Newly introduced bills would protect Minnesota from sulfide mining

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, lawmakers introduced bills in the Minnesota Legislature and in Congress that represent perhaps the most aggressive effort yet to create new protections for our state from copper-nickel sulfide mining. These bills are being championed by MEP member groups, and would help prevent sulfide mining pollution from destroying some of our most valuable resources.

First, on Wednesday, Minnesota Legislators introduced a bill that would enact a “prove-it-first” standard for any non-ferrous ore mine in the state. The legislation would ban any such mine from being permitted in Minnesota until the proposing company and state regulators can prove that a similar mine has operated for at least 10 years, and then shut down for an additional minimum of 10 years, without polluting the surrounding environment. No sulfide ore mine that has ever operated in the United States would meet that standard – each one of them has its own nasty track record.

This bill cuts at a key argument used by backers of Minnesota sulfide mining proposals like PolyMet and Twin Metals, which is that they can guarantee that the new mines will contain waste safely using new technology. Much of that technology is untested. Some parts of it – like the tailings dam that has been proposed for waste storage at PolyMet – have been tested and found wanting, as witnessed by the collapse of multiple tailings dams worldwide in the past few years.

The point of prove-it-first, which until recently was state law in Wisconsin, is that Minnesota should not be the testing ground for risky technology in an industry that has an abysmal track record. Our waters and wetlands in the Boundary Waters and in the St. Louis River watershed are one of our most valuable – and vulnerable – resources. A waste spillage or other mine disaster would poison these waters for centuries, and the destruction of wetlands would exacerbate the climate crisis. With that long-term perspective, 20 years of proof is an entirely reasonable requirement.

On Thursday, Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum unveiled her own legislation that would specifically keep sulfide mining out of Minnesota in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is both a top recreation destination and a highly vulnerable and interconnected ecosystem. If waste from the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely made its way into the Boundary Waters watershed, it would quickly contaminate vast swaths of the area. 

Minnesota’s waters have great need for protection in this era of climate change, and judging by the permits that mining companies have already secured, Minnesota’s current laws are not up to the task of this protection. Too often, mining companies have been able to either influence the lawmaking process in their favor or game a regulatory process that frequently favors them. Fortunately, the tide may now be turning, as evidenced by Winona County’s success in banning frac sand mining (see news story below). Prove-it-first and protection for the Boundary Waters would be much-needed and powerful steps in the right direction, toward safeguarding our precious lands and waters.

What’s ahead in Legislation in 2021: Four Questions

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, all 201 Minnesota Legislators were sworn into their seats, commencing the start of the 91st Minnesota Legislature’s first session. As they were for the past two years, the House and Senate are controlled by the DFL and Republican Party respectively, presenting a challenge to legislation. But 2021 will be different from 2020, and MEP and our allies are committed to making sure that it is for the better.

Right now, our nation and our communities are grappling with the profoundly disturbing crimes inflicted at the US Capitol on Wednesday. As of this writing, state patrol officers are still stationed outside the Minnesota State Capitol. In these times, our commitment to democratic participation, racial and environmental justice, and safety for all communities has never been more important.

Legislators face critical governance questions this year, and MEP will be pushing to make them decide in favor of the climate action, ecological restoration, and public health measures we need. Here’s a preview of some of those questions:

How do we address the budget deficit equitably? Minnesota is forecasted to deal with a $1.27 billion budget deficit from mid-2021-2023, something that the Legislature will have to take into account when crafting a funding package this year. Issues that may influence this budget include possible federal aid for local government, balancing spending and taxation, and shifting priorities. With Minnesota’s families struggling due to the pandemic, lawmakers need to find solutions that prevent further harm.

The Legislature should recognize that one important way out of this economic crisis is to invest in sustainable projects that benefit Minnesotans. Energy efficiency, replacing water infrastructure, the development of new farming systems – these are programs that create jobs in the long-term and improve our quality of life. That should be reflected in the state budget.

Recent budget omnibus bills have included policy pills that harm our environment, stripping away protections for natural resources in favor of industrial special interests. Fighting these proposals, and showing that ordinary Minnesotans oppose them, will continue to be a top MEP priority.

Can we stop Line 3 in the Legislature? A number of Legislators elected in November are strongly opposed to the Line 3 pipeline’s construction, and we deeply appreciate their efforts. However, lawmakers on the opposite side have made yearly attempts to stifle protest against the pipeline, with bills that chill free speech and threaten to divide the resistance. These bills cannot be allowed to pass.

How will we reach carbon neutrality and protect the climate? Though COVID-19 relief is at the top of mind for all of us, we cannot ignore the growing crisis of climate change. As President-elect Biden said in August, climate change is one of the four major crises America faces, along with racial injustice, the pandemic, and the suffering economy. MEP and our allies will continue to push Legislators to bring Minnesota to carbon neutrality, through efforts that cut emissions like clean transportation and electricity, and efforts that absorb emissions like climate-friendly farming systens and ecological restoration.

How can Minnesota address racial and social injustice? Events of the past year have made it clearer than ever that the United States generally – and Minnesota in particular – face a reckoning on racial inequity. The disparities between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color in our state are wide in areas like income, housing, public safety, environmental quality, and health. While the Legislature passed some law enforcement reforms in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last year, much more work remains to be done.

Minnesotans’ voices will be critical. Though most legislative meetings will be held remotely this year, Minnesota legislators continue to need and want to hear their constituents’ voices. We encourage you to contact your lawmakers to let them know your priorities for 2021, and MEP will provide opportunities to do so on specific issues throughout the session.

Studies demonstrate that letting water pollution get worse has enormous cost

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Over the past several weeks, two reports on water quality highlighted the fact that water pollution is an extremely expensive problem, one that government agencies have underestimated or refused to fully address. 

Rollback of Clean Water Rule was based on dubious assumptions

The most recent report, from the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, researched the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Clean Water Rule, a rollback that became effective in June of this year. While it may be too early to evaluate the impact of the Trump Administration’s much weaker replacement rule, the Committee found that the agencies made assumptions about the costs and benefits of its rules that were scientifically unsound.

In creating the much-weakened rule and removing thousands of waters from federal protection, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers treated individual streams and wetlands as “local public goods,” as if they were unconnected to other bodies of water. That’s incorrect at the foundational level. Everything flows downstream – small streams, ditches, and wetlands are vital components to a larger network of rivers.

The federal agencies also engaged in magical thinking when they promulgated the rule. They claimed that when waters are withdrawn from federal regulation, states will create their own protections that will be just as beneficial as those at the federal level. A quick glance at the history of clean water policy in the United States shows that not to be the case. Individual states have very rarely created new protections for waters when the federal government loses its jurisdiction. The national government should be setting a baseline and allowing states to go above it, not abdicating responsibility and ignoring history.

These deliberately shallow justifications by the Trump Administration skewed the cost-benefit analysis of the new rule, making it seem as though the rollback would provide much benefits much greater than the harms it would inflict. And it’s becoming more and more evident that the harms of water pollution are greater than our agencies are willing to admit, or at least act on.

Nitrate in Wisconsin’s drinking water is an expensive problem

report released in late October by a team from Clean Wisconsin, the Environmental Working Group, and the University of Wisconsin found that nitrate pollution in drinking water carries heavy costs. They analyzed data from 2010-2017 in the State of Wisconsin, and found that each year, nitrate contaminated drinking water contributed to a number of cancer cases ranging from roughly 100-300, as well as dozens of cases of babies with birth defects. They estimated that the financial costs of these nitrate-based health problems alone ranged from $23-80 million each year.

Wisconsin and Minnesota are sister states with similar population, hydrology, and industrial-scale, row-crop agriculture – especially corn and soybeans. Fertilizer from this type of farming at the industrial scale is the main factor of nitrate contamination. 

We know that nitrate is ravaging water supplies, especially in rural communities and private wells. It’s contributing to the toxification of lakes and rivers, further damaging the ecosystems that people, wildlife, and our economy relies on. While both Minnesota and Wisconsin have taken positive steps to reduce nitrate contamination, the only long-term and surefire way to fix this problem is to change the way we grow food – to introduce crops and farming methods that maintain healthy soil and reduce fertilizer use.

It can be expensive to transition to new clean water crops and farming methods. And it’s essential that farmers be supported in pioneering these techniques to make sure their financial situation benefits along with the health of the water and land. But right now, the costs of water pollution are being paid by those downstream – by people who suffer health problems from their drinking water and by ecosystems that are permanently disrupted. One way or another, water pollution comes with a bill to pay.

MEP’s work shines light on lead in Duluth drinking water

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

For months, MEP has been working to help shine a spotlight and help families in Duluth through one of the most potent household health threats there is: toxic lead in drinking water. Our work aims to help families take steps to protect themselves from the harm that lead causes

Lead is among the most common toxins encountered by families in their homes. It’s a potent neurotoxin that can cause permanent damage to nerves and vital organs, especially in children. Since governments around the world began banning lead from being used as an additive in gasoline, lead blood levels have improved, but millions of people are still at risk of exposure to lead in aging paint and in lead service lines that transport their household water. 

Cities like Duluth in the Great Lakes Basin frequently draw their water from relatively clean sources like Lake Superior. But by the time the water reaches the tap in many homes, it has already traveled through aging lead service pipes that leech the toxin into the water. People of color and low-income families are especially at risk.

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, but the US EPA uses 15 micrograms per liter (mg/L) as a measure to trigger mandatory action. MEP set out to find more information on how this problem is impacting Duluth’s neighborhoods.

Our work so far, organized by MEP Duluth staffers Stephan Witherspoon and Andrew Slade, has tested 17 samples from homes in the Lincoln Park, Hillside, and Denfield neighborhoods. Those areas had already been identified by the Minnesota Department of Health for their relatively high levels of lead in infant blood.

We found that nine of the samples tested so far had non-detectable levels of lead, but the other eight gave cause for concern. Four had detectable levels below 5 mg/L, three had between 5 and 15 mg/L, and one had levels far above 15 mg/L. As part of our follow-up, we provided filters and other resources to help mitigate the lead. Running the tap for at least two minutes before its first use each day can help reduce the amount of lead in the water, though it isn’t foolproof.

Filters and running water down the drain is not a solution to the lead pipes problem. Aside from the long-term cost of both techniques, many families are unaware that their home pipes or service lines contain lead, and by the time they find out about their exposure, they may already suffer from the effects.

For MEP’s Stephan, there’s a clear link between the symptoms of lead poisoning and the mental health issues experienced by youth in the community. How many productive lives have been destroyed by an invisible poison in our drinking water?

The local community in Duluth has three demands for moving forward on this issue, and MEP is supporting them in this quest. First, lead testing should be readily available and free to all Duluth residents who request it, just like it is in St. Paul and other cities. The city should develop and make easily available an inventory of all lead service lines in Duluth. And it should commit to replacing all lead service lines within 10 years, using a clear funding plan that draws on city, state, and federal dollars.

Replacing lead service lines would be a fully achievable public health win. Mitigating the danger of lead paint in older homes will be a long and continual process, but targeting lead pipes can be done quickly and relatively inexpensively, and according to the MN Department of Health address about 50% of the source of lead poisoning for families. It’s time to get the lead out.

MEP would like to acknowledge the support for this project from Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, River Network, and EcoLibrium3.

Advisory council’s resignation shines light on environmental injustice in Minnesota

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Earlier this week, twelve of the seventeen members of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Environmental Justice Advisory Group (EJAG) announced their resignation from the group, citing the MPCA’s approval of permits for the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline as the proximate cause. The resigning members also detailed patterns of dismissal and disregard for their work and advice by the agency.

As of this writing, the MPCA no longer advertises the group in their webpage on Environmental Justice.

These twelve individuals include folks working in education, medicine, and environmental advocacy, who share a commitment and expertise on the ways that past and present agency decisions have disproportionately harmed indigenous people and people of color. In advance of this resignation, the Environmental Justice Advisory Group had previously expressed opposition to the new Line 3 and signed onto an op-ed against the pipeline authored by MEP in collaboration with several other organizations.

By resigning in the face of the agency permitting decision, these twelve members have made an important, strong statement about the MPCA and the Walz Administrations’ priorities in this matter. MEP briefed both of those entities on how they could deny permits for Line 3 in a way that would hold up to legal challenges. They chose to do otherwise, in spite of thousands of Minnesotans and the group they had appointed to advise them on environmental justice saying that the pipeline is environmentally unjust.  

The new pipeline’s projected impacts on climate are profound and well-established, and the expected impacts of its construction and operation on Ojibwe communities will be deeply harmful. As the resigning members wrote, Line 3’s construction will bring with it the same patterns of sexual violence and exacerbation of the missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) crisis as other pipelines. It will violate the treaty rights of tribal nations, several of which already have oil pipelines through their lands. Many health professionals now project that Line 3’s construction will cause a rise in local COVID-19 cases. All for a Canadian company to profit by moving unneeded oil through Minnesota.

The problem goes deeper than just this pipeline. Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation on public health and environmental quality. In the Twin Cities, communities of color tend to suffer hotter summer temperatures than predominantly white areas, having more concrete and fewer trees. These communities suffer higher rates of lead poisoning, air pollution, and asthma.

The list goes on and on, and every item on it is a damning indictment, not of personal choices, but of policy decisions that Minnesota’s government has made for decades. These decisions – redlining, pipeline approval, ignoring treaty rights, zoning heavy industry in areas of poverty, and failing to invest more in public transportation – have betrayed Minnesotans of color. Not all of these decisions were made in the name of white privilege, but with such enormous racial inequity, structural racism in the environment in which we live is their ultimate effect.

Minnesota has a lot of work ahead to make amends. For their part, the MPCA needs to assess their level of commitment to environmental justice, and consider whether they can serve the interests of a foreign pipeline company and marginalized Minnesotans at the same time. The agency should take proactive steps to determine how to better include whatever entity succeeds this advisory group in its decision making. It’s time for the agency to recognize that simply sticking with their historic understanding and use of the law and following past practices is simply not adequate leadership for today’s new realities.

As Henry Ford said; “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” And that’s just not good enough for the people of Minnesota or our beloved natural environment.

We need to retire fossil fuel infrastructure, not renew it

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) made the irresponsible – but ultimately unsurprising – decision to approve crucial water permits for Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline, moving it even closer to construction. If you’ve read our previous articles on the subject, you’ll know why approving this pipeline is a disaster for the climate, a threat to our waters, and a mockery of environmental justice, not to mention the risks of COVID-19 spread in northern Minnesota during construction and the pile of evidence linking pipeline construction to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.

MEP shared briefing materials with Governor Tim Walz and MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop last week on exactly how the Walz Administration could legally and scientifically justify denying these permits to Enbridge. Unfortunately, the agency seems to have chosen a business-as-usual course on these permits rather than fight against Enbridge — a company that profits from harming our climate, water, land and people.  A legal challenge to Line 3’s Certificate of Need by the Minnesota Department of Commerce continues.

This decision is in stark contrast to an exciting development this week in Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline to be shut down. Line 5 runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and Enbridge’s negligence has seriously endangered those waters. The pipeline has been a hazard for years, and revoking its ability to operate under Michigan law is a strong and much-needed decision.

Oil leaks out of pipelines, natural gas explodes, coal chokes cities, and all of them contribute to the greenhouse effect that is endangering our future. Yet Minnesota utilities are still betting on fossil fuels, with Xcel and Minnesota Power currently attempting to secure approval for gas power plants in Becker and the Twin Ports, respectively. Natural gas isn’t a “bridge” fuel – it may not have as high of a carbon impact as coal, but building gas plants won’t help us meet our climate goals in the critical next few years – they’ll put us on a more dangerous path.

In turning away from fossil fuels, we secure a safer future for future generations, but we need to make sure that communities that currently rely on those fuels aren’t left behind. Ensuring a transition that provides good jobs and healthy local economies for workers and residents is essential – but we need to make sure the transition fully happens.

The fight against Line 3 is not over – our community will carry on with legal challenges, protest, and advocacy. The fight against natural gas continues. And when new and returning elected leaders take office in January, we need them to take strong and science-driven action to convert our economy to carbon-free energy. No new gas plants, no new coal, no new pipelines. We can’t afford it.

MPCA to make Line 3 decision, with climate and state’s waters on the line

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Next week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is expected to decide whether to approve critical water permits for the Enbridge Line 3 replacement oil pipeline. These permits are among the last items required for the pipeline’s construction, and they offer a critical opportunity for Minnesota’s government to live up to its responsibility and protect its people from Line 3.

Scientifically, this is not a difficult decision. Building and running Line 3 would be a climate disaster, with greenhouse emissions from the oil being consumed and the pipeline operation exceeding the climate impact of Minnesota’s entire economy each year. Its construction would jeopardize critical wetlands and natural resources and trample on the rights of indigenous people in Minnesota. It would put miles of new water resources in danger of a catastrophic oil spill.

The economic case against the pipeline is also strong, with oil demand declining as transportation and other sectors get cleaner. The Department of Commerce found that Enbridge has not demonstrated that our state has a need for the pipeline’s oil, and has filed and refiled appeals of the pipeline’s Certificate of Need.

Much will come down to the MPCA’s interpretation of its authority under state law – whether its leaders believe that they can deny Line 3’s permits. The answer to that question is an emphatic “yes,” as MEP and our partners told Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan this week. If the MPCA blocks Line 3, it will have solid ground to do so, and if it is challenged in court, it can win.

However, even with all the scientific, economic, and legal justification to block this pipeline, we simply don’t know if the Walz Administration and the MPCA will put Minnesotans first without summoning the voice of the public. We need Minnesotans to speak up now, and implore Governor Walz and MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop to reject this pipeline – not to require safety concessions, not to negotiate over its construction impact, but to deny it with prejudice.

You can reach Governor Walz at 651-201-3400 and the MPCA at 651-296-6300.

MN Climate Caucus proposes bold solutions

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Presidential candidates’ climate views have little in common

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday evening, the Minnesota House Climate Action Caucus released its Climate Action Plan, which will help guide legislation introduced in 2021 and beyond. In a Facebook video, State Representatives in the Caucus and members of Minnesota’s environmental community explained the plan and asked for questions and feedback from Minnesotans.

It’s a great plan – more ambitious than any that we’ve seen in Minnesota. While there are priorities our MEP coalition might add on issues like fossil fuel infrastructure, the policies and investments it proposes are necessary and highly beneficial for our state, and we hope to see many Minnesotans speaking up in support during the next Legislative session.

The plan’s first goal is to reduce Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by the year 2030. It covers the three primary source sectors of Minnesota’s emissions: transportation, electricity, and land use, as well as other areas. On transportation, it proposes to build up transit while electrifying the personal vehicle trips that remain, and employing smart land use to make amenities more accessible to non-drivers. It sets a target of 100% clean electricity on an accelerated timeline, while prioritizing local clean energy jobs. And it supports cover crops, soil health, local food systems, and habitat restoration to utilize Minnesota’s land as a natural carbon sink.

Importantly, the plan’s strategies focus on securing a just transition – good jobs, lower energy costs, and benefits for communities who are disadvantaged by structural inequity and the pollution-heavy sectors of our economy. This includes supporting workers whose jobs currently rely on fossil fuels, planning for adaptation to extreme weather patterns, and investing in efficiency upgrades for low-income households.

Climate change is the largest crisis that has ever threatened Minnesota and the world, but our response to it presents us with a unique opportunity: we can change our economy so that the way we power our lives no longer has such harmful and inequitable side effects. We can ensure that Minnesotans in low-income zip codes no longer suffer higher rates of asthma due to pollution. We can create an economically vital agricultural landscape that allows bees and fish to thrive. We can secure community ownership of electricity generation to keep power costs from breaking the bank.

Minnesota can lead on climate action, but we’re counting on the federal government to tackle the global crisis. Two visions of the future were on display last week at the final Presidential Debate of this election. The section on climate change (finally, there was a section on climate change!) was particularly interesting, and can be found in the transcript at about 14:21. 

We ask that all our subscribers cast a ballot. You can do it in person by 8:00 PM on Tuesday, November 3rd . Remember not to mail in a ballot if you have one, but to turn it in to a designated location. And think about our planet’s future when you do.

Minnesota’s government should lead, not stand on sidelines, in Line 3 fight

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The extreme weather and fire events of the past year have made it clearer than ever that climate change is here, and that we need to address it as quickly as we can.

There’s a lot that Minnesota can do to lead on climate change by reducing emissions and retiring fossil fuels. But the strongest, simplest action our state can take to fight climate change is to stop the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge from building its new and expanded Line 3 oil pipeline across our state. The yearly greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and operation of the new Line 3 is calculated to exceed that of Minnesota’s entire economy during its anticipated 30-year operation. It would be a catastrophe for the climate. 

While the current, aging Line 3 pipeline is a hazard to Minnesota waters, the environmentally beneficial solution is to shut that pipeline down, not build a new one. Construction of the new pipeline will destroy critical habitat and carbon sinks, threaten entirely new and vulnerable bodies of water, and inflict harm on the rights and safety of indigenous communities. (Our friends at Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate have released a video series that details exactly how the impact of this pipeline would harm Minnesotans.)

Unfortunately, state agencies have a mixed record at best when it comes from protecting Minnesota’s future from this pipeline’s harms.

On Wednesday, Governor Walz’s Climate Subcabinet held a joint, public meeting online with members of the Environmental Quality Board. Both entities include state agency commissioners who oversee various aspects of our environment, and both are chaired by Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Commissioner Laura Bishop. MEP staff attended this meeting, and heard about state agency’s actions to reduce emissions across the state. 

Through a live survey, members of the public were able to ask questions of the EQB and Subcabinet members, and many of the top-rated submissions asked various iterations of the question, “What can you do to protect us from Line 3?” Unfortunately, state leaders did not express opposition to the pipeline or commit to any step that would make permitting less likely. Several state permits have already been granted, and MPCA water permits are currently being considered. MEP has asked that these permits be denied with prejudice.

Earlier this year, the Walz Administration’s Commerce Department took the commendable step of refiling an appeal against Line 3’s Certificate of Need, an action which could block or at least delay the pipeline. This action was in line with the Commerce Department’s previous correct analysis that Enbridge has done nothing to demonstrate that Minnesota needs Line 3. The Minnesota Senate then voted to remove Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley from his post, with the appeal being one of the reasons highlighted in the debate.

It should concern Minnesotans who care about a healthy, livable planet that our state leaders are not speaking out forcefully on this issue. We have a rare opportunity to fight climate change – and the world’s addition to oil – proactively by blocking oil infrastructure that will lock in more use of some of the world’s dirtiest oil for decades. Leaders who genuinely look to lead on climate simply must use all their authority and creativity to stop Line 3 now. There will not be a second chance. This is it.

Bonding bill passage is a win for Minnesota’s environment

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, a broad array of environmental groups, businesses, labor unions, and communities across Minnesota had reason to celebrate as the Legislature finally passed a capital investment bill after months of negotiation. This $1.8 billion bonding bill will mostly go toward infrastructure in Minnesota, delivering benefits to residents and much-needed stimulus to the economy. While legislators admitted that it was a compromise bill, this package will go a long way to making Minnesotans safer, healthier, and more prosperous.

Great for water

For most of this year, MEP and our allies on this issue have been participating in the Fix the Pipes alliance, a coalition aligned around the goal of securing at least $300 million in bonding dollars for water infrastructure. We kept up the pressure, sending letters to lawmakers and urging our subscribers to call them and ask for this funding to be passed. At long last, the Legislature not only met our ask, but exceeded it, enacting more than $302 million in funding for water systems.

That money will go toward wastewater management, safe drinking water systems, protections from flooding, conservation techniques, new pipes, and more. In many cases, the bonds will unlock matching federal grant money. This kind of funding is especially important for small, rural communities that are often unable to cover the cost of necessary water upgrades through local property taxes alone.

Fixing and installing all this new water infrastructure will help keep pollution out of Minnesota lakes and rivers. It’s also estimated that it will create more than 7000 jobs across the state, kickstarting shovel-ready projects that have been waiting for legislative funding.

Good for transit

While the Legislature could have done better at supporting on climate- and people-friendly transportation in this bonding bill, the transit victories in the bill are significant. The Legislature fully funded the Metro Transit B Line and D Line bus rapid transit projects, which will establish two new high-frequency bus routes in the western Metro and between Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively (see Move Minnesota’s explainer on this victory.) 

More we need to do

There’s no question that this long-awaited legislation is a victory for Minnesota. But it also highlights how much more needs to be done. The cost of Minnesota’s clean water needs numbers in the billions of dollars, and we hope that this initial $302 million investment paves the way to even more investments to clean up and prevent pollution and keep Minnesotans healthy. Minnesota also has a need to update our infrastructure to meet our 21st century climate needs by restoring habitat, building more rails and bus routes, making new buildings carbon-neutral, and helping our power systems take full advantage of clean electricity. With both our economy and our environment in need of new ideas and new public investment, MEP will be working in 2021 to keep Minnesota moving forward.