Two Minnesota cases examine “necessity defense” for climate protests

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

During this month, two important cases of civil disobedience have been brought before courts in Minnesota with a highly unusual twist. Defendants in Bagley and Duluth have been charged with disruptive action in opposition to oil pipelines, and they’ve been allowed by judges to employ a rarely-used tactic: Minnesota’s necessity defense.

This defense requires the defendant to prove that their otherwise illegal action was needed to prevent greater harm – in other words, that they had no choice but to act. Their reasoning: the threat of climate change is imminent and dangerous enough to require extraordinary acts of protest.

The valve-turners in Clearwater County

The first case was heard in Bagley. Two years ago, the defendants, known as the “valve turners” temporarily shut the valves on two oil pipelines in Minnesota to protest the climate impacts of fossil fuels. At the same time, other valve turners carried out similar, coordinated action on pipelines in other states. 

The Minnesota valve turners reported their actions to Enbridge and were charged with causing property damage to a pipeline.

The valve turners’ defense didn’t dispute the facts of the accusation. Instead, they petitioned Judge Robert Tiffany to allow them to present a defense based on the need for taking action to fight climate change. Tiffany made the unusual decision to allow the necessity defense to be used to persuade the jury, but chose not allow defense attorneys to call outside climate experts to testify.

The question was rendered a moot point on October 9, when he dismissed the charges entirely, stating that the prosecution was unable to prove that the shutoff had actually harmed the pipeline.

The dismissal surprised people on both sides, but the case had already given the valve turners a platform to make their argument: that tackling climate change requires extraordinary action – including civil disobedience.

A similar case is being tried in Duluth

This week, a court in St. Louis County has been the scene of a related trial for civil disobedience on the grounds of climate action. In January, Scot Bol, Ernesto Burbank (a member of the Navajo tribe) and Michael Niemi, accompanied by several protestors, protested at a Wells Fargo bank branch. The three men locked themselves to the entrance of the bank in opposition Wells Fargo’s bankrolling of Enbridge pipeline projects.

The defendants successfully petitioned court referee John Schulte to let them employ the necessity defense in an attempt to persuade him to find them not guilty of misdemeanor trespassing.

The trial began earlier this week, and MEP’s Great Lakes Program Director, Andrew Slade, watched arguments from the trial. According to Slade, Schulte has commended the defendants for their passion for social justice, and agreed that climate change is absolutely worthy of action.

However, the referee has not yet concluded whether Minnesota’s necessity defense should legally absolve the defendants of guilt in this situation.

No matter the outcome, these cases are part of a major shift

As the impacts and evidence of climate change have continued to mount up, it’s clear that the politics and law around climate action are changing. The fact that climate change is already endangering Americans around the country is incontrovertible among the scientific community and those of us who live through it. And it’s also certain that continued fossil fuel consumption is worsening these effects.

The real question before Minnesota is not whether or not to address climate change, but how to do so – and how soon.

Fortunately, we know the way to a better future. Electrifying our transportation, increasing energy efficiency, and expanding wind and solar power are positive, economy-building steps to reduce our carbon footprint. And they’ll help us to end our addiction to fossil fuels and hazardous oil pipelines.

Regardless of the outcome of these cases, we know that the necessity for combating climate is real. And this is the moment for Minnesota to prove that we’re up to the challenge.

Less than three weeks remaining: A participation guide to the 2018 election

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Tuesday, October 16, marked the three-week-out mark for the 2018 midterm election, and the last day for Minnesotans to register to vote prior to Election Day, November 6. The week marked another important election milestone: the number of voters requesting early ballots nearly tripled in comparison to the same time four years ago during the last midterm election.

This significant change builds on a proud tradition of high voter turnout in Minnesota. It’s worth noting, however, that in the 2014 midterms scarcely more than half of eligible Minnesotans cast a ballot. This greatly exceeded the turnout rate of 36.4% nationwide, but it was still our state’s lowest general election turnout rate since 1986, and it left plenty of room for improvement.

As a nonprofit organization and Minnesota’s largest coalition of environmental groups, MEP does not endorse candidates or participate in election campaigning. But we take pride in our state’s legacy of high voter participation, and we strongly in maintaining and expanding that legacy. We believe that creating a consensus on how best to steward Minnesota’s land, air, and water requires input from as many Minnesotans as possible – and voting is at the core of that effort.

That’s why we created our Voter Resources page

Since August, we’ve been listing information on how to register, how to cast a ballot, and how to get informed about the candidates on our Voter Resources web page. We encourage all interested Minnesotans to use it as suits them best, and here are some of the highlights and clarifying information:

Casting a ballot

  • We’ve included links to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s instructions on how to cast a ballot, including voting early and on Election Day. It’s worth noting that every Minnesota county election office offers early voting in person, and 16 Minnesota counties (representing more than half of Minnesota’s population) have other locations that are also open for early voting.
  • Minnesota is one of 17 states with Election Day registration, so if you aren’t registered to vote, you can do so on November 6 at your local polling place – just make sure to bring proof of residence. You must have lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days prior to November 6.

Getting informed

  • We’ve begun compiling nonpartisan voter guides to where the candidates stand on the issues, such as MPR News’ analysis of several candidates’ statements on climate change.
  • We’ve included links to videos of past candidate forums and information about upcoming candidate events. The League of Women Voters – Minnesota (an MEP member organization) hosts forums for many local candidates around the state – their calendar has the details.

Engaging with leaders

Voting is the most basic civic duty of citizens in Minnesota, but we know and appreciate that many Minnesotans go above and beyond this important step. Volunteering to assist in the election process and encouraging friends and neighbors to vote creates an even greater impact.

We also encourage Minnesotans to engage directly with candidates and elected officials. Candidates will only make our state’s natural resources and public health a priority if they hear questions and concerns about them from Minnesota voters. Most campaigns have plentiful opportunities for voters to contact candidates to raise these issues. For those who would like information to share with candidates, our recent articles on issues such as Great Lakes restorationclimate changetransportationnatural resources funding, and pollution in drinking water can be a helpful resource.

Like our beloved lands and lakes, the exercise of our right to vote is one of our state’s proudest qualities. Let’s continue to build on that legacy on November 6.

Neighbor to neighbor, living with the Great Lakes

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The Lakewalk, Duluth, after a torrential storm (Andrew Slade, 2018)

By Andrew Slade, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

First to go was the line of sandbags we’d put down in case the waves crested the dunes. The waves kept cutting away. Then it was an old line of wooden snowfence and metal posts we’d put in five or ten years ago. Then the waves took a little white pine tree I’d planted, with more hope than wisdom, about four years ago. All lost to the surf. Dressed in layers of rain and sand protection, I went out mid-day and pulled back the old used lawn furniture, away from the surf. When darkness fell, the gale warning was still in effect. One last white pine tree still stood in the dunes.

At least half a mile of roaring froth was headed directly at my house. The October storm had been building for a day out on Lake Superior. The stronger and longer the wind blew, the bigger the waves grew. While we watched helplessly, the churning waves bashed into the dunes between the waves and our house. They began, foot by foot, to eat away at the dune.

Most days I feel really lucky to live on the Lake Superior beach. In the heat of summer, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Since we moved in to our 100-year-old house on the beach in Duluth, my wife and I had been cautiously working with nature to rebuild the natural sand dunes that separated Lake Superior’s powerful waves and currents from our house and yard.

But Lake Superior is more powerful than any one person or any meager line of dunes. The dune that the breezes and shifting sands had built over 20 years, the waves took it away in 20 hours.

When morning came, the wind had stopped and the lake was amazingly calm. I could see from the window that last pine tree was still standing. We ventured out our gate. I gasped when I saw that about two-thirds of “our” dune was gone. That lone pine tree, once ten feet from the edge of the dune, was now precariously on the edge of the dune itself.

The last pine standing

I walked to work that morning along the Lake Superior beach. For about four city blocks, almost every yard had been impacted by the waves. Solid wooden fences were gone. Foot-thick timber walls had been ripped apart. Strands of driftwood curved into backyards where the waves had breached over the dunes and walls. A lone migrating sandpiper had somehow survived the waves and wind and was back on the shoreline, looking for nourishment before continuing on to South America.

Neighbors began talking to neighbors. Some who lost fencing were already re-building that afternoon. Some were just clearing the debris. An older couple in a house far too big for them was nowhere to be seen, their galvanized metal fence in disarray.

This was the biggest storm and the biggest waves any ever remembered, at least since the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. After a few years of above average rainfall, Lake Superior was nearly a foot higher than it “normally” is for October.

Our beach neighborhood is a complicated mix of resources, people and politics. Most of the houses are old, even older than our centenarian. The sand on the beach came from lake currents, from the glaciers, and from the St. Louis River. The only reason there is a beach is because of that complex of forces and resources. The water levels rise and fall, mostly due to weather trends but partly also due to the International Joint Commission’s work at the Sault Locks. City founders saw fit to keep the beach itself in public ownership, but the beach is disappearing.

This whole thing makes me think about government, about people working together, about what’s the best way to fix both individual and collective problems. With the beach disappearing, should it be individual action to save our own individual homes? Or should there be a broader, neighborhood-based, community response? And if it’s a community response, what’s the best level of government?

Is it the federal government? The piers that make up Duluth’s vital ship canal, built and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, block off the natural flow of sand and waves, so the four or five blocks in our neighborhood are, at least to my mind, dependent on the Army Corps of Engineers occasionally dumping loads of dredge spoils here, what they call “beach nourishment.” We could try complaining to the International Joint Commission or their International Lake Superior Board of Control, ask them to lower Lake Superior. But that would flood Lake Erie.

The Minnesota DNR could install a massive concrete breakwall along the beach, but that would destroy the beach itself.

What if we all just protected our own homes? My family worked thoughtfully over the decades to help nature rebuild the natural dune in front of our house, putting up snow fence and planting trees and beachgrass. Other neighbors dealt with the blowing sand by hiring a Bobcat every year or two and mowing the dunes down. Not to say “I told you so,” but those Bobcat users got far more water and waves into their yard.

One neighbor had installed concrete “jersey barriers” on their beach. During the October storm, these barriers channeled the surf away from their property and onto their neighbors’ property, increasing the neighbor’s damage. That’s definitely not the best way to fix the problem.

At our place, I’m going to tie up the lone pine tree so it doesn’t fall into the surf. I’m going to talk with my insurance agent about how best to protect my family and my assets. Next spring I’ll put out a new run of snow fencing to start rebuilding our dunes. And I’ll keep talking with my neighbors. If they want snow fencing up, I’ll show them how. If they set up a meeting with the mayor, the DNR, our county commissioner, I’ll join in and share my concerns.

As a human being, I act in my own interest. But as a neighborhood, we need to act in everyone’s interest. We like to think that we can control our world. The helplessness I felt in a Lake Superior storm reminds me that I cannot.

A reason for hope: Minnesotans’ role in confronting climate change

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week’s United Nations report on climate change – estimating that the global community has roughly twelve years to cut emissions in half in order to avoid catastrophic warming – was jarring. The twelve-year deadline may seem a short window for the low-carbon revolution. But consider what has changed in the past twelve years, since 2006:

  • 3 billion more people have become connected to the Internet.
  • Over 4 billion more people have access to a cellular phone.
  • Polio was declared eradicated from all but two countries.
  • Global wind and solar energy capacity reached the milestone of a trillion watts installed.
  • The average cost of solar energy per megawatt-hour in the United States plummeted from more than $400 to only $50.

Closer to home, 2007 was the year Minnesota passed the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act, which spurred enormous clean energy development in our state. In the past twelve years, we’ve tripled the portion of our electricity generated by renewables – these sources now produce more than one-fifth of our electricity and counting. We’ve also made notable strides in energy efficiency, a field that has outpaced Minnesota’s economy overall in job creation three times over. The upshot is that we’re capable – in Minnesota and around the world – of creating the future we need to handle climate change.

A transition for Minnesotans, by Minnesotans

The healthy changes of the last twelve years could not have happened without the support of Minnesotans who showed up and spoke up. The actions we need for the next twelve will require just as much courage and dedication. We ask all Minnesotans to continue this important work. Contact your lawmakers and make sure to ask candidates for their plans for climate action before the election next month. Find an avenue to make your voice heard on climate change in whatever way suits you.

A brighter future for Minnesota, and the world, is entirely possible. Let’s start building it together.

An unprecedented raid and a betrayal of voters’ trust

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Why MEP and our allies chose to take a stand

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and eight partnering organizations served the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) with a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s raid on the constitutionally-dedicated Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund in order to pay for infrastructure projects.

This raid is unprecedented. If left unchallenged, it would set a dangerous precedent for more raids on this and other dedicated funds in the future.

In our 20-year history, MEP has never before joined or engaged in litigation to support our mission, and we don’t take to this decision lightly. But this action by the Legislature is an especially troubling case.

It violates our state’s constitution and the will of Minnesota voters, and is fiscally irresponsible. It jeopardizes the viability of the Environmental Trust Fund, and thereby threatens the important and necessary projects it supports to improve Minnesota’s natural resources and public health.

The Environmental Trust Fund is meant as a sustainable tool for improving our environment

Since it was created by voters via constitutional amendment in 1988, the Trust Fund has provided funding for projects to tackle Minnesota’s critical environmental issues. It’s contributed to habitat restoration, research on pollutants that make people sick, and advancements in our clean energy economy. (To learn more, see the full list of ENRTF-funded projects.) The Trust Fund receives its money from the state lottery and investments on that income, and is intended in the law to be a “long-term, consistent, and stable source of funding.” It stays that way by generally paying out cash in fiscally sustainable amounts.

The statute governing the fund, passed in the same legislation as its creation and reflecting the concerns of voters, does not permit it to be used for wastewater treatment or solid waste disposal. These are important and necessary projects. But they’re essential and basic government responsibilities that are traditionally funded with regular bonding.

The Legislature broke precedent and ignored these conditions

During the 2018 session, the Legislature arbitrarily limited itself to passing a set level of general obligation bonds (regular bonds). Instead of using these inexpensive bonds to pay for all wastewater treatment and landfill upgrades, the Legislature made use of a financially irresponsible gimmick. Not only did they decide that the Environmental Trust Fund would be used to make payments for $98 million worth of these types of projects, but they would do so via appropriation bonds – bonds that carry much higher interest rate than general obligation bonds.

The estimated cost increase from using these appropriation bonds instead: $35 million.

Essentially, the Legislature decided that they could avoid making the political choice to modestly raise the level of general obligation bonding to pay for these projects. Instead, they would create a false choice, pitting essential waste and water infrastructure against 20 years of new and promising environmental projects desired by the voters – who have consistently supported the Trust Fund.

And once the laws and values that govern the Trust Fund are successfully ignored, it sets an easily-used precedent for more raids that could leave the voter-created fund drained and non-viable.

A lack of respect for the public will

The Legislative process for passing this raid was seemingly designed to avoid public scrutiny. The raid was added to the omnibus bonding bill late in the day on the last day of the session, at a hearing where no public comment was taken.

Governor Mark Dayton signed the bonding bill, despite his disapproval of the raid, because it was bundled with other important projects. But he urged the next Legislature to fix the raid and protect the Trust fund.

Last month, MEP Executive Director Steve Morse testified to the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which oversees the fund’s disbursement, to ask them not to proceed with these projects. Their response was to suggest that if MEP and its allies believed the raid to be unconstitutional, we should simply sue the state.

We seek a long-term solution to protect the Trust Fund and upgrade our infrastructure

We’re allied on this lawsuit with these fellow members of Minnesota’s conservation community:

  • Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
  • Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance
  • Friends of the Mississippi River
  • Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
  • Clean Water Action
  • Fresh Energy
  • Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas
  • And Minnesota Native Plant Society

…because we know that Minnesotans value the long-term health of all our resources. We value our water, our air, our wildlife, and the health of our communities. We value responsible funding for our infrastructure. We value our Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

See further litigation coverage from: MPR NewsStar TribuneDuluth News TribuneMinnPostBluestem Prairie

Great Lakes Restoration is an economic goldmine

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, a study headed by the University of Michigan reported that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) – which works to improve water quality and habitat health around the region – provides a tremendous payoff for Great Lakes communities. The report found that the GLRI, already known to be an environmental success since its inception in 2010, will produce $3.35 in economic activity around the Great Lakes for every $1 invested by 2036. Minnesota cities like Duluth and others along the North Shore are great examples – they’ve seen both direct investment and economic ripple effects from the GLRI that have helped revitalize their economies.

The GLRI’s initial impacts on water cleanup, shoreline restoration, and other projects have created a powerful economic engine. These efforts have created and sustained jobs in scientific research, conservation, engineering, landscaping, and many other fields. The GLRI also provides funding to a variety of agencies and organizations to create opportunities for job training and other workforce development programs.

The restored shorelines, harbors and waterways support another expanding sector – tourism and recreation. The study estimates that the GLRI’s benefits to this sector will amount to $1.62 for every dollar spent through 2036.

A major boost for Duluth

The Duluth-Superior area is an especially positive case. Prior to the restoration efforts, the St. Louis River estuary in the Twin Ports was deeply contaminated, but the infusion of $60 million from the GLRI has made major improvements, making the area a more attractive destination. The study found that since 2008, jobs in the hospitality sector have increased by 4.4% and the city of Duluth’s tax revenue from tourism has doubled. Hotels, restaurants, and breweries are expanding and springing up in the Twin Ports in part because of the much improved water and recreation opportunities. Along Duluth’s once-contaminated harbor, three new hotels have opened in the last four years.

The restoration has also made Great Lakes communities more appealing places to live in. The Twin Ports have seen their populations of young adults increase significantly since the GLRI began, in part due to the parks, amenities, and environmental quality that the GLRI has helped create. Overall, the study estimates that every dollar spent on the program causes residents to gain $1.08 in increased property values as lakeshore communities become more desirable.

GLRI’s success is evident – the trick is protecting and building on it further

The GLRI effort has won broad support from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, especially in districts around the Great Lakes that have enjoyed the prosperity it generates. In its last two proposed budgets, the Trump Administration attempted to slash the program’s funding by 90% or more, but Congress has overwhelmingly moved to reject the cuts and fully funded GLRI with $300 million each year.

Continuing to protect GLRI’s funding is a top priority for organizations and leaders around the region. It’s also critical to restore funding to agencies, like the EPA, that administer the program and ensure the money is invested effectively. And the Great Lakes face growing challenges like plastic pollution and invasive species that demand further action.

This week, MEP’s Great Lakes Program Director Andrew Slade visited Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and staff to ask them to ramp up their efforts to protect the Great Lakes and cities like Duluth. Slade was accompanied by Rosie Alberio and Eben Phillips (all three in picture above), two representatives of the Duluth Stream Corps. With funding support from the GLRI, the Corps hires and trains Duluth residents to work on restoring shorelines, forests, and streams around the city. It’s a powerful example of the many programs that have revitalized the economy and improved the lives of millions of people around the Great Lakes.

These GLRI programs tell a story of how cleaning up land and water and growing the economy aren’t opposing goals – we can and should have both. Restoring and protecting the Great Lakes is a proven job creator and a boon to communities, and our lawmakers should continue investing in this success for years to come.

World Car Free Day celebrates vision of cleaner transportation

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Yesterday, September 21, the City of Minneapolis partnered with Move Minneapolis to celebrate World Car Free Day, marked by cities around the world as a day to raise awareness of the many sustainable options available to commuters. The event included award contests, free transit pass giveaways, sharing of stories, and outreach to inform commuters of alternatives – cycling, carpooling, public transit, and walking – to one commuter using one car.

The goal of World Car Free Day isn’t merely to keep a few cars off the road for a day, but to help commuters realize that in the long term, a clean commute is much more enjoyable than they might have expected.

Switching from the solo drive carries many benefits

Better for our air – To start with, any reduction in car usage is good for Minnesota’s air and efforts to mitigate climate change. Because of the decline of coal power in Minnesota, our electricity generation no longer makes up the largest share of greenhouse gas pollution – transportation is now our leading sector for those emissions. And vehicles are a powerful contributor of other air pollutants, like particulates and ozone, that cause asthma and other respiratory diseases. The fewer cars traveling on Minnesota’s roads on any given day, the cleaner our air will be.

Better for our planet – Fortunately, there’s enormous potential for Minnesotans to make relatively painless changes in their driving habits. According to the National Household Travel Survey, around 21% – roughly one in five – of all private vehicle trips in the United States are one mile or less in distance. Granted, many of those trips are necessary, but most people can walk a mile at a leisurely pace in roughly 20 minutes. Furthermore, the survey states that trips under 5 miles account for roughly 60% of the nation’s vehicle trips. If even a fraction of these individual car trips were replaced by walking, biking, carpooling, or public transit, we could reduce emissions by millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Better for your neighbor – These environmental benefits are compounded by the benefits to other commuters, especially those who may still need to drive. Removing cars from the road reduces traffic congestion, cutting travel times for drivers and allowing vehicle engines to operate more efficiently, cutting emissions further. Rather than increasing congestion, bicycle lanes, safe sidewalks, and transit routes reduce it if they’re made accessible and safe for the public.

Better for you! – Finally, reducing car trips through clean transportation carries significant personal benefits. A multi-national study carried out in several European cities found that commuting by bike was correlated with improved mental, physical, and social well-being. And the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week – an amount easily covered by a few manageable walking or bicycle trips. And compared with the maintenance and fuel costs of a personal vehicle, most other forms of transportation average out to be far cheaper for short trips.

Accessibility is an issue – but it’s improving in many places

Granted, not everyone may be able to walk, bike, or take a train or bus to their destinations, and for many of those who can, lack of accessibility can be a major obstacle. But that’s an argument for supporting better options for clean transportation, not staying stuck in the rut of solo car trips. Many investments already being made in Minnesota are making clean transportation more accessible, and there are more we should continue to support.

Contrary to stereotypes, bicycling isn’t relegated to the Twin Cities metro – it’s growing around the entire state. The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota – an MEP member organization – recognizes twenty-two Bicycle Friendly Communities in Minnesota, from Grand Forks to Grand Marais and Willmar to Winona. Three colleges in Greater Minnesota – Minnesota State University in Mankato, Concordia College in Moorhead, and Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter – were recognized as Bicycle Friendly Universities by the League of American Bicyclists in 2018.

Public transit is also growing around the state, with services expanding in in several Greater Minnesota communities. And in addition to bus and rail transport, the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit offers an online carpool matching service.

However, Minnesota’s clean transportation landscape needs improvements. Improving safe biking and walking infrastructure is critical to giving Minnesotans peace of mind when getting around without a car. And further investments in public transit are important to both affordability and expanded service (a CityLab report provides concrete evidence that improving service makes more people want to ride transit.)

Are you a candidate for a car-free commute?  Recent columns in the Star Tribune from Jennifer Brooks and Sarah Buntzman Strong share their stories of trying – and actually liking – the act of getting to work without their vehicle.

Not everyone can or will start going car-free on their daily journeys. But to those who are able, we say: why not give it a try?

Minnesotans demand leaders act now on climate change

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week saw a tremendous groundswell in climate advocacy in Minnesota at a moment when the impacts of our changing climate are becoming more and more visible. On Saturday, September 8,  People’s Climate Movement – Minnesota and allied organizations hosted the Rise for Climate, Jobs, & Justice Summit in Minneapolis, where more than 600 attendees heard from speakers, discussed climate justice issues, and learned how to make change (see photos and video of the summit here.) The event centered on the ways in which the climate movement intersects with racial justice, labor, civil rights, and youth participation. And Minneapolis wasn’t the only city to participate – people in Minnesota cities including Duluth, Winona, and Willmar held their own events, along with cities around the world.

Then on Tuesday, September 11, a group of Minnesota students and partnering organizations launched the Minnesota Can’t Wait campaign, aimed at demanding that Minnesota leaders take action on climate change. The campaign centers on a petition, submitted by the student leaders, that asks the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to develop a rule to regulate greenhouse gas pollution, and on a public petition to Governor Dayton to take immediate action on the issue. It stresses the urgency – becoming more and more evident – for Minnesota to take action on climate change. (To support the campaign, we encourage visiting their website and using the hashtag #MNCantWait on social media.)

The costs are adding up

The devastating weather events of the last year show why Minnesota, the U.S., and the world can’t afford more delay on climate action. As of this writing, the southeastern coast of the United States is being bombarded by Hurricane Florence, which has already damaged thousands of homes, cut off power for hundreds of thousands of people, and produced unexpectedly powerful flooding. This comes on the heels of a report that found that around three thousand lives were lost in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, making it among the most lethal disasters in U.S. history. Closer to home, Minnesota and Wisconsin have seen so-called “hundred year” storms strike with increasing regularity, producing floods in June and July that damaged dozens of communities, even as wildfire smoke from Canada triggered air quality alerts across the state.

While it’s true that many factors produce torrential storms, the science is clear: warmer temperatures are making storms wetter and worse. And though the southeastern states have borne the brunt of catastrophic rainfall exacerbated by climate change, Minnesota can expect to see rising costs – these floods are only the beginning. The only state where temperatures are rising faster is Alaska. It’s clear that without immediate action, the safety and way of life of Minnesota’s five and a half million people will continue to be threatened by climate change.

What to do about it

There is no silver bullet to mitigate climate change in Minnesota. But that’s a reason to take stronger action, not weaker. Among the actions we can take:

  • As stated in the Minnesota Can’t Wait petition, Minnesota can find ways to regulate or put a cost on carbon emissions to ensure an equitable transition from fossil fuels.
  • We can invest our resources in clean energy sources like wind and solar (and reject new fossil fuel infrastructure) to grow our economy and ensure that it is powered affordably and sustainably.
  • We can continue to make improvements in energy efficiency, electrification, and public transportation to fight all types of air pollution.
  • We can spur the growth of crop systems that put living cover on the land for the entire year, removing carbon from the atmosphere while improving our water and soil.
  • We can invest in resilient infrastructure, including stormwater management that uses native ecosystems to absorb water, to help protect our cities against floods.

With an election less than two months away, our state’s leaders should listen well to Minnesotans’ message: we can’t wait any longer for effective climate action.

Federal reversal on mining near BWCAW threatens Minnesota waters

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its cancellation of a Forest Service study and moratorium on mineral exploration in the watershed of the Superior National Forest, raising the possibility that private companies may soon be able to lease minerals in the watershed. The study was set up to research a proposed 20-year ban on mining within a 234,000 acre area of the Superior National Forest, which will now be dropped from consideration by the USDA.

 While the USDA did not name any particular company in its announcement, this reversal stands to benefit Twin Metals, which has proposed to construct a copper-nickel sulfide mine near Ely that would lie in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Department of Interior previously restored Twin Metals’ mineral leases, which had been revoked by the Obama Administration, moving the project closer to the realm of possibility.

If allowed to go ahead, the Twin Metals mine would pose an imminent and permanent threat to some of Northeastern Minnesota’s most precious water resources.

The study aimed to assess risks of new mining in NE Minnesota

The Forest Service’s study aimed to determine how sulfide mining – which has never before been done in the region – would impact the water, people, land, and wildlife in the region. The study and mineral moratorium were initiated under the Obama Administration, and was intended to last for at least two years. As late as May 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue assured members of Congress that the study would be completed in full. Given that it instead lasted 15 months and included minimal public comment, it’s clear that this assurance was not kept.

The USDA’s claim that “The analysis did not reveal new scientific information” may be technically correct in the sense that the process was deliberately reduced in scope and capability to avoid the inconvenient facts: sulfide mining has never been conducted in a watershed without severe pollution, and it would devastate some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable waters.

An unprecedented, hazardous new industry

In its announcement, the USDA stated that “The Superior National Forest has been mined for decades and is known as the ‘Iron Range’ due to its numerous iron mines.” This misleadingly suggests that sulfide mining would be nothing new for Northeastern Minnesota. In fact, this type of mining has never happened in Minnesota, but it has happened in such places as Mount Polley in Canada, and the Berkeley Pit in Montana, both of which caused catastrophic water pollution. Along with the proposed PolyMet mine in the St. Louis River watershed, the Twin Metals mine (or any sulfide mine) near the Boundary Waters would threaten some of the most valuable and vulnerable freshwater supplies in the world. An inevitable spill would threaten the health of local residents, the viability of local ecosystems, and the vitality of Minnesota’s economy.

The USDA’s disregard for thorough scientific review and the value of Minnesota’s waters is a betrayal of Minnesotans’ trust. While the Twin Metals mine is far from being greenlit, the 20-year ban would have been a bulwark against sulfide mining pollution toxifying the Rainy River watershed and the Boundary Waters.

Minnesota can’t afford to allow sulfide mining to pollute our water for hundreds of years. The fight over Twin Metals is by no means over, and we urge all concerned Minnesotans to participate, so that the USDA’s error doesn’t turn into an environmental nightmare.

Minnesotans rally in Bemidji, showing that Line 3 fight is far from over

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, August 29, more than 100 people gathered in Bemidji and occupied several streets to share a message: the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project is wrong for Minnesota. The gathering, organized by MEP partners including MN350, Honor the Earth, and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, peacefully occupied public streets within a few hundred feet of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The demonstrators called on Governor Mark Dayton and the state of Minnesota to halt the Line 3 permitting process as lawsuits and challenges to the risky project move forward. They decried the Public Utilities Commission’s approval in June of a certificate of need for Line 3 – a decision that faces legal challenges from multiple groups.

While no arrests were made, local police cited more than 25 people during the protest. According to Sierra Club North Star Chapter Executive Director Margaret Levin, the Bemidji gathering represents only the third time that Sierra Club leadership has gathered in protest at risk of arrest. The rarity of this action underscores the tremendous hazard that Line 3 poses to all Minnesotans, and the often misunderstood fact that the Line 3 debate hasn’t ended – not by a long shot.

The risk to Minnesota’s people and water

The new Line 3, billed as a simple replacement project by Enbridge Energy, would greatly increase the volume of tar sands oil crossing Minnesota’s lands and waters from Kittson County to Duluth. That would impact all Minnesotans financially (see our fact sheet on why Line 3 would be a risky, unneeded investment for our state) and via climate change, as tar sands oil is even more emissions-heavy than conventional crude.

Northern Minnesotans, however, would face the brunt of the impacts. Line 3 would traverse a new route through Minnesota’s most vulnerable and pristine waters, at the top of the continental divide. A spill in those waters would be catastrophic in the short and long term – once tar sands oil spills into water, it’s nearly impossible to clean up. That’s one major reason why the pipeline would be especially harmful to indigenous tribes in Minnesota. The Ojibwe maintain treaty rights to harvest wild rice and fish in Northern Minnesota waters, and deeply rely on these water resources culturally and economically.

Line 3’s approval is not yet set in stone

The Public Utilities Commission did not end the Line 3 debate, as federal, state, and local permits are also required for the pipeline to move forward. And the PUC’s process had clear flaws, rejecting vital testimony and ignoring many of the environmental and cultural impacts a new pipeline would inflict. MEP partners including Honor the Earth and Friends of the Headwaters have filed suit to challenge Line 3’s flawed environmental impact statement, which the PUC relied on in making its decision.

Wednesday’s peaceful rally in Bemidji represents the undaunted willingness of Minnesotans to continue standing up for our land, our waters, our health, and the rights of indigenous communities. We thank all those who took action in Bemidji, and we call on state decision-makers to listen to Minnesotans and avoid the consequences of this harmful new pipeline proposal.