Great River Energy plans to break promise to shutter Coal Creek power plant

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On June 30, Great River Energy announced that it planned to sell its Coal Creek Station power plant to Rainbow Energy, a North Dakota company. This plan contradicts Great River’s pledge, made a little over a year ago, to shut the coal plant down due to its high cost to consumers and substantial climate impact, in line with its broader promise to cut emissions. 

Great River Energy had planned to switch over its generation to wind and other sources, saving consumers money and helping transition away from coal. Under the terms of the sale, the utility will be moving away from coal generation on paper. But it plans to simply buy the power back from Rainbow. The divestment from coal is a legal fiction – a rigged shell game. And while Rainbow claims that carbon capture and storage will mitigate the climate impact of the plant’s continued operation, that solution is unproven at best, as well as expensive for consumers, especially relative to ever-cheaper wind prices.

A lack of transparency

Great River is the second-largest utility in Minnesota in terms of power generation (after Xcel) and is the state’s largest not-for-profit power cooperative. The co-op is owned collectively by 28 smaller co-ops throughout the state and serves more than 700,000 consumer-members. Its decisions on power generation thus have an enormous impact, and are in theory accountable to those members – though this does not necessarily ensure transparency in Great River’s decisionmaking.

As MEP Member CURE has detailed, Minnesota’s electric co-ops are notorious for their lack of transparency. They provide little public information on energy generation, governance, or how members can exercise their ability to influence their co-op or run for the board of directors. And because Great River is a co-op of co-ops with these issues, it has several layers of insulation between its top decisionmaking and the interests of the Minnesotans who buy its electricity.

It appears that local politics and short-term gain have had a greater influence over this decision that Great River’s members. Coal Creek is the largest power plant in North Dakota, and local government officials in the area are opposed to the plant’s closure, going as far as to disrupt plans to increase wind production in McClean County where the plant is located in order to prop up the obsolete, expensive plant. Rather than work to break the impasse and protect consumers and the climate, Great River has taken a route that is easy for its leaders in the short term and harmful down the line, to the planet and to people living near Coal Creek.

Not a done deal

Great River and Rainbow have presented this sale as an inevitability, making it appear as if there is no way for its customers to dissent. But this is not the case – there is still time to stop the sale. If a sufficient number of its co-op members oppose the deal, Great River can be forced to live up to the promise it made last year to shut down Coal Creek. Connexus Energy, a co-op that serves parts of Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities Metro, already voted against it.

Among the largest and most influential co-op member of Great River is Dakota Electric Association, serving more than 100,000 customers in Dakota County. Dakota Electric will be holding a board meeting on July 29 at which it will consider the sale. If Dakota Electric’s Board chooses to join Connexus in opposing it, it will be a strong signal to Great River to reconsider.

Great River’s leadership doesn’t want its co-ops to vote against the decision to sell, and has made the process opaque and difficult to follow for consumers. The regulations and systems that govern electric co-ops largely favor this top-down model. But at the end of the day, the utility must still be accountable to its owner-members, and responsible for its impact on our climate and air quality.

How you can help

Use this action alert from our friends at MN350 to contact Great River Energy co-op leaders and ask them to stop the sale. It’s especially impactful if you are a member of one of Great River’s co-ops – contact Great River directly or reach out to your local co-op to express your opposition to the continued operation of Coal Creek Station. If not, reach out to people you know who may get their power from the utility. If enough like-minded consumers stand against this sale, this sale can still be stopped.

Senate ouster of MPCA commissioner continues pattern of environmental stonewalling

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Wednesday, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop was pushed out of office after Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka informed her that the Senate would vote against confirming her, effectively removing her from her position. The Republican-controlled Senate had announced a few days earlier that they would be holding hearings on several Walz Administration cabinet members before adjourning from their special session. Commissioner Bishop was the only one of the officials who lost her job, choosing to resign rather than face a vote in the full Senate.

While Sen. Gazelka made references to the Senate’s powers to fire executive branch officials if they aren’t doing their jobs, the Senate majority’s motivation for ousting Bishop was discussed openly: they were opposed to moves she made or considered as Commissioner to protect Minnesota’s environment from polluters. The Walz Administration’s MPCA-led Clean Cars rulemaking, which will help make electric vehicles more widely available at Minnesota dealerships, was the most visible issue of controversy.

Commissioner Bishop’s ouster shows just how far removed the Minnesota Senate is from Minnesotans’ views on climate action and environmental protection.

Bishop led the MPCA for two and a half years, through three regular and numerous special sessions. The Senate has had the power and the opportunity to vote on the confirmation of the Governor’s officials during that entire time. While they did hold a hearing about Bishop’s performance last year, they did not choose to force her out until this month – right after the environment budget passed without the Clean Cars rollback that they wanted. The Senate took a similar action in 2020 when they fired Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley – retaliating for his financial regulations and his department’s continued opposition to the Line 3 oil pipeline.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the Senate’s decision is that Clean Cars is a broadly-supported, relatively modest step toward reducing transportation emissions. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a groundbreaking change, and is already on the books in more than a dozen other states. Many vehicle companies are moving toward electric models anyway, but the Clean Cars rules will help them become available to Minnesotans faster to help us cut emissions and get a leg up on the market.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership has appreciated the steps Commissioner Bishop took to protect Minnesotans from the climate crisis, mercury, lead poisoning and other measures. That’s not to say we always agreed with Commissioner Bishop on the issues, particularly with regards to permitting that has been accommodating toward large, polluting businesses. But with Bishop’s ouster from the MPCA, the Senate has signalled that they are willing to chose a destructive partisan path to punish those steps taken and score political points against Governor Walz.

What happens next at the MPCA is up to Governor Walz. The lesson that we hope he takes away from this unfortunate firing is that even a well-qualified, business friendly MPCA commissioner advancing modest policies is not enough to stave off the Senate’s antics. Instead of caving to them, he should direct the agency to let science drive their work and to act boldly on climate and environment, addressing threats like Line 3, sulfide mining plans, and factory farms. If we move at the pace the Senate wants us to, we won’t be getting anywhere near where we need to go.

The costs of hosting Enbridge pipelines pile up in Minnesota

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature passed a number of investments in the state’s natural environment this year. Apart from passing the overdue Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations, the Legislature provided $4 million for incentivizing farmers to implement cover crops, $1.35 million for other soil healthy farming practices, and $4 million for the Forever Green Initiative, which researches next-generation market based regenerative cropping systems, as well as other funds to benefit clean energy and combat climate change. 

But a big pot of funding was also allocated to pay for an accident – financial, not environmental – concerning Enbridge, the Canadian oil pipeline company that operates several lines through the state. In this massive “money spill,” the Legislature passed $30 million to cover a tax refund for Enbridge after a court decided that for several years, the state Department of Revenue had overstated the value of its pipelines that cut across our state. This generated higher tax payments to Minnesota counties for hosting its pipelines. The state will also repay an additional $16-18 million through reducing Enbridge’s tax bills in future years.

If the bill hadn’t passed and a settlement with Enbridge hadn’t been made, thirteen counties would have been on the hook for the bill. Most of them are rural and have low populations, poorly equipped to cover these several years’ worth of property tax losses with their own revenue. The problem wasn’t the counties’ fault that this had happened – they couldn’t have predicted that Enbridge would sue the State of Minnesota or that courts would find that the Department of Revenue had erred.

But it does point to a bigger question. The state has permitted these six pipelines and the ongoing construction of the new Line 3 pipeline, which would operate with twice the capacity of the existing Line 3. It’s clear how Enbridge benefits, as they have a new way to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands, and get guaranteed income from fuel tariffs. But apart from a large and evidently volatile source of income for thirteen counties, what do we, the people of Minnesota, get out of the bargain?

The human cost

The ground resistance to Line 3 has been largely led by Indigenous- and women-led organizations like Giniw Collective and Honor the Earth, with many others in support. They resist because the pipeline is a violation of Ojibwe rights, as it threatens resources like wild rice waters that are guaranteed to the tribes by treaty, and a threat to the planet.

As we wrote in June, the non-violent resisters have been met with arrest and physical harm at the hands of state and federal law enforcement serving Enbridge’s interests. Earlier this week, Hubbard County law enforcement blockaded an Indigenous-led camp on private property, an action that violates Ojibwe rights to access treaty lands and resources. 

Meanwhile, the human harms that Indigenous communities predicted are happening before our eyes. This week, at least two men working on the new pipeline were arrested in a sex-trafficking sting – not the first such incident since construction began. It’s well-established that where pipeline construction happens, sex trafficking happens, exacerbating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis. These concerns were presented to state officials before, and permits were granted anyway.

The environmental cost

The pipeline’s costs to land and water are still to be fully realized, but we know that a pipeline spill in the vulnerable wetlands of northern Minnesota would be catastrophic, and we know that the largest ever inland oil spill in the United States happened on an Enbridge pipeline in our state.

Currently, a new environmental issue has arisen with construction: Enbridge has been granted a DNR permit change to temporarily move five billion gallons of water in order to keep its construction trench dry. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe opposes the permit as it threatens wild rice waters that are already suffering in drought conditions. Indigenous leaders say that the DNR barely discussed the permit change with the tribes before granting it.

And although it may feel like playing a broken record at this point, the fact remains: the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the oil that Line 3 would transport would be greater than those from all other sources within Minnesota combined. We can’t meet our emissions reduction needs while operating the pipelines we already have, much less adding more.

We need an exit strategy

Enbridge and other fossil fuel companies paint a picture of being “good corporate citizens” of Minnesota. But this is a fake narrative. They take advantage of legal systems that were set up to advantage them, of state agencies that view them as customers to be served, and of law enforcement agencies that obliges them in harming protesters. Starting with Line 3, Minnesota needs to start cutting ties with the fossil fuel industry.

What you can do: Contact President Biden at 202-456-1111 and ask him to revoke permits for Line 3 as he did for Keystone XL.

Special session concludes with compromises, some key wins for Minnesota’s environment

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

As the Minnesota Legislature began its first special session 2021 last week, the DFL-controlled house and GOP-controlled Senate faced a deadline of June 30tht to reach deals on state budgets and policy – otherwise, a government shutdown was on the horizon. As of this writing, a shutdown seems unlikely, with most budget bills passed and on their way to Governor Walz for signature.

While these budget bills were compromises, they contain better results for Minnesota’s environment and communities than in other recent years. These successes are a testament to strong efforts by the environmental community, legislative allies, and Minnesotans who made their voices heard.

Environment Funding

Things looked tense for entities like the DNR (including the state park system), the Pollution Control Agency, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources over the past month, with the Senate threatening to block funding for those agencies unless the omnibus Environment bill blocked or delayed Governor Walz’s Clean Cars Rule. But after pressure from Minnesotans to drop that demand and pass a budget, the Senate left Clean Cars out of the equation, and those programs will be fully funded. In addition, the Legislature finally passed appropriations for two years from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to support numerous important restoration and research projects around the state. Minnesota voters created that fund by supporting a constitutional amendment to improve the state’s environment, and it’s good to see the Legislature living up to their responsibility to wisely spend it.

The Legislature should have gone much further to combat climate change and water and soil degradation, but did pass nearly $5 million to plant trees for carbon sequestration and to combat emerald ash borer. It also agreed on a total of $3.75 million to support farmers’ efforts to implement soil-healthy farming practices.

Environmental Protections

The Environment bill’s impact on policies that keep Minnesotans and our environment safe was more mixed. On the one hand, the bill includes a welcome ban on PFAS, a harmful and ubiquitous “forever chemical” that does not break down, in food packaging in the state. On the other, it rolled back a rule intended to reduce manure runoff from factory farms, a key contributor to declining water quality. That rollback may set up a conflict between Minnesota and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy

Like the other omnibus bills, the Energy and Commerce bill was a compromise on many fronts, but there were several bright spots. The Legislature passed welcome investments in solar energy that would bring panels to schools, universities, and landfills. It will also support energy efficiency innovation – a key part of reducing our climate emissions. Combined with other provisions in the bill as well as the ECO Act passed earlier this year, this budget will support quality jobs in clean energy across the state. We need to move much farther, much faster on energy, but each victory is an opportunity to open the door wider – if we keep working to persuade state leaders to do so.

Transportation

The Transportation bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, features several strong wins for our community. It will support new rapid transit lines in the Twin Cities Metro, new bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and a second daily Amtrak train from Minneapolis to Chicago. 

The bill wasn’t all wins, however, as it did not support the goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled, and included funding for highway expansions. It also failed to include Metro Transit fare enforcement reform, which would have made riding transit more equitable for communities of color. In order to cut emissions from transportation – our most climate-polluting sector – we need to reduce the amount that Minnesotans drive by providing fast and convenient alternatives, not continuing to heavily subsidize driving.

What comes next

Governor Walz pledged this week that he would relinquish his pandemic-related emergency powers on August 1st, and while legislative drama often appears unexpectedly, little more action is expected this year.

But much work remains undone. Minnesota has many emissions cuts to make and little time to make them in order to protect our communities, our environment, and our climate. The federal government’s possible action on clean infrastructure may help, but every state and city needs to do its part. We need to build on the achievements we won this session, build on the momentum for change, and win truly bold comprehensive climate action in our state.

Treaty People Gathering draws thousands to stand against Line 3

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last weekend, northern Minnesota was the site where the Treaty People Gathering, an activist mobilization against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, began. More than two thousand people from around the country assembled in the forests near Park Rapids to protest the pipeline, share knowledge and solidarity, and in some cases physically blockade construction.

The Gathering was spearheaded by native women from multiple organizations that have fought this tar sands oil pipeline that is a violation of tribal sovereignty, a danger to indigenous resources like wild rice that are guaranteed by treaties, and a threat to the planet. MEP staff members Steve Morse and Sara Wolff along with dozens of coalition members stood with people from around the state and across the country to call on our leaders to stop this pipeline.

Many who stood up at the Treaty People Gathering were met with arrests, riot gear, and a federal Homeland Security helicopter hovering close to the ground above protesters, resulting in harmful flying sand and debris. More than 200 people were arrested by the combined law enforcement task force defending Enbridge’s interests. And there are many who continue to stand – as of this writing, there are multiple camps along the planned route for the pipeline where people are continuing to put themselves in its path.

Why now

The fight against Line 3 has been a long one, and will continue as long as it remains a threat. The Canadian tar sands oil carried by Line 3 would generate greenhouse gas emissions greater than Minnesota’s entire economy combined – a disaster for a planet that needs desperately to retire old fossil fuel infrastructure, not build new pipelines.

Enbridge recently restarted construction on Line 3 this month after the spring thaw, and it will soon reach the Mississippi, where water protectors are camped to resist them. It’s a critical stage for this pipeline, which would carry some of the dirtiest oil on earth. But while some activists are focused on blocking construction, the other side of the fight is with the government authorities that are allowing this pipeline to happen.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals will announce a decision on Monday morning regarding appeals concerning the Certificate of Need, Route Permit and Environmental Impact Statement.  A challenge to the water quality permit granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will be heard by the Court later this month. A challenge in federal court is underway as well.

The very nature of the legal fights against Line 3 underscore the flaws in the process itself. State authorities – the Pollution Control Agency, the Public Utilities Commission, and the Department of Natural Resources – have plowed ahead with granting certificates and permits as if there is no off-ramp for the project, no amount of harm that is too great for the State of Minnesota to bear. Despite the fact that the people and resources of Minnesota should be their priority, state agencies have acted as if Enbridge is their client, as if the pipeline is inevitable, as if they have no option but to grant the permits.

While many of our laws were built to protect the interests of fossil fuel companies, Minnesota also has laws that should’ve stopped this project in its tracks. These laws were ignored. (See this fact-sheet showing how the Pollution Control Agency ignored state law in order to approve the water quality permit.)

But decision-makers hands are not tied. 

Governor Walz could recognize that the Pollution Control Agency did not follow the law and direct this state agency to settle the legal challenge to this permit (upcoming later this month) by revoking it. 

President Biden could revoke the Army Corps of Engineers permit granted by the Trump Administration because it failed to perform an environmental impact statement that considered the violation of treaty rights, risks from oil spills, or the pipeline’s impacts on climate.  

We call on Governor Walz and President Biden to honor treaties, follow the law and act for our collective future over fossil fuel industry interests. It is not too late. “The time is always right to do what is right.” 

Last month the IEA report made clear that holding climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires there be no new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure starting now. 

This week TC Energy, the backer of the Keystone XL pipeline, announced it was killing its pursuit of the project that President Biden thwarted when he revoked its permits on his first day as President. TC Energy could have waited for another change in administration before giving up — this project has been in the works for ten years. But it decided to pull the plug. 

Enbridge has systems, dollars, and political influence on its side (the company was the single largest spender on lobbying in Minnesota only a couple of years ago.) But those — in Minnesota and around the country — who stand against it have people power. We believe that the leaders of the Treaty People Gathering are right: Line 3 is a violation of the treaties, a danger to us all, and it will not be allowed to stand.

Read More:
Minnesota Reformer: “From near and far: Meet the ‘water protectors’ protesting Enbridge’s Line 3”
More about the Gathering and how to help: https://treatypeoplegathering.com/ 

New guidance on fish consumption points to contaminated ecosystems

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health released new guidance on fish consumption in Minnesota that indicate an emerging harm present in our ecosystem. It’s a sign that longstanding threats like mercury – while still dangerous – aren’t the only toxins accumulating in Minnesota food chains. The newer villain PFOS has made its way into our dinner tables.

The new guidance affects the panfish category – the crappies, sunfish, and trout. These fish are frequently caught by Minnesota anglers, especially in the southern half of the state. They’re also less likely to have elevated mercury levels than fish like walleye, bass, and northern pike.

Previous guidance recommended that people who are above the age of 15 and will not become pregnant could eat as many servings of panfish as they want in a week. The new guidance sets the number of servings per week at only four. For context, a serving of fish is equivalent to about six ounces cooked for a person who weighs about 150 lbs.

The guidance is changing because the pollutants in our environment are changing. Previously, the Department of Health only considered two pollutants in its recommendation. Mercury, with its tendency to bioaccumulate in fish in ways that are especially dangerous to humans, is one of them. Mercury pollution levels have decreased over the decades in Minnesota, but it continues to end up in Minnesota fish due to interstate coal plant emissions and mercury methylation. (Check out the MEP-commissioned report, Mercury in the St. Louis River Watershed.) The other is polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, a toxic “forever chemical” that has been banned in the United States since the 1970s. PCB continues to cause health problems, and it is estimated that more than 300,000 tons of it are present

The Department is now including Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS (brownie points if you can pronounce the full name) in determining how much panfish is safe, and the tightened number is another sign that this harmful chemical is spreading through our environment. PFOS is (perhaps confusingly) a category of PFAS appearing in the news more and more due to contamination issues from these forever chemicals.

PFOS is best known for being an ingredient in Scotchguard – a 3M-made stain protector chemical – as well as its use in industry. It’s a particularly ubiquitous and persistent chemical, estimated to be found inside the bodies of almost every person in the United States, though fortunately, concentrations are believed to be decreasing over time. Studies have indicated that PFOS can be a factor in kidney disease, immune conditions, cancers, and ADHD for those who have higher blood levels.

The chemical was largely voluntarily phased out of U.S.-made products years ago, but with an asterisk: it’s still making its way into the country via imports. The more PFOS products that are sold and disposed of, the more it will continue making its way into the food chain. Canada, on the other hand, has a ban on imports containing PFOS in addition to banning domestic production.

PFOS isn’t going away any time soon, and it certainly won’t be breaking down in our lifetimes, if ever. We can’t predict now whether future technology will help alleviate this problem, but we do know that the continued industrial use of PFOS will make the problem worse, impacting fish in Minnesota and around the world. Now would be a great time for state and federal governments to step up and take strong measures against this and other forever chemicals, so that Minnesotans can eat fish with peace of mind.

Could victories against Big Oil hasten fossil fuels’ end?

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, major legal and political changes rocked the global oil industry and indicated that ambitious climate action is gaining momentum. But while we’re thinking globally, let’s act locally. 

A court in the Netherlands ruled that energy giant Shell must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions in the country by 45% of 2019 levels by the year 2030. The Dutch court sided with the international advocacy group Friends of the Earth in holding that companies must cut their climate impacts in line with the Paris Climate Accords. Though the new precedent only directly applies to the Netherlands, it likely foretells similar action elsewhere in the European Union and the rest of the world, as courts recognize that climate obligations have the force of law.

Meanwhile, shareholders at two other energy behemoths – Exxon and Chevron – used their voting power to buck the status quo. At Exxon, shareholders – including hedge funds and pensions – defied management and tradition and elected two candidates who have vowed to address climate change more seriously. Similarly, a majority of Chevron investors voted for a more aggressive emissions cutting plan.

And in Washington, the EPA announced that it would work toward restoring the power of states and tribes to block fossil fuel pipelines and other infrastructure that goes through waterways. A Trump administration rule set limits on this veto power in favor of the oil industry, most notably affecting the states of New York and Washington.

Taken together, these are welcome signs that the status quo on fossil fuels is starting to crumble. As international scientific authorities warn that the climate can’t tolerate new fossil fuel infrastructure, courts, governments, and investors are recognizing that big oil must be forced to draw down, not trusted to do the right thing without supervision.

After all, we can’t take fossil fuel companies at their word when they promise to go green. As we wrote two weeks ago, pipeline companies like Enbridge have an abysmal track record in Minnesota when it comes to protecting the environment and maintaining public confidence. They have openly defied shutdown orders, as Enbridge did after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered them to cease operating Line 5. On issues like local jobs, health protections, and sex trafficking associated with pipeline worker camps, oil companies have broken trust just as they have broken our climate.

It’s exciting to see these victories against fossil fuel giants, because we won’t meet our climate goals without cutting their impact. Shell, Exxon, and Chevron are among the 20 or so companies responsible for one-third of all carbon emissions, and they frequently use greenwashing and biased marketing to shift the blame onto individuals.

At long last, it looks like the world is seeing through Big Oil’s smokescreen.

Once again, Legislative session ends with a comma, not a period

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The 2021 Minnesota Legislative Session ended on Monday, May 17 with little fanfare. While the House, Senate, and Governor agreed on overall budget targets, they did not pass a budget bill, and numerous provisions are still on the table. 

The Legislature will reconvene by June 14 for a special session, in which they intend to finish their work. There was a bright spot at the end of the session: strong bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate passed the Eco Act, a bill that updates the state’s Conservation Improvement Program and will lead to reduced carbon emissions by boosting energy efficiency. It’s one victory for our climate, for consumers, and for job creation in the energy sector.

But the Legislature’s unfinished work has significant implications for Minnesota’s environment. Funding for environmental agencies like the Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, and the Board and Water and Soil Resources is on the table, but not assured. 

Weeks ago, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen said that the Senate will not pass an environmental budget unless the Legislature repealed the Walz Administration’s authority to enact Clean Cars rule. Later, this demand was changed to a two-year delay. The Clean Cars rule, which would provide Minnesotans with more electric vehicle options and reduce emissions from all new vehicles sold, is currently scheduled to take effect no earlier than January 2024.

If an environmental budget is not passed in the special session, Minnesotans could see state parks shut down in July, and numerous beneficial programs to improve habitat and water quality left unsupported. 

And while they have budget targets for environmental agencies, House and Senate must also negotiate on policy provisions. Some proposals, like protections against pesticides, establishing a soil health goal for farmland, and enacting a new focus on environmental justice for new projects, should be included. Others, like rolling back the state’s ability to make pollution protection rules and delaying enforcement of water quality standards, should be left out. (Read MEP’s letter to the Legislature on these and other policy issues.)

Given the multiple challenges we face on climate, species loss, and water pollution, Minnesota can’t afford not to make investments in our natural resources or roll back the protections we have already. MEP and our partners will continue working to convince legislators to pass a budget that follows the science and meets our needs.

What you can do: Call or use our action system to contact your lawmakers and ask them to pass a clean environment budget that puts our people and ecosystems first.

Pipeline shutdown, oil industry lobbying highlight need for transition

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline due to a cyberattack led to surges in fuel prices across the eastern U.S. before it was brought back online on May 13. The attack on the largest oil pipeline in the country was the largest of its kind in history.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Enbridge (the Canadian company that operates Line 3 and other pipelines in Minnesota) disregarded an order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer to cease operation of Line 5. Governor Whitmer had ordered Enbridge to shut down the aging pipeline because of the risk of a spill into the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge said its violation of the Governor’s authority came about because only the federal government has jurisdiction in the matter.

Taken separately, the Colonial Pipeline shutdown points to the need for stronger cybersecurity, while Enbridge’s defiance points to one pipeline company with contempt for decisions that don’t go its way. But taken together, they illustrate that the United States is hooked on fossil fuels to our detriment. We’ve written about the climate consequences many times, but it’s clear that our economic resilience, the proper functioning of our government, and the day-to-day routines of our lives are harmed by oil companies’ dominance.

Minnesota is not immune

Minnesota is not an oil-producing state, but as Michael Rockhold points out in an excellent commentary from Thursday, we are an oil-transporting and oil-refining state. Four Enbridge pipelines run through our state to Superior, Wisconsin, while others transport oil to the refineries in Rosemount and St. Paul Park. It’s worth a reminder that the increased volume of oil carried by the under-construction Line 3 would have a greater climate impact than every other emissions source in Minnesota combined if it is completed and operates for the life of its permit.

What do we get for our trouble? In 1991, Minnesota was rewarded with the largest inland oil spill in our country’s history near Grand Rapids. Line 3 would follow a new route that would put entirely new lands and waters in danger of a spill, which could devastate wild rice resources that are sacred and guaranteed by treaty to the Ojibwe people. Its construction has contributed to COVID spikes and human trafficking. Some counties get tax revenue from hosting these pipelines, but as Enbridge’s recent appeal of its taxes shows, counties can have the rug pulled out from under them and be left with a steep refund bill.

Why are companies that are such bad guests allowed to continue operating in Minnesota? As Rockhold writes, they have a strong lobbying presence that often overrules the interests of a majority of Minnesotans. That’s not just on pipeline issues – blocking public transit funding and energy-saving land use, expanding highway lanes despite evidence that it makes traffic worse, fighting against clean vehicle rules: these are all in fossil fuel companies’ playbooks.

By making it inconvenient for people to avoid using fossil fuels, the industry perpetuates demand for its products. Then, as ExxonMobil has for years, they blame individual consumers for the climate crisis. It’s a good thing when an individual or family finds that it can be easy and healthy to commute by bike or transit or installs solar panels on their home. But we need system-level changes to make those options available to all.

What’s the solution?

Even without the necessity of climate action, kicking our addiction to fossil fuels will make our communities safer, healthier, and more resilient. And while fossil fuel companies remain powerful, more and more people and lawmakers are refusing to buy into their false narratives, and we have a chance to win what we need.

One of the most important solutions is to make our communities easier to get around without a car. Building out public transit that is fast, reliable, and convenient can provide a great alternative. Rethinking planning issues like parking (see article below), land use, road design, and zoning will make us less dependent on cars to enjoy basic amenities.

Meanwhile, we need to electrify everything. The remaining vehicles on the road should shift more and more toward electric models, and natural gas power in homes should be replaced with electricity. Our electricity sector is becoming greener, and while some power companies are still trying to push gas plants and other toxic infrastructure on us, we know that they are not needed for our future.

To be fair, an electrical grid isn’t invulnerable, and we need to invest in upgrades to make our grid more resilient to threats like extreme weather and cyberattacks. But when solar and wind are spread out among many locations and in many generation sizes, it creates a system much more resilient than one in which a single end-to-end pipeline can shut down an entire region. Electricity, unlike gasoline, can be safely generated in individual homes. And you’ll never hear about a wind turbine or a solar panel having a “spill.”

Indeed, oil spills can and should be made a thing of the past. Line 3, Line 5, and eventually all fuel pipelines should be safely decommissioned, and no new ones should be permitted. They won’t be needed in the economy we’re going to create.

We know that a majority of Minnesotans want to live in a clean energy-powered, climate-friendly state. Fossil fuel companies have told us otherwise for far too long. Time for us to stop buying it.

Senate holds environment budget hostage over Clean Cars, proposes rollbacks

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, May 4, through the Chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, the Minnesota Senate issued an ultimatum on the state’s environmental budget, seeking to end the Clean Cars rulemaking currently underway by the Walz Administration.  In an exchange in the Legislature’s Environment Omnibus Bill Conference Committee, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) told House Environment Lead Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul.) that the Senate will not pass a budget bill for numerous environmental programs unless the bill also repeals the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) authority to enact Clean Cars standards.

The Senate has also included numerous bad policy provisions that would rollback environmental protections across the state. Meanwhile, as we wrote in April, the House’s proposed environment bill would benefit soil health, ban harmful pesticides on many state lands, and require environmental justice to be considered in permitting for large industrial projects. (Read our letter to the conference committee on the good and bad language the two houses are considering.)

If the House and Senate cannot pass a negotiated budget bill successfully, it would result in a shutdown for beloved and critical Minnesota programs and agencies, including:

  • State Parks
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Pollution Control Agency
  • Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Numerous projects funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund

It would also cut critical state funding for:

  • Minnesota Zoo
  • Minnesota Science Museum
  • Minnesota Conservation Corps

The Senate’s grandstanding, along with its proposed rollbacks, come at a time when climate action is more urgent than ever, when most of Minnesota’s waters are classified as impaired by the MPCA, and when our pollinators are in steep decline. What’s more, opposing climate action is not a popular position – a new poll from our partners at MN350 shows that two-thirds of Minnesotans consistently favor bold climate action in our state. And even shutting down Minnesota’s state park system – which averages nearly 10 million visitors per year – would result in real economic harm and deprive families of recreation. There is no mandate for cutting environmental protections and activities.

The nonsensical opposition to Clean Cars

The Senate has presented several arguments against Clean Cars to try to justify its position, but none of them hold water. There’s the usual falsehood that it would prevent Minnesotans from purchasing gas-powered vehicles – the rule would simply make more electric vehicles available at dealerships and improve emissions standards for other vehicles. It will also be phased in over several years, giving ample time for adjustment.

Some also say that this kind of regulation is the job of the Legislature, but an Administrative Law Judge ruled on Friday that the MPCA has full authority to enact these rules to protect air quality. Given the Senate’s regrettable record on climate action and the urgent need for cuts to transportation emissions, we’d love to see them come up with alternative solutions that move us forward at the pace and scale needed. There has been plenty of time, but the Clean Cars rule just can’t wait. 

The argument that Minnesota should not allow California to dictate our regulations is also thrown around frequently, but usually leaves out the fact 13 other states have already enacted these standards. It’s true that Minnesota would be the first state in the Midwest to enact these standards, but not the first state to experience cold winters – Colorado, Maine, and Vermont have already done so. And as car companies make more and more ambitious EV pledges and the federal government promises to build more charging stations, getting ahead of the game will benefit Minnesota economically and environmentally. While much stronger action on transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and electric vehicle charging is needed, Clean Cars is a win-win for our state.

Ultimately, the Senate’s ultimatum pits the interests of polluting companies, car dealers who oppose these standards (and do not speak for their entire industry), and those who refuse to recognize climate science against the programs Minnesotans expressly care about. The people of Minnesota have shown through polling, supporting multiple constitutional amendments, and exploring our great outdoors that we want our environment restored and protected, not held hostage in a fight over long overdue electric vehicle rules. MEP and our allies will continue fighting against rollbacks on behalf of Minnesotans this session.

What you can do: Use our action system to contact Minnesota’s legislative leaders and urge them to pass an environment budget that helps the environment, supports climate action, and keeps our public recreation open.