Walz decision on Line 3 feeds hope for stronger review of pipeline

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, Governor Tim Walz announced that he would allow the Department of Commerce’s appeal against the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approval of Line 3 to continue moving forward. Walz had previously said that he and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan would consider whether to continue the appeal of the pipeline decision, launched under the Dayton Administration, and an appellate judge’s decision had required the Department of Commerce to refile its legal action (subject to the  Governor’s decision). In his statement, Walz contended that the PUC had not adequately examined the “social impact” of the pipeline, and that this impact was worth further discussion for the benefit of Minnesotans.

The appeal was launched by the Minnesota Department of Commerce late last year, after the Department had previously stated that Line 3 is not needed by Minnesota, and that Enbridge Energy had failed to prove otherwise in its testimony to the PUC. This appeal – and other appeals filed by environmental organizations and tribal groups – seek to make the PUC reconsider its decision to give this pipeline project the green light.

The new line isn’t needed

MEP has previously detailed why Minnesota does not need – or stand to benefit from – the new replacement Line 3, which would transport double the oil of the current, aging Line 3 pipeline. The oil transported by the pipeline would largely not go to Minnesota consumers after reaching the terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. And even if that were its destination, sales of petroleum products in Minnesota are down and projected to decrease further as transportation modes become more efficient or move away from fossil fuels entirely.

Line 3 would, however, open up entirely new areas of Minnesota’s most pristine waters to the threat of pipeline spills. This would threaten unique ecosystems that are especially valuable to indigenous people in Minnesota, who retain treaty rights to harvest resources like wild rice and fish that depend on the water remaining clean. And it would have an extraordinarily negative climate impact, as the tar sands oil that Line 3 would carry is some of the most emissions-heavy oil on earth.

The Governor’s decision isn’t the end of the story

It’s certainly heartening to hear that the Walz Administration is committed to deeper review of this pipeline proposal and seeks to give further hearing to issues that the PUC didn’t adequately explore. This appeal may not itself change the PUC decision, and it’s far from the end of the Line 3 debate.

But the Walz Administration decision shows how much has changed in pipeline politics. In years past, approval for oil pipelines was virtually assured. Now, thanks to the commitment of Minnesotans and activists around the state and the country, more and more political leaders are hearing about and acting on climate and clean water, rather than rubber-stamping fossil fuel investments. We thank all those who have taken a stand against Line 3, and we urge Minnesotans to keep speaking up.

Minnesotans, legislators share blueprint for clean energy action

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Three young Minnesotans testify on the need for climate action at the House Climate and Energy committee. (Photo credit: 100% Campaign)

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, hundreds of Minnesotans gathered at the State Capitol to send lawmakers a message: for Minnesota to do our part for climate action, we must ramp up our efforts to reach 100% clean energy. Organized by the 100% Campaign, this coalition of Minnesotans from many backgrounds, faiths, and communities came together for a lobby day in the recognition that Minnesota can and must take the lead on cleaning up carbon emissions. Fortunately, legislation introduced that same day in coordination with the lobby day would help our state do exactly that.

Representative Jamie Long of Minneapolis and Senator Nick Frentz of Mankato have introduced a bill (HF700 in the House and SF850 in the Senate) that would rapidly accelerate the greening of energy in Minnesota. The bill would require all utilities to provide 100 percent clean electricity by the year 2050. It would also revise the definition of energy sources considered clean, noting that waste-to-energy incineration facilities are not environmentally neutral, but can have detrimental effects on the communities around them – often low-income communities or communities of color.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership and many of our partners wholeheartedly support this legislation, and sent a letter to the House Climate and Energy committee expressing our enthusiasm. While some skeptics have said that Minnesota has only a small part to play in climate change efforts, we know that our state has often been a leader on bold new policies, like the original first-in-the-nation Renewable Energy Standard passed by a bipartisan coalition in 2007. Combined with efforts to decarbonize transportation and other sectors, moving to 100% clean electricity is Minnesota’s time to lead on climate action and show the nation and the world what we can do.

Minnesotans celebrate legacy funds that enhance our state’s resources

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Senator Dick Cohen addresses a packed hall at the Legacy Amendment 10th Year Anniversary Celebration (photo credit: Freshwater)

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday evening,  hundreds of legislators, advocates, state staff, and other interested Minnesotans gathered at the Minnesota History Center to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of one of our state’s great innovations – the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment and the four funds it created to protect and enhance Minnesota’s future. Coordinated by MEP member Freshwater with help from MEP and several other organizations and supported by the McKnight Foundation, this celebration featured speakers and displays on how the funds make Minnesota a better place to live. Long time Legacy champion Sen. Dick Cohen introduced the current House and Senate committee chairs responsible for the funds, DFL Representative Leon Lillie and Republican Senator Carrie Ruud. They spoke about the fulfilling nature of working with the funds, and the great reward of seeing real benefits to Minnesota’s resources and heritage year after year.

For photos of the event, see the official album.

The four legacy funds

In November 2008, a large majority of Minnesotans voted in favor of the Legacy Amendment to the state constitution, which the Legislature had approved earlier that year. The amendment raised the state sales tax 3/8ths of a percent to create a big impact on Minnesota’s future. It dedicated this money to funds focusing on four important areas: Outdoor Heritage, Clean Water, Parks and Trails, and Arts and Cultural Heritage. Over the Legacy funds’ existence, they have invested  in thousands of projects across the state, helping state and local governments, nonprofit agencies,  schools and communities improve Minnesota’s resources and heritage.

Clean Water

The Clean Water Fund appropriates dollars for improving and protecting Minnesota’s water resources. It receives 33% of the Legacy Amendment sales tax dollars. The Clean Water Fund’s work includes testing drinking water supplies for health and safety, cleaning up polluted bodies of water, improving wetlands, and building partnerships with farmers to improve conservation.

Outdoor Heritage

The Outdoor Heritage Fund receives another 33% of Legacy Amendment funds, targeted to restoring and preserving vital wildlife habitat across Minnesota. It helps to protect the unique and beneficial aspects of Minnesota’s ecosystems and preserve the hunting and fishing opportunities important to our state’s economy and culture. The fund is so successful and generates so much demand that over the last ten years, it has only been able to fund 40% of the project requests that it has received.

Arts and Cultural Heritage

The Arts and Cultural Heritage fund receives 19.75% of Legacy dollars, turning that amount into dividends for the entire state. The projects it has funded – in every county in Minnesota – have helped increase art attendance and access by 60%, helped create thousands of jobs, and boosted the economic impact of arts and culture in Minnesota to more than $2 billion every year. The Fund also supports the Minnesota Historical Society and local organizations statewide to help preserve and disseminate important information about Minnesota’s history.

Parks and Trails

The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25% of Legacy funds to support Minnesota’s state and regional parks system. While Minnesota’s state park system is world-renowned (and the second-oldest in the United States), it needs significant work for upkeep, improvement, expansion, and accessibility. The Parks and Trails Fund helps upgrade and restore the parks, reintroduce native species, and make natural recreation spaces more accessible, especially to underserved communities.

Legacy Fund beloved by Minnesotans

MEP’s public opinion polling has found that after eight years of the Legacy Amendment, three-quarters of Minnesotans now support it – even more than the 56% who voted for it in 2008. The Legacy Funds’ revenue source is established through 2034, and we’re confident that as the Legacy Amendment continues to improve Minnesota’s resources and livelihoods, voters will continue to support this Minnesota treasure 15 years from now.

Letter of Support for 100% Clean and Equitable Energy Bill HF0700

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To: Chairperson Wagenius
Members of the House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division

February 5, 2019

Dear Representative,

In 2007, nobody really knew if it was possible. But we knew we had to try.

Today, Minnesota has reached the renewable energy goals set in the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act seven years early. Reaching 25% renewable energy has shown not only that achieving our clean energy future is possible, it can bring a wealth of economic, health, and quality of life benefits.

We support this 100% Clean Energy Bill. The benchmarks it outlines for achieving renewable and carbon free energy should be the new baseline – with hopes of reaching them even faster than spelled out in the proposed law.

We know that urgent, intentional action is required to prevent further harm to the health, environment, and well-being of Minnesota’s people and communities.

Minnesotans are already starting to feel the impacts of a changing climate. Our winters are warming 13-times faster than our summers and extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Health problems like asthma and allergies for Minnesotans, and diseases spread by ticks and mosquitos are on the rise because of warming temperatures.  Last year alone, Minnesota saw 10 natural disasters that impacted 49 counties and cost $40 million.

Minnesota’s farmers, orchardists, foresters, resorters, and others are feeling the impact of a changing climate on their livelihoods. Communities with lower incomes and those already struggling with health problems are feeling the impact of a changing climate on their health. We must focus our efforts to transition to clean energy by working with these most impacted communities and ensuring an ambitious, equitable, and affordable transition from fossil fuels.

This is the moment for Minnesota to lead on 100% clean energy once again. Since 2007, clean energy has become a success story for Minnesota’s economy. Nearly 60,000 Minnesotans are now employed in the clean energy and efficiency sector – and Minnesota’s clean energy industry is growing twice as fast as the rest of our economy. These jobs are growing here because Minnesota has shown investors that we are serious about our clean energy economy.

By taking action now, Minnesota can build a thriving and equitable clean energy economy that works for every Minnesotan.

Sincerely,

Steve Morse

Minnesota Environmental Partnership                                                         

Alliance for Sustainability

Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability

Center for Biological Diversity

Citizens Climate Lobby – Minnesota

Clean Water Action

Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy

CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)

Environment Minnesota

Eureka Recycling

Humming for Bees

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Izaak Walton League – Cass County Chapter

Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division

League of Women Voters – Minnesota

Mankato Area Environmentalists

Minnesota Can’t Wait Campaign

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light

Minnesota Ornithologists Union

MN350

Pollinator Friendly Alliance

Sierra Club North Star Chapter

Wilderness in the City

When dams fail: protecting Minnesotans from a catastrophic collapse

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

In the wake of the tragic collapse of a Brazilian mining waste dam that killed more than 100 people and displaced thousands more, observers around the world have asked, “Could it happen here?” While it is evident that lax enforcement and managerial malfeasance contributed greatly to this disaster, it is entirely possible that a similarly large flood of mine waste could strike in Minnesota.

The PolyMet mine dam proposal – which was recently permitted by The Department of Natural Resources –  uses the same kind of tailings waste dam construction as the Vale mine that failed this week.  Though already permitted, the Department of Natural Resources has the ability to revisit that decision in light of this disaster to make sure Minnesotans are protected.

The hazards when flooding mixes with mines

The deadliest mining disaster in Minnesota’s history to date was the Milford Mine flood in 1924, in which a cave-in at a manganese mine caused the waters of Foley Lake to rush into the 200-foot-deep pit, killing 41 workers. This tragedy shocked Minnesota, but it wasn’t completely unanticipated – according to a survivor, the company mining engineer warned management repeatedly that the mine’s proximity to the lake was unsafe. Fortunately, the flood – and the manganese ore, which can cause neurological diseases if present in drinking water – was relatively contained within the mine.

The proposed PolyMet mine is a different story. While mining today tends to enjoy the benefits of safer technology, PolyMet carries its own spill risk. The current proposal calls for the mine tailings waste, which includes compounds that release high levels of toxic acid into water, to be kept behind a 40-year-old earthen upstream dam, similar in construction to the failed dam in Brazil. This type of dam is obsolete technology, with three catastrophic failures in just the last 5 years. The dry stacking of mine tailings is a far safer waste storage method, but would require more work and investment from PolyMet, which has refused to seriously consider using it.

The dam would need to be maintained indefinitely (read: hundreds of years) but that’s no guarantee it would hold forever against floods and erosion. One engineer hired to evaluate the project said that “a lake on top of a pile of sand is inherently unstable, and irresponsible.”

A strong enough flood (an increasing risk as climate change boosts rainfall in Minnesota) would cause the dam to fail, spilling toxic waste not only into a mine shaft, but into the St. Louis River watershed, which feeds into Lake Superior and on which thousands of people rely. This would not be an outlier in the history of sulfide ore mines in the United States – no such mine has ever operated in this country without polluting the surrounding water and habitat.

Seeking to stave off catastrophic consequences

Minnesotans are determined that a disaster on the scale of the tragedy in Brazil should not be replicated in our state. On January 31st, the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa and several of MEP’s partnering organizations called on the DNR to revisit the permits for the dam construction in light of this catastrophe.

Said Kathryn Hoffman of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA): “The disaster in Brazil has shown that PolyMet’s plan to store sulfide mine waste tailings behind an unsafe dam begun in the 1950s is a risk that Minnesota can’t bear.” MCEA and several other MEP member organizations are also continuing with a lawsuit to block PolyMet’s land exchange with the federal government on the grounds that it shortchanges the public interest.

We urge concerned Minnesotans to share their views as well. By asking Governor Walz and DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen to reconsider the dam permit, we can help protect Minnesota from a dam we can’t afford and a catastrophe we hope never to face.

Legislature makes promising start on preserving environmental trust fund, supporting communities

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Minnesota Legislature began its discussions of bills that would protect the viability of Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and finance infrastructure investments responsibly, after last year’s legislative raid threatened to deplete the fund for unconstitutional purposes. Though the bills will continue to be amended and finalized, this represents a major step in the right direction toward ensuring the voter-created trust fund keeps restoring and improving Minnesota’s environment for future generations.

The background

The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was created by a 1988 constitutional amendment passed by Minnesota voters. Drawing from the state lottery’s funds, it contributes to many worthy projects

The reason this legislative solution is needed was that last year, the Legislature passed a bonding bill that used Trust Fund dollars to pay interest on expensive appropriation bonds for infrastructure projects, which are normally funded by ordinary, low-cost, general-obligation bonds. These projects are essential, but the Environmental Trust Fund was never meant to pay for them, and the expensive appropriation bonds would have drained the fund.

Because this would have set a harmful precedent and threatened the long-term viability of the Trust Fund, MEP and several allied organizations filed suit against the raid. Our goal was not to prevent the infrastructure projects from being completed, but to make sure the Legislature went back to the table this year to restore the Trust Fund and the faith of the voters and pay for infrastructure responsibly.

The solution

Fortunately, Legislators are already working to right this raid. On January 24, the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division heard testimony on a bipartisan bill, HF 233, that would repeal the trust fund raid and pay for the water and waste infrastructure projects it targeted with ordinary bonds. The Senate is also considering legislation to prohibit money in the Trust Fund for paying debt service on bonds as the raid intended.

We’re glad to see Legislators working on an idea that we can all agree on: we don’t have to choose between the continued success of our state’s Environmental Trust Fund and the water infrastructure upgrades on which our communities rely. We can have both, and they’ll help us make Minnesota a cleaner and healthier place to live.

New climate committee gathers info on how to protect Minnesotans

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division committee took testimony from some of Minnesota’s top scientists on the effects of our greatest threat – climate change – and some of the steps Minnesota can take to face this challenge. This committee is the first in Minnesota’s Legislature to have “climate” in its name, and is expected to shape climate action legislation later in the session.

Scientists and physicians warn of inaction’s consequences to MN health and well-being

On Tuesday, University of Minnesota experts Dr. Mark Seeley, Dr. Tracy Twine, and Dr. Peter Reich explained some of the observed predicted weather and land impacts on Minnesota due to climate change, particularly increased rainfall and hotter temperatures in all seasons. These changes, they explained, will significantly alter Minnesota’s agriculture, wildlife, and communities, requiring our state to tackle both carbon emissions and climate adaptation to protect our residents’ well-being.

On Thursday, Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni of the University of Minnesota Medical School testified on the health effects of climate change that Minnesota is already experiencing, and which will continue to rise as the climate warms. Worsening respiratory diseases like asthma and allergies are some of the most prominent impacts, as the pollen season lengthens and air pollution is exacerbated by hot weather. Dr. Surapaneni also explained how insect-borne diseases like Lyme disease are becoming more of a threat in Minnesota, where previously the cold weather has helped to keep ticks and mosquitos at bay. Further testifiers emphasized the impacts on all sectors of life in Minnesota, and stressed the need for resilience to the changing climate.

The takeaway: The challenge is daunting, but Minnesota should remain undaunted

In these hearings, scientists painted a disturbing picture of what is already happening to Minnesota, but their message to lawmakers was not one of futility, but of a need for action. Minnesota will continue to change with the warming climate, but by moving forward with renewed commitment to cut our carbon emissions, we can do our part against further warming and show needed leadership on the global stage. By investing in green infrastructure and sustainable cities, we can help make sure that Minnesotans weather the changes yet to come.

We’re encouraged by the presence of sound science and appropriate urgency in this committee, and we hope that it leads to strong climate action from Minnesota’s Legislature. During the session, we will continue to share with lawmakers what we’re hearing from Minnesotans: climate action can’t wait. This is Minnesota’s time to lead.

Watch video of the Energy and Climate committee’s hearings.

Harmful emissions are falling in Minnesota – but we have much more to do

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Over the past week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has released new data on Minnesota’s progress – and the challenge we face – on reducing pollution in our atmosphere. The first report, released last week, found that Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen, especially in the electricity generation sector. But it also showed that they need to keep falling if we’re going to meet our climate action goals. The second report, published on January 8, showed that Minnesota’s air pollution is mostly under control, but not everywhere – and many people are suffering from its harmful effects. Both reports reinforced the urgency of our most pressing environmental challenge: building a cleaner and healthier economy.

Carbon emissions are down, but more ambitious action is needed

The MPCA greenhouse gas emissions report shows progress, but underscores how much further we still have to go.

The good news: between 2005 and 2016, Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 12% despite significant growth in our economy and our population. This is largely due to a massive decrease – nearly 1/3 – in emissions from generating electricity. As more wind and solar installations replace coal power on the grid, that number will continue to improve.

The bad news: 12% isn’t on par with our goals, and the shortfall exists because other sectors have a long way to go. With electricity’s footprint declining, transportation is now our #1 sector for greenhouse emissions. Most of transportation’s emissions come from light-duty trucks and personal cars – the kind that most Minnesotans use in their day-to-day commuting. Not far behind is agriculture, where crop and animal farming contributes the bulk of net emissions.

The opportunity: Both of these sectors present challenges, but for the most part, the solutions aren’t a mystery. By scaling up our investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and making these vehicles more widely available, we can shrink all types of personal transportation. Expanding and encouraging the use of public transit helps as well – buses and trains, especially if powered by clean electricity, emit far less CO2 than cars for each person they transport.

And we have an opportunity to make agriculture less of a carbon source and more of a carbon sink – while giving farmers a new way to profit – by introducing new carbon-absorbing cover crops and perennials on Minnesota’s farmland.

Most Minnesotans breathe easy, but disparities are significant

The MPCA’s biennial “The air we breathe” report demonstrates how Minnesota’s air pollution, while low and improving, harms susceptible communities.

The good news: Minnesota meets federal standards for air quality, and our emissions of harmful pollutants like particulates and nitrogen oxides are in a steep decline.

The bad news: Air pollution is still causing harm, especially in low-income communities (46% of which are above air quality risk guidelines) and communities of color and indigenous communities (91% are above guidelines.) This is an unacceptable status quo that puts Minnesotans at risk – the Department of Health has calculated that air pollution is the fatal factor in more than 2,000 deaths in the Twin Cities area every year.

The opportunity: The solutions to climate change and air pollution go hand in hand, and they have positive effects on our economy. By creating investments and incentives to transition to clean electricity from fossil-fuel powered vehicles and homes, we can dramatically reduce all emissions and create new job opportunities.

Minnesotans are demanding we move forward

On January 9, a group of more than 100 teenagers from around Minnesota met with Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan to ask them to take action on climate change by regulating greenhouse gas emissions, support legislation moving Minnesota toward 100% clean energy, and continue the Dayton Administration’s court challenge of the carbon-heavy Line 3 pipeline. Their leadership, and that of people and organizations around the state, is giving Minnesotans hope that we can clean up our state’s harmful emissions.

Governor Walz and the Legislature should listen well – Minnesotans want and deserve ambitious action to build a green economy and protect our future.

New Commissioners have opportunity to build a brighter future

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, Governor-elect Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan announced new additions to their team of state agency commissioners, including three with significant oversight over Minnesota’s environment: Sarah Strommen for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Laura Bishop for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and Thom Petersen for the Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Sarah Strommen brings long environmental background to leadership of DNR

The Department of Natural Resources’ new Commissioner has been a nonprofit leader, a leader at the DNR and the Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the mayor of the city of Ramsey in Anoka County. Sarah Strommen also has ties to MEP partner organizations – she has worked for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Minnesota Land Trust, and served on the board of directors of Friends of the Mississippi River. She will be the first woman to lead the DNR, and will start at the job at a pivotal moment for Minnesota’s natural resources.

The DNR has responsibility for stewarding public lands, waters, recreational spaces, and wildlife throughout Minnesota. It enforces protections for resources ranging from public water supplies to pheasant populations, and operates the nation’s second-oldest state park system.

The DNR’s oversight public lands and waters can be contentious. Late in 2018, the DNR issued the final major permits for the PolyMet sulfide ore mine, a project that would threaten the health of Minnesota waters and communities if allowed to move forward. It would also set a troubling precedent for further sulfide mining projects, like the proposed Twin Metals mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which would also require DNR involvement.

Laura Bishop brings private and public-sector experience to MPCA

A Minnesota native, Laura Bishop currently works as Vice President of Public Affairs at Best Buy, where she has kept a significant focus on issues of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. She has previously served in federal and state government and abroad at the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland. Encouragingly, she has displayed her commitment to emissions reduction and homegrown leadership on climate action, and was part of Minnesota’s delegation to the COP21 climate conference in Paris in 2015.

A commitment to climate action is especially relevant for the MPCA’s new leader. The agency has the authority – and the responsibility – to regulate carbon emissions and help ensure that clean transportation continues to expand in Minnesota.

The PCA is also the main environmental protection agency that provides oversight for numerous projects, including industrial facilities and factory farms. Last month’s decision by the PCA to deny a permit for the proposed Catalpa swine factory farm in Fillmore County also initiate a regional review of water pollution in southeastern Minnesota. After this groundbreaking move, Bishop has an opportunity to keep her agency moving toward a more community-centered focus when evaluating new projects.

Thom Petersen brings a farmer’s perspective and policy experience in new role

Like current Commissioner Dave Frederickson, newly designated Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen has a background in farming and organizing with the Minnesota Farmers Union. Petersen has worked as Director of Government Relations for the union for sixteen years, and he and his family operate a horse farm in Pine City.

Petersen will arrive at the Department of Agriculture at a time when drinking water pollution is on the rise in many communities throughout Minnesota. Cities like Hastings, Cold Spring, and Altura are seeing more and more harmful nitrate pollution in their drinking water supplies, primarily due to crop fertilizer infiltrating local groundwater. For this reason, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been working on a new Groundwater Protection Rule that aims to reduce nitrate pollution in vulnerable areas by encouraging and enforcing healthier farming practices.

Commissioner Petersen will have to navigate his position to help protect Minnesota’s drinking water and advance the interests of family farms. Fortunately, the development of profitable new crops that promote soil health and greatly reduce fertilizer runoff present the MDA with an exciting opportunity. By working to encourage the use of these crops, the agency can ensure that Minnesota’s water and soil and the vitality of our rural communities improve together.

We wish the new leaders luck in 2019

At MEP, we’re looking forward to working with the new leaders in the Walz Administration. We know that Minnesotans value our health, our water, our natural resources, and our economic future. With bold, committed, and effective leadership, Minnesota’s new Commissioners can help protect all the things that make Minnesota a great place to live.

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

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

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

MPCA surprises with permit denial, recommendation of regional study

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

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

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

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

PolyMet permits contribute to troubling precedent

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

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

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

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

Commerce Department responsibly works to help stop Line 3

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

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

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

The common thread: Minnesotans demand better stewardship of our resources

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