permits contribute to troubling precedent

Two days after its announcement on southeastern Minnesota’s water quality, the MPCA issued permits that could endanger waters in the northeastern part of the state.

The agency issued its approval of the final air and water quality permits for the PolyMet sulfide ore mining project, which would operate in the already threatened St. Louis River watershed. The only remaining major approval required by PolyMet is now a wetlands permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This proposed mine’s continued advance is deeply troubling. Sulfide mining has never been conducted in any watershed in the United States without causing major water contamination, and the health of communities along the St. Louis River and Lake Superior would be threatened by its pollution. It also sets a dangerous precedent for other sulfide mines in Minnesota, such as the proposed Twin Metals mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

Fortunately, several of MEP’s partner organizations are continuing to push for greater protections for our water from both this mine and Twin Metals in court and in Congress. The fight over sulfide mining is far from over.

Commerce Department responsibly works to help stop Line 3

On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Commerce launched a legal appeal of the certificate of need granted to Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline project in September.

The Commerce Department, which has opposed the new pipeline for months, argued that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) erred in its decision to grant the certificate because Enbridge had not made a case for why Minnesota will need the oil transported through Line 3. Governor Dayton issued a statement of support for the appeal, stating that “most of the product would flow through our state to supply other states and countries.”

In addition to the dubious economic value of the project to Minnesota, Line 3 would also be a climate disaster and threat to clean water, pumping millions of barrels of some of the most emissions-heavy oil through Minnesota’s most pristine water-rich areas. At a time when the transition away from fossil fuels is more urgent than ever, marrying Minnesota to a thirty-year oil pipeline makes little economic or environmental sense.  The Commerce Department’s appeal is comes in addition to appeals made by indigenous bands and other organizations, including MEP members Honor the Earth and the Sierra Club.

The common thread: Minnesotans demand better stewardship of our resources

Like its predecessor, the incoming Walz administration will have to contend with critical questions on how to manage our natural resources for the benefit of all Minnesotans. It’s vital that the people of our state continue to raise our voices to ensure that our health, our state’s livability, and our future generations are the top priority in Minnesota.

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