Insider: October 6, 2017

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photo credit: NASA

Mining Waste and a Big Dam Problem

Last month, the Department of Natural Resources released draft dam permitting for PolyMet’s proposed sulfide mine in Northern Minnesota, and opened up a comment period on the permit that ends on October 16. The permit would allow PolyMet to use a 40-year-old dam, previously used to store taconite waste, to store waste from the new mine. Proponents present this as a safe way to keep wastewater and byproducts contained and out of other waters. But the reality is much more alarming.

First, as the permit itself states, the dam would be permanent – not just a long term risk, but a fixture that generations of Minnesotans would have to pay to maintain for hundreds of years. In comparison, the mine itself would operate for about 20 years. The indefinite maintenance, well after the area has been mined out, would be required just to keep this already-leaky dam from releasing its toxic contents into the watershed beyond it.

That’s not a guarantee, however, that the dam wouldn’t break – and the consequences of a rupture would be catastrophic. Three years ago, a similar dam at the Canadian Mount Polley mine collapsed, spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of mine waste into previously clean waters. The dam contained toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead, which are still contaminating vulnerable lakes and rivers. The resulting long-term damage to the local environment has been catastrophic and continues to mount.

A similar spill at PolyMet’s dam would threaten the St. Louis river watershed and other waters that thousands of Minnesotans depend on. The St. Louis River is the largest river to flow into Lake Superior, so a threat to this river is a threat to this Great Lake. Within hours, a spill of PolyMet’s dam could destroy buildings and wildlife areas and permanently damage local communities.

PolyMet refuses to consider using much a safer dry storage method, recommended by experts in the wake of the Mount Polley collapse, despite these dangers.

Risking the water, wildlife, people, and buildings downstream of the mine by approving this dam permit would be a shortsighted, dangerous move. Future generations of Minnesotans will not thank us for leaving them a dam that leaks toxic waste and saps their resources. The time to speak up is now – the DNR comment period closes on October 16! 

Click here to send a message to the DNR: that we need to commit to the health of Minnesota’s people and land, not to accepting this dam catastrophe. Click here for more information on the dam permit on the DNR website.

Many thanks to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for their tremendous research on this issue and setting up the comment submission page. Click here to watch an MCEA video on the dam project.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer pitches new pro-mining legislation

(From St. Cloud Times) — Twin Metals Minnesota could get its mineral licenses back and resume exploration in the Superior National Forest if a new bill from U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer becomes law. The Republican lawmaker’s proposal would give Congress the authority to approve mineral withdrawals in Minnesota’s national forest land — a task currently under the U.S. Forest Service’s purview. The bill also gives Congress, rather than the president, authority to designate national monuments on federal forest land in Minnesota.  Emmer says his bill, called the MINER Act, promotes economic development in Minnesota. But some conservation groups oppose the effort and say future mines put the Boundary Waters at risk. >>Read More.

Reader’s View: Water too critical to risk

(From Duluth News Tribune) — Human beings are 60 percent water. We are walking, talking, upright columns of water. Almost 100,000 miles of interconnected vessels, arteries, and capillaries run on water in our bodies. You are what you drink. Like in the human body, water flows in systems in the natural world, too. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest hold 20 percent of the fresh water in the National Forest System. Preserving fresh water must have value beyond commercial profit. Copper-nickel mining in sulfide rock is not like Minnesota’s mines of the past. >>Read More.



Lake Superior no longer the clearest of the Great Lakes

(From MPR News) — Many people who’ve spent much time around the Great Lakes take for granted that Lake Superior is the largest, coldest and clearest of the lakes. Not anymore. While Lake Superior has not gotten any dirtier, lakes Huron and Michigan have gotten significantly clearer in the past 20 years or so, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Great Lakes Research found. Anecdotally, scientists knew water clarity was improving in those lakes. But it hadn’t been quantified. “What surprised us was the magnitude of the change,” said Robert Shuchman, a study co-author and co-director of the Michigan Tech Research Institute. >>Read More.

image credit: Great Lakes Commission

Register now for the 13th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference

(From Healing Our Waters Coalition) — Join us at the 13th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Buffalo, New York! This year’s conference will run from Tuesday, October 17 through Thursday, October 19, 2017, and will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo. The Great Lakes Restoration Conference is the largest annual gathering of Great Lakes advocates and supporters, providing a three day forum to learn about cutting edge Great Lakes issues, hear from diverse voices from around the lakes, network with leaders at the center of Great Lakes restoration efforts, and develop strategies to advance federal, regional, and local restoration goals. We hope you will join us! Click here for registration and more info!


Winona sustainable home open houses this weekend

(From Winona Daily News) — This weekend area residents will have an opportunity for a firsthand look at the energy saving features featured in sustainable homes. This Saturday the Minnesota Sustainable Home Tour, promoted by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, will be holding several open houses in the area. Two homes in Winona and a home outside of La Crescent are among around 30 locations statewide showcasing ways to become more sustainable, use clean energy and save money. >>Read More.

image credit: MN350

Xcel’s solar garden program passes milestone: 40 projects online

(From Star Tribune) — Xcel Energy announced Wednesday that 40 community solar gardens are up and running, passing the 100-megawatt threshold for electricity production. The Community Solar Garden program was created by the legislature and launched in 2014. It’s aimed at bringing solar energy to residents and businesses who don’t want the expense and complications of building their own solar arrays. The program got off to a slow start, delayed by a flood of applications and disputes between Xcel and solar developers.  Xcel had once projected that 200 megawatts of solar garden power would be online by the end of 2016. Instead, only around 50 megawatts were running. (A megawatt is one million watts). >>Read More.



Progress strong on new buffer requirements

(From Mankato Free Press) — Almost all landowners required to put in 50-foot buffers along rivers and other public waters have installed them or are in the process of doing it as the Nov. 1 deadline approaches. Many more, narrower buffers still need to be installed along farm drainage ditches, but the deadline for those isn’t until Nov. 1 of 2018. “On the public water component, 94 percent of the parcels in the state have a sufficient parcel in place. We feel very good about that,” said Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources Executive Director John Jaschke Thursday during a press conference where state officials gave an update on the program. Gov. Mark Dayton worked with lawmakers to pass buffer strip regulations in 2015. >>Read More.

Events and Advocacy News                                                                                              

Women’s Congress for Future Generations to meet in Brooklyn Park, Nov 3-5

The Women’s Congress works to live out what Martin Luther King, Jr. described as the “Beloved Community.” It supports people stepping into collective power to use laws, policies and norms to transition to a just and sustainable world. The 2017 conference focuses on climate, health, and justice. It bears witness to communities of color who are hit hardest by climate change and pollution as people of color are statistically more likely to suffer from autism, lead poisoning and breast cancer, and seeks to create more just systems in response. 

Speakers include nationally recognized experts on climate change and women working in communities impacted by groundwater contamination, pipelines, and toxins in our homes.

Learn more and register with the Women’s Congress for Future Generations! 

Calling all advocacy groups: Apply to be a Capitol Pathways Internship Host

Applications are now open for organizations to host a Capitol Pathways intern in the 2018 Legislative Session. With the long-term goal of making our government truly representative of our communities, the program seeks to open access to the Minnesota capitol to the next generation of leaders of color. Through this program, interns will build relationships with established capitol leaders, gain exposure to various kinds of careers in policy, get real-world experience in career fields they would like to learn more about and build a strong professional resume in the process. This is a spring internship and will run from January-May 2018.

Click for more information on Capitol Pathways and how to apply!


Weekly Outdoor Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!            

1. What MN lake features two islands that form the smallest National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S.?

2. What state forest in the Arrowhead region is named for a European country?

3. At less than 60°F, what northern community has the lowest average summer temperature of any Minnesota city?

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Organizing Representative – Twin Cities | Sierra Club

Partnership Coordinator | Fresh Energy

Managing Editor, Energy News Network | Fresh Energy

Clean Energy Associate | Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Minnesota Organizer | Pesticide Action Network

Public Engagement Fellow | Sierra Club North Star Chapter

Conservation Director | Friends of the Mississippi River

Director of Public Affairs | Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness

State Policy Community Organizer | Land Stewardship Project

State Director | Environment Minnesota

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Trivia Answers: 1) Lake Mille Lacs. 2) Finland State Forest. 3) Grand Marais.

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

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