Regulatory failures emerge across the state

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesotans in both the Driftless region and the heart of south Minneapolis have received rude awakenings this month, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepping in to warn that the resources they rely on to live are more polluted than many had thought.

In the rolling farmland of the southeastern Driftless region, the EPA responded to a petition – led by MEP member Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy along with several environmental groups – asking for action on nitrate contamination in the region’s water supply. In a letter to state agencies, the EPA agreed that the state is failing in its legal and moral responsibilities and further action is sorely needed. Nitrate is a human health risk, especially for infants, and has been linked to several types of cancer. And the Driftless region, with its pollutant-vulnerable karst geology, is full of it.

In the East Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis, meanwhile, after a surprise on-site inspection, the EPA revealed that Smith Foundry has been polluting the area with lead and other harmful airborne substances far in excess of the law for at least five years. During that time, the iron foundry failed to operate necessary safety equipment, resulting in toxic emissions that will cause lasting harm to the health of area residents.

For some residents, these revelations aren’t a surprise. Many well owners in southeast Minnesota have become increasingly aware of nitrate in their water, as well as the culprits: primarilyy row crop agriculture and livestock feedlots. Many Minneapolis residents have noticed the smoke, soot, and smells emitting from Smith Foundry and asked city and state leaders to act to protect them.

Neither of these problems come as a shock, but the fact that they’ve gone unadresseed by state agencies like the Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Department of Agriculture (MDA) is a deep source of frustration. It’s evidence that, despite the professionalism and abilities of agency staff, industries hold excessive influence over the agencies. Thanks to that influence, they’ve been able to avoid accountability.

A rebuke to state agencies

The EPA’s letter to state agencies declared in no uncertain terms that Minnesota’s efforts to manage nitrate have fallen far short. It requested that the state develop a comprehensive plan to identify all impacted households in the region and provide them with an alternative source of drinking water. Equally as important is the EPA urging state agencies to address the long-term sources of this pollution, especially manure.

The “request” carries significant weight: if the state fails to act swiftly and effectively, the EPA can then step in and use its emergency powers to take action directly as originally requested by the organizations that petitioned it.

In Minneapolis, the EPA is dealing directly with a single polluter. Thanks to their inspections earlier this year, the EPA identified the violations and in August began pursuing an enforcement action, which could lead to fines or other penalties for the foundry.

Smith Foundry is one of many industrial facilities with a permit from the MPCA, requiring it to adhere to pollution standards. But that was cold comfort to the residents of East Phillips, a community where most residents are people of color and where health outcomes are already among the worst in the state, outcomes that are associated with industrial pollution.

The surprise inspection by the EPA was a critical moment for protecting the community, and a rare one, arguably too rare.

Generally, polluting industries are given wide latitude to self-report their pollution emissions and prevention measures. Agencies – over which these industries wield significant influence – tend to treat them as customers, not potential threats to public health.

MEP appreciates the work of our state agencies like the MPCA to track pollution and keep the public informed. But after years of legislative efforts to limit funding and effectiveness of the agency regulatory programs, their financial capacity and enthusiasm for adequate regulation is reduced. They clearly don’t use all their regulatory authority to keep polluters in line, or worse, collude with them to bring dubious permits to approval.

That kind of collusion led to a rebuke for the MPCA at the Minnesota Supreme Court earlier this year over the PolyMet mining project. The Court ruled that the MPCA had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its approval of the mine’s water pollution permit due to the agency attempting to hide EPA concerns from the public record.

Minnesotans should be able to expect that state agencies will step up to halt or mitigate dangerous pollution when it arises. Agencies need not be  antagonistic towards industries, but they should fall on the side of putting our health and families first when in doubt. Right now, we can’t count on that.

Things need to change. The answer may be clearer and tougher oversight (like the bill reestablishing the MPCA Citizens’ Board) by the public, or by legislative committees. It may be tougher laws – like the new Cumulative Impacts law passed earlier this year – additional agency resources, or executive orders. We know for certain the status quo isn’t working.

The role of community action

The bright spot in these stories is that communities and organizations are stepping up to identify and fight pollution. We especially the thank MEP member organizations that joined with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy to petition the EPA on the nitrate issue, including: CURE, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Mississippi River, Izaak Walton League Minnesota Division, Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota Trout Unlimited, and Minnesota Well Owners Organization.

We hope the day will soon come when state agencies are far more proactive and protective about pollution threats to Minnesotans’ health and natural environment. When we won’t have to rely on the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and do the work that should be done by our own state agencies. In the meantime, it’s clear that Minnesota’s grassroots environmental groups have a big role to play in getting us there.

Biden speech highlights Minnesota’s farming crossroads

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

President Biden’s Wednesday visit to Minnesota brought him to a Northfield hog farm, where a group of Minnesotans – including MEP Executive Director Steve Morse – gathered to hear the President speak about his administration’s agenda for rural America. 

Minnesota is a good place to talk about the future of farm country. The state has the fifth-largest agricultural economy in the nation, and the Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates that the sector supports 388,134 jobs. 

At the same time, rural Minnesota is in trouble. Water pollution has been on the rise for decades and largely isn’t improving, leaving lakes, streams, and wells across the state ever more contaminated by fertilizer and other chemicals. Climate change is making farming a more volatile industry, alternately threatening drought and flooding rather than moderate conditions. 

Farmland has become increasingly consolidated among fewer owners, making it hard for small and midsized farms to compete. And the social and economic ripple effects of these crises hit small, rural communities the hardest, though they don’t stop there.

So it was with a sense of urgency, perhaps, that many in the audience listened to President Biden’s remarks on rural America. The President noted – correctly, in our view – that consolidation is part of the problem “over the past four decades, we’ve lost over 400,000 farms in America…that’s an area roughly equal to the size of Minnesota, North and South Dakota combined.” 

The President then laid out his Administration’s investments in addressing farm country’s challenges:

  • $20 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funds for various climate-friendly farming practices, including cover crops, nutrient management, prescribed grazing, and soil carbon storage. These investments will help make farming cleaner, especially in terms of water pollution. But the implementation will be key: short-term carbon storage offers dubious benefit to climate action if it’s not done consistently. There is much work yet to be done to address the climate impacts of agriculture. 
  • $1 billion – spent earlier in the President’s term – for small and midsized meat processors. Consolidation in the meat industry has led to a few companies dominating the market, reducing their accountability and imposing a top-down model on animal agriculture. MEP, along with fellow farming advocates, has supported investments in these smaller processors at the state level.
  • $1 billion in new funding for rural infrastructure, including electric and water utilities. Upgraded water systems are vital to providing rural communities with drinkable water and protecting those downstream from pollution. And improved electrical transmission will help increase reliability and support the transition to clean energy.
  • $145 million in new funding for farmers and rural communities to install clean energy technologies, such as solar panels. Solar and wind energy – both of which can coexist with crops – are proving to be a financial boon for many rural communities.
  • $274 million in new funding for high-speed internet in rural areas. High-speed internet is vital to economic opportunity for small communities, especially those left in the lurch when local industries move or shut down.

MEP applauds these investments, but we also took note of the President’s mention of supporting “homegrown biofuels” that will contribute $3 billion to Minnesota’s economy. Minnesota’s history with biofuels, unfortunately, has created some serious problems.

While corn used to produce ethanol brings in plenty of revenue for the state, growing it brings vast quantities of fertilizer and pesticides to the landscape. It’s the number one driver of nutrient pollution and pollinator decline in the state. And while ethanol has been touted as a “cleaner” alternative to petroleum, it’s a questionable climate benefit due to the emissions generated by its production and processing. Minnesota’s fields and communities would do better if we diversified our cropping choices.

That’s not to say that biofuels are always the boogeyman, but the type of crop matters. Scientists at the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative are developing cleaner alternatives. Cover crops like pennycress and winter camelina can be the best of both worlds: maintaining and enriching the soil, protecting water quality, and reducing pollution while producing oil that can be used for climate-friendly diesel and jet fuel.

Overall, we’re encouraged by the President’s focus on a greener future for rural America. As we work to solve the environmental crises and face the worsening impacts of climate change, it’s vital that no community is left behind.

Twin Metals asks DNR to allow new search for minerals

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Twin Metals sulfide ore mining project is more or less dead (at least for now), thanks to a federal mining ban and revoked mineral leases. But just before Halloween, the projects’ backers have Twin Metals shambling on, zombielike, with a bid to start drilling exploratory holes for state-owned minerals not far from the original site.

Twin Metals applied for a permit to drill six holes on state land in northern St. Louis County on September 22. The DNR notified the company that it would make its decision within twenty days, meaning it’s likely that decision has already been made.

For the sake of our northern waters and the people who call them home, we hope that decision will put Twin Metals back to rest.

The risks that brought Twin Metals to a halt

Environmentalists, Anishinaabe tribes, and recreational businesses have been sounding the alarm about Twin Metals and others like it – including the PolyMet mine in the St. Louis River watershed – since it was first proposed. The controversial mine proposal in the watershed of the Boundary Waters would have likely been the first of its kind in Minnesota. The state is home to plenty of iron mines but none yet targeting copper, nickel, or other metals locked in sulfide ore. 

The mining of sulfide ores carries with it acidic pollution that can devastate nearby waters and habitat. No such mine has ever operated in the United States without causing that kind of pollution. In the Boundary Waters – a highly interconnected and vulnerable watershed – such pollution would be a nightmare. It would create a similar catastrophe if it reached the waters of the St. Louis River, which flows through communities like the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation and the city of Duluth before emptying into Lake Superior – home to 10% of the world’s freshwater.

Northern Minnesota’s most valuable resource isn’t hiding in the rocks – its the massive quantity of freshwater in Rainy Lake, Lake Superior, and thousands of other bodies of water. As climate change, overuse, and pollution make clean water more scarce, these waters will become ever more valuable.

And that’s not including the destruction of wetlands, forests, and other vulnerable lands that are vital to confronting climate change. The copper, nickel, and other minerals in the Duluth Complex – the mineral formation that Twin Metals and PolyMet have sought to mine – aren’t concentrated in one place, but are spread out thinly under the water-rich landscape. Northern Minnesota would be permanently scarred by these mines.

Thankfully, both mines have faced tremendous headwinds over the past two years.

In 2022, the Biden Interior Department cancelled Twin Metals’ mineral leases, though the company sued in a bid to reinstate them. Earlier this year, Interior reversed a Trump Administration policy and placed a 20-year ban on mineral extraction on federal lands near the Boundary Waters. And last month, a federal judge halted PolyMet’s lawsuit to reinstate its leases.

PolyMet, meanwhile, has been brought to a halt – perhaps a permanent one – thanks in large part to the efforts of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The tribe used its standing as a government to argue that the mine plan – which was approved by state and federal regulators – would violate its water quality standards. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed and cancelled PolyMet’s wetland destruction permit.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from Twin Metals’ determination to keep digging, these mining companies have a habit of persisting despite setback after setback.

What happens if Twin Metals gets its permit to drill?

The average size for a drill pad – the platform used for drilling – is about 500 square feet, and the diamond drill itself is only a few inches in diameter. But drilling can still have environmental risks, leaking acidic chemicals and drilling fluid and causing significant noise pollution for miles around.

The minerals in question are on state-owned lands, meaning they aren’t subject to the federal moratorium on mineral extraction near the Boundary Waters. It’s possible that Twin Metals could push forward with a new project. It may also be using the drilling to signal to its financial backers that the company is biding its time, hoping that political changes do away with the 20-year mineral extraction ban.

At the same time, these companies and their backers continue to make the case that Minnesota needs these mines. They point to the creation of high-paying jobs and economic activity. They somewhat cynically appeal to environmentalists by claiming the copper, nickel, and other ores of the Duluth complex are necessary for the energy transition and fighting climate change.

No doubt these mines would create jobs – temporarily, at least, before the boom-bust cycle of the extraction economy reaches its inevitable bust, leaving nearby communities with polluted water and the expenses of cleaning it up. And it’s true that a world struggling with climate change needs certain minerals, but not from northern Minnesota, and not nearly as much as it needs clean water and carbon-absorbing ecosystems.

But lest these arguments and the political winds bring sulfide mining projects back to life, we need safeguards for our land, water, and people. The mining industry has heavy influence over regulatory agencies, resulting in favorable permit decisions, but with new laws championed by MEP member groups, they can be stopped.

Federal and state laws for Boundary Waters protection would be a strong step. So would a prove-it-first policy, which would require proof that sulfide mining can be done safely elsewhere for twenty years before Minnesota could be used as a testing ground for unproven techniques.

Above all, we need Minnesotans to keep up the pressure on political leaders. Caving to the mining industry’s pressure will spell long-term disaster for our state’s most valuable resources. Committing now to clean water and healthy communities will pay off for generations to come.

Minnesota buildings: our next big climate challenge

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Most Minnesotans are used to a bit of weather whiplash as summer turns to fall, though the past week’s plunge into brisk temperatures after a 90-degree weekend and our hottest September on record was an especially stark example.

Plenty of Minnesota households and businesses have run both the air conditioning and heat this week, illustrating a two-sided challenge: climate change is making our summers longer and hotter – while also contributing to polar vortex events that can deep freeze parts of the state. So we keep our furnaces and air conditioners running…but that energy use makes the problem worse.

From 2005-2018, most sector sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota got smaller. Not so for homes and buildings. Commercial buildings increased their emissions of CO2 equivalents by 15%, while residential buildings’ emissions rose by a whopping 32%.

Most of that increase – which does not include electricity use – was due to the use of natural gas in heating and in leaking of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from air conditioning. The state’s population only increased by 10% during that period, pointing the finger at changing weather patterns that required more heating and more air conditioning.

Heating and cooling aren’t luxuries we can simply cut back on. While it’s both possible and responsible to turn the thermostat down in cold weather and up in hot weather, Minnesotans’ health and well-being are threatened by increasingly common extreme temperatures and by outdoor hazards like wildfire smoke. This threat is especially high in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, which tend to have fewer trees (which moderate extreme heat), higher surface temperatures, and poorer building insulation.

Schools are a perfect example: as two educators wrote in MinnPost earlier this week, older schools – commonly in cities like Saint Paul and Minneapolis – are often poorly equipped or completely devoid of air conditioning, having been built for the state’s cold winters and mild autumns and springs. When temperatures creep into the 80s and 90s as early as April and late as October, students’ health and ability to learn is put at risk. 

A comprehensive solution

These students, as well as families across the state, need safe conditions in their homes and the buildings they use every day. At the same time, we need to cut the emissions from these buildings to solve the climate crisis.

The good news is that science has shown us how to tackle this problem, and the most recent Legislative session helped get us going.

This year’s Climate and Energy Omnibus Bill included $38.7 million for weatherization and pre-weatherization efforts, helping make homes and buildings’ heating and cooling systems run more efficiently. Weatherization includes upgrades like better insulation, storm doors, and windows. Pre-weatherization addresses issues – including problems like leaky roofs or mold – that could prevent a household from accessing state or federal funds for weatherization.

The Legislature also passed $13 million for heat pump financial assistance. Once Minnesota’s rebate program is up and running, it will supplement federal rebates for heat pumps, electric stoves, and other home electrification projects.

Heat pumps are one of our most useful tools for cutting building emissions. They’re all-electric and can perform the job of both an air conditioner and a heater, keeping residents comfortable while avoiding costly price spikes in natural gas. But like old-school furnaces, they work best in a well-insulated home, underscoring the importance of weatherization.

Switching to heat pumps and other electrical appliances will require an increased supply of clean power, so it’s fitting that the Legislature also passed funding to help buildings generate the power they need to stay comfortable. The popular Solar on Schools program received $29.3 million in funding, helping to provide cheap, clean energy to keep the lights on and the HVAC systems running for our students. The Legislature passed an additional $5 million in funding for solar panels on other public buildings.

Next steps

MEP will work with Legislators at the Capital in 2024 to build on these and other climate action steps. Energy efficiency is among the most effective and least controversial steps we can take to protect both the climate and the health and comfort of Minnesotans, and we expect it to continue to receive support. We’ll also advocate for policies that further support electrification and reduce our state’s costly reliance on natural gas

Installing all of the necessary insulation, heat pumps, and solar panels will require plenty of skilled workers. The American Climate Corps, which we covered in last week’s column, will help train those workers. Minnesota should continue to develop its own pipeline to these high-paying jobs.

And as educators wrote in MinnPost, we need to make sure those most vulnerable to increasingly common heatwaves aren’t left behind. Minnesota should invest in ensuring all students can learn safely and comfortably, and provide increased utility support and clean energy investments in communities most susceptible to extreme temperatures.

Climate change is here to stay, and Minnesota’s weather will continue to get weirder. But there’s much we can do to limit this crisis, and to make sure our neighbors are safe and healthy.

Climate action ramps up at critical time

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, the Biden Administration announced the creation of the American Climate Corps, a new training and jobs program for the wide variety of climate action jobs available in the decarbonizing economy.

The new Climate Corps is intended to continue a long tradition of federally supported job-training programs, providing skills and opening up career pathways for more than 20,000 young Americans. It will leverage private sector apprenticeships, civil service opportunities, and programs like AmeriCorps. The careers supported by the program will include clean energy installation, habitat restoration, fire prevention, and many others

In concert with this federal action, Minnesota is among ten states moving forward with its own version of the Climate Corps, building on the massive investments in climate action passed earlier this year by the Legislature.

These programs come at a critical time: many of the most crucial climate-related jobs are in dire need of applicants to help accelerate necessary change. And the dire need for this change is becoming ever more apparent here at home, where Minnesota is likely to record its hottest September on record.

The world watches

On the same day that President Biden announced the American Climate Corps, the United Nations held Climate Ambition Summit 2023 at its headquarters in New York, condemning those nations and companies that have moved too slowly and celebrating those who are demonstrating the way forward.

The summit focused on the fact that a livable future is still within reach. The internationally-recognized 1.5℃ can be achieved through international investment in clean energy. But at the same time, the world’s largest fossil fuel users and producers – especially wealthy nations like the United States – must stop clinging to an economic model that is devastating the planet and especially harming those people and nations who contribute least to climate change.

“The move from fossil fuels to renewables is happening – but we are decades behind,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

The path forward

One jobs program for electricians and foresters isn’t going to solve the climate crisis. Nor is one act of Congress. Nor is one spectacular session of the Minnesota Legislature.

But each of these steps builds momentum. And they’re part of an encouraging trend – the International Energy Agency has found that the growth in solar panels – now among the cheapest forms of energy – and electric vehicles is keeping hope for 1.5℃ alive. If we can build on that momentum, we can secure a livable future.

Minnesota will continue to play an outsized role in this effort. During the last Legislative session we were glad to see historic commitments to protect Minnesota’s environment and ensure a just transition to clean energy. We passed a historic clean energy standard and massive clean transportation investments earlier this year. Businesses, agencies, and environmental advocates are working to develop a new clean transportation standard to help draw down the emissions from our largest carbon source. New breakthroughs in farming science can help cut the impact of the nation’s fifth-largest agricultural economy and pave the way for other states and countries to follow. MEP will be working in the next legislative session and beyond to win support for these good ideas.

Amid this hot year, it’s easy to lose hope. But it’s encouraging to remember that the climate crisis is a crisis of choice. If we choose clean energy and a renewed respect for the natural world, we can protect our home for the generations that follow us.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Dismissal of water protector charges points to larger shift

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Earlier this month, advocates for clean water and tribal rights breathed a sigh of relief as district court Judge Leslie Metzen dismissed charges against three Anishinaabe women – Winona LaDuke, Tania Aubid, and Dawn Goodwin – who were among the leaders of protests against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline.

These misdemeanor charges for protesting weren’t the first to be dismissed. Most of the water protectors arrested for disrupting Line 3 construction have already had their cases dismissed or resolved with minor penalties. But the high profile of the defendants, who were among the leaders of the movement against Line 3, and the words of Judge Metzen’s order to dismiss the charges, are what make this case different.

Metzen wrote in her Aitkin County court order that “These cases and these 3 defendants in particular have awakened in me some deep questions about what would serve the interests of justice here.” She described and condemned the long history of genocide by the dominant colonial culture against the Indigenous peoples of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and added, “I respect and value their presence on this land.”

Metzen further expressed her respect for the peaceful protest these women and many hundreds like them carried out to protect the waters of their home from Line 3. She ended her memo with the simple statement: “To criminalize their behavior would be the crime.”

The ruling itself only applies to these three water protectors, its precedent applying only in Aitkin County’s district court. But to those watching closely, it’s a rallying moment. It reflects a slow, yet seismic shift in the relationship between the dominant governmental institutions and the tribes they’ve so often betrayed.

A changing legal landscape

That’s the view of Frank Bibeau, an Anishinaabe attorney who served on LaDuke, Aubid, and Goodwin’s defense team.

“Everything’s changing right now – the climate, the water, and the battleground’s changing, too,” said Bibeau.

Bibeau is an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation and lives on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, and he’s been fighting legal battles over Indigenous sovereignty and natural resources for years. Much of his recent work has been focused on supporting Line 3 defendants, but he’s also sued the Minnesota DNR on wild rice issues and advised tribes in other states on how to fight pipelines and protect protestors’ rights and liberty. All this activity has given him something of a bird’s eye view of a shifting landscape.

When I asked Bibeau about the significance of the dismissal order, he asked me a question of his own: “Did you read the McKeig concurrence on the PolyMet case?”

When the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the wastewater permit for the PolyMet mine (now also known as New Range) last month, Justice Anne McKeig wrote a concurring opinion, lambasting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the EPA for failing to fully consider the Fond du Lac Band’s tribal water quality standards. Not long after, the U.S. Army Corps reversed a separate PolyMet permit – also due to Fond du Lac’s standing as a “state” for water quality purposes – in a decision that may have doomed the project.

“A couple of judges have now stepped outside the box and said, “this isn’t right,’” said Bibeau. That could open the door to other courts deciding cases on similar logic, or at least giving more legal weight to the longstanding – and too often ignored – treaties between the United States and the Anishinaabe tribes.

It would be a real shift away from what Bibeau aptly calls “colonial law taught at colonial law schools,” which has (recently) respected some treaties, ignored others, and tended to side with state and county governments on natural resources issues.

Moving away from colonial law

Bibeau and attorneys like him deserve their share of the credit, too. They’ve employed novel legal tactics, like filing to have the water protector cases transferred from county court to tribal court.

While Minnesota counties generally enforce the same laws, they have significant discretion on how to prioritize their cases. Different county sheriffs and prosecutors handle pipeline protests differently. Moving almost all of the protest cases to tribal court helped ensure better and more consistent outcomes for water protectors.

Bibeau, working with fellow attorney Joe Plummer and the White Earth band, have spearheaded another new tactic against pipelines: using a “rights of nature” argument to protect their treaty-guaranteed resources. They used a 2018 White Earth tribal law protecting the rights of wild rice – manoomin – to sue the Minnesota DNR on manoomin’s behalf. They argued that Line 3’s construction would harm this vital food resource, whose harvest is guaranteed by treaty to the Anishinaabe of Northern Minnesota within vast swaths of the state.

Unfortunately, that case was dismissed on the grounds that Line 3 lies outside of tribal boundaries, despite its impact on wild rice in the lands that are also protected by treaties. But Bibeau remains undaunted. He’s now adapting the rights of nature argument to another treaty-guaranteed resource: the fish that make their home in the treaty lands’ lakes and rivers. Time will tell how this tactic fares in the changing landscape, but it’s not only the fish that would benefit from its success.

Meanwhile, White Earth has begun to set tough new rules to protect water and manoomin from the polluting agricultural activities, like factory farms – that have encircled its reservation lands.

Enbridge avoids accountability

Even as we celebrate some degree of justice for water protectors, we must recognize – as Judge Metzen did – that state agencies and Enbridge got what they wanted. The new Line 3 pipeline was constructed despite staunch opposition from water protectors, several tribes, and climate and environmental organizations. The use of the pipeline to transport the dirtiest oil on Earth will continue to be an ongoing climate catastrophe. And as so many people predicted, Enbridge’s pledge to protect the waters of Minnesota during construction proved to be an empty one.

As MEP has extensively covered, Enbridge breached multiple aquifers along the pipeline’s route, spewing many millions of gallons of water and harming vulnerable wetlands. At the Clearbrook breach, the company delayed reporting the issue to state regulators and attempted a slapdash fix, which ended up making the problem even worse. Their “repair” of the LaSalle aquifer breach to the east failed as well.

Frank Bibeau credits the discovery of the damage to Indigenous pipeline monitors and to another assertion of tribal rights. Using its standing as a government, White Earth secured the authority to conduct thermal imaging of the LaSalle aquifer, and worked with Waadookawaad Amikwag and other groups to analyze it.

Indigenous and environmental groups have called for Enbridge to face full accountability for its environmental crimes and cover-ups. The Canadian company has faced fines – which add up to a miniscule percentage of its annual profits – and a misdemeanor charge with “continuance for dismissal,” which means that it will be dismissed as long as Enbridge cleans up its act. As the further aquifer breaches show, Enbridge can’t be counted on to do so.

The misdemeanor charge for Enbridge, compared with the misdemeanor protest charges for water protectors, illustrate the two systems of justice at work in Minnesota. Many people, especially Indigenous water protectors, have faced arrests, physical harm, and loss of liberty for defending water, the climate, and tribal rights. No one at Enbridge will face any such consequences for the much more harmful crime of depleting vulnerable aquifers. Line 3 will continue to operate, at least for now.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Looking ahead

“What you’re seeing there isn’t just Mother Earth, but women in general, mothers across the board, are starting to step up,” said Bibeau. He spoke of the three women whose charges were dismissed, to the judge who dismissed them, and to many more water protectors, attorneys, and others writing a new chapter of the fight for tribal sovereignty.

As hard as recent news has been for our water and climate, I think that Frank Bibeau is on to something. If we’re going to protect our Mother Earth from the worst excesses of our species, we should take our cues from those who’ve put the most of themselves on the line – especially the Indigenous women who have stood against the oil pipelines.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Keeping the Water Moving: Nibi Walk Ceremony for the Health of GitchiGami

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Cristin Curwick, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Sunday, Aug. 5th, around 8:30 a.m., I catch up with a caravan along the scenic byway along the shore of Lake Superior. They’re following two people: one carrying a copper pail, the other trailing behind with a staff, an eagle head perched on top.

As a community organizer, you are supposed to meet people where they are. This morning, people were gathered, walking for the water. 

I’d received word of the opportunity to be a part of the Nibi Walk, a 33-day Ojibwe ceremonial relay of carrying a copper pail filled with water from GitchiGami – otherwise known as Lake Superior –  and traveling by foot all along the 2,800-mile long shoreline of the lake.

In Ojibwe tradition, the pail must be carried by a woman, wearing a long skirt, followed by a protector carrying a staff. They walk in silence, occasionally offering tobacco to any roadkill, and when crossing rivers or streams along the way. They pass the pail and staff after about a mile of walking, so others get a chance to take on the task. 

Another aspect of the tradition: women are responsible for taking care of the water. I was surrounded by powerful women, and they told me about the importance and purpose of the Nibi Walk. It is a time to speak with the water spirits, to show respect for the water, and pray.

The idea is that water must move to be healthy. Unfortunately, GitchiGami is facing many threats to its health, which in turn, threatens our health. Harm from climate change heating up an otherwise frigid lake, and threats of pollution from our extractive industries, such as mining along the North Shore, have jeopardized the waters of GitchiGami.

Sharon Day of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, who led the walk, said “I don’t know what else to do but to walk, pray, and sing to the waters.” (

With everything that is at stake with the lake, it’s easy to feel defeated. But defeat was not accepted at the Nibi Walk. There were elders and youth, men, women, non-binary, and two-spirited folks that walked. Community members from various religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds showed up for the water.

There was an overwhelming sense of community, as I was offered food, water, advice, stories, anything I needed to keep moving forward, just like the water. As folks carried the copper pail, they told me about how the water spoke to them. It provided comfort, encouragement, and reassurance. 

I left the walkers that day feeling empowered, fueled by what I had heard and seen. The stories of what brought us together that day were varied, but all surrounded by one thing: the respect of water, and the responsibility to protect it.

I encourage you to read the Minnesota Women’s Press article that Sharon Day wrote about the walk, its origins, and its purpose. I encourage you to keep moving, keep fighting for the health of our water and our community, and in times of doubt, fear, or hopelessness, listen to the water. She will provide comfort, and She always listens. 

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

Forest Service sides with tribes, rejects resort expansion

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Tribal and environmental advocates received good news at the end of August when the Superior National Forest rejected a proposal from Lutsen Mountains ski resort to expand its operations into more than 490 acres of the Superior National Forest.

Lutsen Mountains has proposed to use this public land in Cook County to expand its facilities, including new ski hills and buildings. This expansion would require the destruction of thousands of trees and a significant disruption to habitat and water in the surrounding area.

As Minnesota’s Anishinaabe bands have argued, and the Forest Service recognized in its final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, that kind of destruction would affect their rights to hunt, fish, and gather resources in the 1854 treaty territory that covers most of Northeastern Minnesota. Sugar maples in the area that the tribes have harvested for years would be particularly affected, as well as cedar forests that have plants with many traditional uses. 

In addition to the tribes, hundreds of Minnesotans weighed in with comments critical of this proposal, as did environmental groups. MEP was among them – we sent a letter to the Forest Service two years ago criticizing their Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We argued that the DEIS did not adequately address treaty rights, the long-term ecology of the site, or the neighboring Scientific and Natural Area that would be impacted.

MEP broadly supports Northeastern Minnesota’s outdoor recreation industry, and we don’t weigh in on projects like this one lightly. But new construction projects that would destroy wide swaths of critical forest must be considered extremely carefully. Once destroyed, these forests can’t simply be replaced or restored to what they were before.

Thankfully, the final EIS recognized that the Lutsen expansion would be harmful to the surrounding environment, which is already stressed by climate change and other threats to forest, and to the tribes, who have lost access to much of their treaty resources over the years.

Looking ahead

While the Forest Service’s decision is not yet final, it’s likely to stand. We’re currently waiting out a 90-day period in which parties may object to the decision, but it’s rare for one to be overturned.

In the broader scope of the North Shore, this decision represents an uncommon and encouraging victory for tribal resources and environmental justice. Far too often in recent years, governmental agencies that purport to care about tribal rights have approved projects that threaten those rights, like the Line 3 pipeline and the PolyMet mine.

Taken together with other positive steps, like the overturning of PolyMet’s wetlands permit due to the Fond du Lac Band’s water quality protections, we hope the Lutsen decision will herald a positive new trend for tribal sovereignty and a healthy environment in Minnesota.

For previous columns, visit If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at

A Farm Bill for Emerging & Diversified Farmers

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Photo credit: Brian DeVore, Land Stewardship Project’s Managing Editor
Photo caption: Congresswoman Angie Craig with LSP farmer-member Becca Rudebusch on her organic vegetable farm – Seeds Farm – in Northfield, MN

MEP Member, guest author: Amanda Koehler, Land Stewardship Project

Right now, Congress is drafting the 2023 Farm Bill, which will determine how tens of billions of dollars are spent over five years on what’s grown on the landscape and who grows it, the environmental impacts of production systems, the safety of our food, and the economic health of our communities.  

Crafting a 2023 Farm Bill that puts people and the land above corporate interests is a top priority for Land Stewardship Project (LSP) members, largely small- and mid-sized farmers and rural residents in the Upper Midwest. Minnesota has the potential to have an outsized impact on the shape of the 2023 Farm Bill, given that four members of the Congressional delegation serve on legislative agriculture committees: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Tina Smith, Representative Angie Craig (CD-2), and Representative Brad Finstad (CD-1).

LSP members, with leadership from LSP’s Farm Bill Organizing Committee, collectively built a comprehensive Farm Bill Platform that we launched in August of 2022. Since then, LSP members have been helping craft legislation based on our top priorities, organizing farmers and ranchers in their communities, traveling to Washington D.C. to meet directly with members of Congress and testify, sharing their stories in the media, working with partner organizations, and more.

Here are two of our top 2023 Farm Bill Priorities and how you can take action on these important issues:

The Land Access, Security, and Opportunities (LASO) Act

Access to land is the top challenge emerging and beginning farmers face, especially for those without access to generational land or wealth. At the same time, ownership of millions of acres of agricultural land is changing hands as farmers and ranchers across the country retire — presenting an important opportunity to shape the future of our farm and food system.

This is the moment for Congress to take action to ensure that the 2023 Farm Bill delivers material benefits for beginning farmers and ranchers striving to establish and grow their operations.

The Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities (LASO) Act, championed by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), is a critical piece of legislation that would create equitable transition of farmland to the next generation.

If included in the 2023 Farm Bill, the LASO Act would fund powerful, community-led solutions to the land access crisis faced by the new generation of young and Black farmers, Indigenous farmers, and farmers of color. This would be a significant victory for young farmers, ranchers, and everyone who has been fighting to win federal funding to address issues of equitable land access, retention, and transition. This bill will increase access to capital for underserved farmers, boost training and economic opportunity for beginner farmers, and help make land more affordable for Black, Brown, and Indigenous farmers through the 2023 Farm Bill.

It’s critical that Congress takes action to protect the health and vitality of our communities into the future. Congress must act now to build upon this model and deliver significant annual funding through the 2023 Farm Bill.

You can take action by contacting your members of Congress through this easy-to-use form. If you contact Senator Tina Smith, please thank her for championing the bill!

The Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) Improvement Act

Diversified, small, and mid-sized farmers deserve to have a strong safety net – and many have no safety net at all. Particularly as climate change impacts continue to accelerate, too many farmers are at risk of serious financial loss from just one severe weather event or one season of drought. 

On Thursday, August 31, an op-ed about this issue was published in the Star Tribune by Andy Petran. Andy is an LSP member leader, Farmington-based farmer, and owner of Twin Cities Berry Company. He wrote, “Farming has always been difficult, but climate-induced extreme weather events have increased the level of risk. To help overcome bad years and bad luck, the federal farm bill offers farmers subsidized crop insurance. Yet the program as it currently functions favors large operations producing a few select crops, making it impractical or impossible for many small farmers to participate.”

That’s why Land Stewardship Project (LSP) members and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), along with other partners, have been working hard to ensure the 2023 Farm Bill creates a strong safety net for diversified, small, and mid-sized farms.

As a result, just a few weeks ago, the Whole Farm Revenue Protection Improvement Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Sherrod Brown (D – OH) with Senator Tina Smith (D – MN) as a co-sponsor. The WFRP Improvement Act would realize the potential of the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) Program to provide financial resiliency and stability for producers historically left out of federal crop insurance programs.

This legislation addresses common barriers to this holistic insurance program by streamlining paperwork, expanding the Micro Farm pilot program, raising the limit to annual revenue expansion, strengthening the diversification discount, and compensating crop insurance agents who sell WFRP appropriately.

To support small-, mid-sized, and diversified farmers, you can take action by contacting your members of Congress through this easy-to-use form.

To learn more about this proposal, join LSP for a special Farm Bill Friday Crop Insurance Webinar on Friday, September 15 at 12:00 p.m. via Zoom. Register here! 

What’s the timeline on the 2023 Farm Bill?

The 2018 Farm Bill will expire on September 30, but the 2023 Farm Bill isn’t expected to pass for several months. We expect to see the House Agriculture and Senate Agriculture Committees’ separate draft bills in September. That’s why now is a critical time to take action.

The House and Senate will each amend and pass their version of the bill, likely in October or November. Then, the House and Senate will need to come together to negotiate a compromise Farm Bill before passing a final version of the bill in each body.

To learn more, check out Land Stewardship Project’s 2023 Farm Bill landing page or contact Amanda Koehler, LSP Policy Manager, at 

People and the Planet: Centering Environmental Justice

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Cecilia Calvo, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a state-wide coalition of over 70 environmental and conservation organizations – and other groups that align with MEP’s mission and collaborative approach.

Our Path

In recent years, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), a historically white-led environmental/conservation community, has been on a journey to center environmental justice and equity in our education and advocacy efforts for clean air and water, clean energy and a healthy environment for all Minnesotans.

This journey is reflected in MEP revising its vision statement in 2019 to include putting “people and the planet first to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for all” and its mission “as a coalition that … builds collective power to secure a healthy environment for all Minnesotans.”  These changes demonstrate MEP’s transition from a focus on the environment separate from people to a recognition of the interdependence between people and the planet.

In June 2021, the MEP Board approved an Equity Statement where it articulated that the reference to “Healthy environment” in its mission statement “refers to the underlying importance of human health in environmental work and especially of frontline communities.” In this Equity statement MEP acknowledged “there is a large disparity between MEP’s current work areas and the needs of Minnesota’s Environmental Justice Communities.”  In MEP’s 2022 Collaborative Priorities – Building forward at the scale and pace our communities need: Climate Change • Healthy Ecosystems • Racial Justice –  it articulated a commitment to “ensuring environmental and racial justice is centered in policy solutions.”

Our Values

MEP recognizes the following principles:

  • The people who contribute least to environmental harm, pollution and climate change are suffering the worst consequences.
  • To effectively respond to environmental challenges affecting our cities, state, nation and global community requires a holistic approach that recognizes the interdependence between environmental justice, racial justice and economic justice.
  • A just response to climate change and environmental pollution requires listening to and learning from the communities who directly experience the effects of pollution and climate disruption where they live, work and play. We believe that any real climate and environmental policy solutions must center the voices of environmental justice communities.
  • The environmental community can often talk about environmental problems in a technical and wonky manner. MEP recognizes the importance of rooting environmental concerns in people’s lived reality.
  • We believe we are stronger together, when the environmental community and environmental justice leaders, communities and organizations can advocate together for shared environmental policy concerns.

Our Efforts

As part of this commitment to environmental justice, MEP is working with its membership to highlight the interconnection between environmental degradation, pollution, public health and who is most impacted, as well as prioritizing building partnerships with the environmental justice community and working together to identify common areas of concern. We recognize the knowledge and concerns of environmental justice communities are essential to inform environmental policy work at local, state and federal levels and that together we can jointly advance community concerns.

Wins for Environmental Justice and Public Health

The 2023 Minnesota Legislative Session was the most positive in decades for the environment, climate, and public health. MEP, working with environmental and community partners, advocated for these historic commitments to protect Minnesota’s clean air and water, advance environmental justice and ensure a just transition toward clean energy. 

Among these environmental justice wins are:

  • Through the Frontline Communities Protection Coalition (FCP), we worked with environmental justice champions at the legislature to pass a groundbreaking new Cumulative Impacts Law that requires permit decisions for new or expanded sources of pollution in overburdened communities to consider existing pollution. This is a major step to address the role large facilities play in degrading air quality and health in environmental justice communities – communities that already bear the burden of unwanted concentrated pollution that impacts their health and wellbeing. The cumulative impacts law covers the seven-county metro area, Duluth and Rochester and provides an option for Tribal Nations to include their territory.
  • Enacted PFAS provisions that include bans on several high-risk products, information disclosure for products containing PFAS, a nonessential use ban by 2030, and prohibition of PFAS in firefighting foam. PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” pollute our water and threaten public and environmental health. With the new restrictions, Minnesota – where PFAS chemicals were invented – becomes a leading state in the fight to eliminate these harmful substances from consumer goods.
  • MEP, working with community partners, led efforts to develop and launch the Lead Service Lines Replacement law that allocates $240 million in state funding to identify and replace harmful lead drinking water service lines across the state. This new program kicks off a 10-year effort to replace all of these supply lines to an estimated 100,000 households without cost to the property owners. These funds will leverage available federal funding.
  • Thanks to the broad collaboration between MEP and environmental and community partners, the Legislature passed legislation giving Minnesota voters the chance to once again reauthorize the dedication of some lottery proceeds to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and expand its allocations to benefit low-income and communities of color through a new community grants program. The Trust Fund is a powerful tool for protecting, conserving, and restoring Minnesota’s air, land, and water. The creation of a community grants program will help further environmental justice in Minnesota by supporting community based projects with the priority to respond to environment degradation and​ related health concerns of communities historically overburdened by pollution.

Let’s Continue to Walk Together

Thank you for all you do! Together we made these wins possible for our neighbors, families and loved ones and to protect our common home. We look forward to continuing our work together and building on these accomplishments during the next Legislative Session and beyond. 

Together, we can take ever bigger steps forward to safeguard clean air and water, protect frontline communities who disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution, and secure even more ambitious action to save our climate.

Read MEP’s Commitment to Environmental Justice

Cecilia Calvo is the Director of Advocacy and Inclusion at the Minnesota Environmental Partnership