Governor’s Veto of Wild Rice Bill Leaves Door Open for Solutions

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, Governor Mark Dayton announced his veto of HF 3280, a bill that would have taken major steps backward from protecting wild rice and clean water in Minnesota. The bill was intended to prevent the Pollution Control Agency from enforcing a rule on sulfate pollution in wild rice waters, ignoring sound science, Minnesota’s clean water needs, and the health of our communities and our state grain.

Sulfates threaten wild rice and Minnesota waters

The health of wild rice serves as a natural early warning for water pollution and is fundamental to the culture and well-being of the Ojibwe bands in Minnesota. Unfortunately, it has been in severe decline for decades. Much of this decline is due to sulfates – chemical compounds that flow into our lakes and rivers from mining, heavy industry and municipal wastewater plants.

The science behind sulfate’s ecological effects is complex, but it clearly shows that rising sulfate pollution prevents wild rice from growing, disrupts critical aquatic ecosystems, and threatens human health by increasing the prevalence of mercury in the food chain, including game fish, eaten by anglers. (The Science Museum of Minnesota has published a useful article for those interested in the biochemistry of sulfates.)

 The data show that wild rice begins to decline as the concentration of sulfate rises. The key threshold for healthy growth is 10 parts per million – at that level of sulfates, the wild rice will not grow.

In 1973 Minnesota adopted a rule to keep wild rice waters at sulfate levels of under 10 parts per million – but that standard has largely gone unenforced. Under pressure to take action, the Pollution Control Agency recently attempted to develop a rule that would set a different sulfate standard for each body of water using a formula.

But an administrative law judge rejected that rule because it was both unworkable and less protective than the 1973 rule, and ordered the PCA to enforce the uniform standard.

The bill would have turned back the clock on science and water protection

HF 3280 was written to send the PCA back to the drawing board on the rule in order to prevent the agency from finding a sulfate solution. It would have nullified the 1973 rule and forced the PCA to ignore established studies – already conducted and paid for by Minnesota tax-payers – that offer a way forward on protecting wild rice. In so doing, it would have put Minnesota in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The driving force behind the legislation is the notion that using the wild rice rule to control sulfate pollution would be prohibitively expensive for Minnesota’s iron mining industry. But the bill’s head-in-the-sand approach of ignoring sound science would have taken our state backward on finding a lasting, workable solution.

The Governor’s veto is an opportunity to move forward

We thank Governor Dayton for his veto of this harmful bill, and we ask that he again reject this legislation if it appears tucked into one of the Legislature’s massive omnibus bills. The best way to balance the needs of communities, industry workers, and the health of our waters is not to shut down science, but to use the science as a starting point to fix the problem.

Minnesota should invest in researching technologies and practices that can create win-win solutions for wild rice protection. Our state should take the lead in innovation for ways to reduce water treatment costs for businesses and municipalities using the best science possible.

We are encouraged by the United Steelworkers’ call for all parties to “unravel these complex problems and move forward with a solution that allows everyone to prosper.” We look forward to conversations with all stakeholders on how best to protect Minnesota’s precious wild rice, the strength of our economy, and the health of our communities.

Insider: May 5, 2018

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Environmental Insider is brought to you by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesotans Demand Clean Water at the Capitol

More than six hundred Minnesotans gathered on Wednesday, May 2 at the State Capitol with a critical demand for lawmakers: take action to protect Minnesota’s waters. Hundreds of attendees spoke out on their water concerns, but were united by the belief that the Legislature should work to strengthen – not roll back – Minnesota’s environmental protections.

The day began at Christ Lutheran Church near the Capitol, where attendees had breakfast and learned about water issues facing Minnesota. Experts from groups including WaterLegacy, Land Stewardship Project, Friends of the Mississippi River, and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership presented policy briefings throughout the morning. The film Troubled Waters was screened in the sanctuary.

Throughout the day, participants shared their concerns in over 140 meetings with legislators. Dozens of students and youth met with members of Governor Dayton’s administration to discuss their water and environmental priorities at the Capitol.

Farmers speak out on drinking water’s decline

At 12:30, Water Action Day organizers held a press conference at the Capitol featuring farmers and well owners speaking out on nitrate contamination of Minnesota’s groundwater. Steve Morse, MEP’s Executive Director and the author of the 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, described the nitrate crisis that is making Minnesotans’ drinking water increasingly undrinkable. He explained how the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is finally developing a framework to implement key provisios of the Act, and the unfortunate effort in the Legislature to derail it.

Arlene Nelson, an Winona County dairy farmer and Land Stewardship Project member, told of how nitrate levels in her farm’s drinking water well had risen from 3 ppm (parts per million) to 48 ppm, far beyond the Health Risk Limit of 10 ppm,  in 25 years. She traced this alarming development to changes in farm practices in her area with increased corn and soybean production coupled with livestock confinement.

Nelson’s family was forced to spend more than $25,000 to drill a deeper well to get safe drinking water – but that is not the solution to our groundwater pollution problem.  She argued that the Governor’s proposed Groundwater Protection Rule would save farmers time and money, both on fertilizer and on the enormous cost of water treatment and new wells.

Gary Trogstad of Eyota and Representative Clark Johnson of North Mankato spoke to these costs directly. Trogstad lamented that he had to drill an expensive new well due to nitrate contamination, and worried that this well would become contaminated as well if nitrates remained unchecked.

Rep. Johnson noted the residents of St. Peter pay significantly higher costs for their drinking water because it needs to be treated when it comes out of their wells. He indicated that the Groundwater Protection rule made perfect sense, especially with most farmers in compliance with the fall fertilizer restrictions already.

Dairy Farmer and Land Stewardship member Darrel Mosel of Gaylord shared how he achieves high corn yields without applying nitrogen fertilizer in the fall, and thanked the MDA for working on the issue to help Minnesota lakes and groundwater.

Finally, Director of the Minnesota Well Owners Association Jeff Broberg talked about the impacts of high nitrate levels on himself and his community, and urged farmers and regulators to work on solutions to the problem. “One reason I appreciate the MDA’s Groundwater Protection rule,” he said, “is that it encourages people to get together so they can figure out what to do.”

Minnesotans join their voices for water


photo credit: Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Hundreds of attendees later filled the Capitol rotunda for a clean water rally, emceed by Don Arnosti of the Izaak Walton League and featuring speakers from around the state. Governor Mark Dayton was unable to give a speech as planned, but his Senior Water Advisor, Anna Henderson, presented his proclamation, declaring May 2 to be Water Action Day and recognizing the immeasurable value and unique challenges of protecting Minnesota’s water.

Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth spoke on the protection of water, land, and indigenous rights for the present and for the future. LaDuke called out Enbridge Energy’s demand for a new oil pipeline despite there being six oil lines in Minnesota already, suggesting that Enbridge should instead “send those pipes to Flint, Michigan, where they need pipes!” Former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, a chief advocate for the 1990 Clean Water Act Amendments shared the history and progress of water protection in Minnesota, ending with a call for Minnesotans to vote in the November election “to make your voice heard on your values in this state.”

Finally, farmers Darrel Mosel and Land Stewardship Project member Audrey Arner spoke on the role of agriculture in protecting Minnesota’s water. Mosel lamented that he and his two sons could not swim or fish in the polluted local lakes in southern Minnesota. He called for good practices to support cover crops and timely fertilizer application to help heal the state’s waters.

Arner rallied the crowd with a speech on the growing dialogue between water advocates and farmers on how to move forward, and addressed the threat of rollbacks by lawmakers. She told the Legislature directly, “You are acting on behalf of us, and we are acting on behalf of the water!”

Finally, Arnosti concluded the rally with a call to action: “We all have a choice this November. Vote! Make sure you vote for water!”

Following the rally, Ojibwe jingle dress dancers performed a ceremonial dance on the steps of the Capitol in honor of Minnesota’s waters.

Water Action Day made possible by partners

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership thanks all of the attendees, volunteers, donors, and staff who made Water Action Day 2018 a success! We especially thank all of the following groups for their sponsorship and engagement:

Sponsors:

Audubon Minnesota
Clean Water Action
Duluth for Clean Water
EMA Inc. 
Friends of Pool 2
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters – Upper Mississippi
River Region

Minneapolis Rowing Club
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP)
MN350
ONE BluWorld
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Trout Unlimited
WaterLegacy
Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Partners:

Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Clean Up the River Environment (CURE)
Conservation Minnesota
Environment Minnesota
Honor the Earth
Minnesota River Congress

Native Lives Matter Coalition
Pesticide Action Network
Save the Boundary Waters
Take Action MN
The Nature Conservancy
Wilderness in the City

Thank you for joining us, and we hope you’ll help keep up the fight to protect our water!

 


Office space available in MEP’s building!

Is your organization in the market for a convenient, comfortable office space in St. Paul? The office suite above MEP’s office at 546 Rice Street is available for lease! The approximately 2200 square ft. space is ideal for a small to midsize nonprofit organization, featuring a kitchen and break area and offstreet parking.

Located in the Capitol-Rice Street neighborhood, it is also within three blocks of the Capitol complex and across the street from the Women’s Building. It is also positioned along bus routes 3, 62, and 67, and a two-minute walk from the Green Line. And perhaps best of all, the new tenant would have good neighbors in MEP’s staff!

Please contact Matt Doll at matthew@mepartnership.org if interested.


One Minnesota water issue mellows as rally begins

(From Forum of Fargo-Moorhead) — On Minnesota water advocates gathered at the Capitol for their annual Clean Water Action Day when at least one water controversy seems to be easing. House Agriculture Chairman Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said Wednesday, May 2, an hour before the clean-water rally that farmers now pretty much accept a Dayton administration draft rule on nitrogen fertilizer, although he said they still do not trust the administration. Hundreds rallied in favor of clean water Wednesday, talking about issues such as sulfate in wild rice water and construction of an oil pipeline across northern Minnesta. But the latest agriculture water controversy was subsiding. Gov. Mark Dayton and key agriculture aides are working on cutting the use of nitrogen fertilizer, which results in nitrates entering water. They have a draft rule to ban its fall application in much of Minnesota. >>Read More.


               

Minnesota county officials worry about potential pipeline protest cost

(From MPR News) — County officials in northern Minnesota are worried about large-scale protests if Enbridge Energy gets approval to replace its Line 3 crude oil pipeline, and have asked regulators to find a way to force the company to cover the costs to local governments.Susan Morris, president of the Association of Minnesota Counties, made the request in a letter filed with the state Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to decide next month whether to approve the project and, if it’s approved, what route it should take across Minnesota. The letter, sent late last month, was posted on the PUC’s electronic docket Wednesday. >>Read More.


photo credit: Reuters

Mayors oppose hydrogen fluoride use at Superior refinery

(From Duluth News Tribune) — Superior Mayor Jim Paine and Duluth Mayor Emily Larson are calling on the Husky Energy refinery in Superior to stop using hydrogen fluoride at the site after Thursday’s fire burned within 200 feet of the tank containing the dangerous chemical. The move comes a day after Paine told the News Tribune that he needed more time to learn about hydrogen fluoride and the refinery process before taking a position on the issue. In a news release Tuesday, Paine said he met with Rob Peabody, president and CEO of Husky Energy, and Chief Operating Officer Rob Symonds, and urged them to stop using hydrogen fluoride, citing concerns from the community. >>Read More.


                

Particles, man: New research quantifies life-shortening effects of ubiquitous air pollutant

(From MinnPost) — A half-century ago, smoking was a fixture in American life. You could smoke at work, in hospitals, on a plane — not to mention in restaurants and bars, from which the stale smell of spent cigarettes followed you home. More than four in 10 American men smoked, and a third of women did. That began to change after research linked cigarettes to life-shortening illnesses. Over time, more people opted to avoid the risk of breathing smoke that could cause blackened lungs, emphysema and cancer. Today, the share of Americans smoking compared to the late ’60s has been cut by more than half, according to the Centers for Disease Control. >>Read More.



photo credit: USDA

Feds restore Twin Metals Leases

(From the Timberjay) —  The U.S. Interior Department announced late Wednesday that it has reinstated mineral leases for the Twin Metals project near Ely. The decision is a reversal of a decision made by the Obama administration in late 2016 and it is likely to face an immediate legal challenge by environmental groups that argue the decision is illegal. The decision runs counter to the expressed view of the U.S. Forest Service, which declined to renew the leases in 2016. The Forest Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is continuing a review of a proposed withdrawal of 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest located within the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the federal mineral leasing program. >>Read More.


Help sustain MEP’s work. Donate today!

Do you appreciate our coverage of environmental and conservation issues? You can help sustain MEP’s work with a donation. Your support will help MEP continue educating decision-makers and Minnesotans throughout the state about important issues that impact clean water, clean air, and land conservation. Contributions also provide the financial backing we need to help organize the advocacy efforts of our 70 member organizations and take action through public organizing, media campaigns, lobbying, and research.

 


Weekly Environmental Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!  

1. What northern Minnesota city was named after the noble title of French explorer Daniel Greysolon?

2. Name as many of the Native American reservations and communities located in Minnesota as you can.


Upcoming Environmental Events

Upper Mississippi River Initiative, May 8
6601 Auto Club Rd, Bloomington
Hosted by Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Valley Chapter

Pledge to pull garlic mustard at Pine Bend Bluffs SNA, May 10
Pine Bend Scientific and Natural Area, Inver Grove Heights
Hosted by Friends of the Mississippi River

Good Energy: How solar can be a win for water, soil, farms, and pollinators, May 17
Town and Country Club, St. Paul
Hosted by Fresh Energy

Riverside Park Bird Hike, May 19
Riverside Park, St. Cloud
Hosted by Friends of the Mississippi River

Hands on Restoration Project, May 19
6601 Auto Club Rd, Bloomington
Hosted by Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Valley Chapter


Jobs and Volunteer Opportunities

Executive Director | Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association
Data Manager | Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Office Manager | River’s Edge Academy
Warner Nature Center Director | Science Museum of Minnesota
Program Intern – Summer 2018 | Clean Water Action
Outreach and Engagement Coordinator | Fresh Energy
Business Manager | St. Croix River Association
Chief Financial Officer | Environmental Initiative
Communications Director | Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Stewardship Associate | Minnesota Land Trust
See all job postings

Trivia Answers: 1) Duluth. 2) Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond Du Lac Reservation, Grand Portage Band of Chippewa Indians, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Prairie Island Indian Community, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Upper Sioux Community, White Earth Reservation.

 


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Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Copyright © 2017
546 Rice Street, Suite 100, Saint Paul, MN 55103
www.mepartnership.org

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

 

Insider: April 29, 2018

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Environmental Insider is brought to you by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Water Action Day is Wednesday at the Capitol!

In the Land of 10,000 lakes, water is one of our most precious and irreplaceable resources – and unfortunately, it’s in trouble. 40% of Minnesota’s waters already don’t meet health and safety standards, and many more are at risk of becoming undrinkable, unfishable, and unswimmable due to misuse and pollution. Many Minnesotans don’t have access to safe drinking water, or must pay large sums to have their water treated.

On Wednesday, May 2, hundreds of us are gathering to help change that.

Water Action Day is a collaborative community day of public action at the State Capitol, where we’ll tell our leaders it’s important to protect Minnesota’s water. We’ll begin at 8:00 AM with trainings and info sessions at Christ Lutheran Church (across University Avenue from the Capitol) on water issues facing our state and how to advocate for clean water. Throughout the day, Minnesotans will meet with their legislators to share their water concerns. And at 2:00 PM, we’ll hold a rally for water in the Capitol rotunda, featuring speakers including Governor Mark Dayton, Winona LaDuke, and former Senator Dave Durenburger.

Water Action Day is free and open to the public – but we do ask that all attendees register in advance! The organizers will provide complimentary breakfast and lunch at the church, as well as fact sheets and materials on water issues. And we encourage Minnesotans to join us at their convenience – come for all or part of the day if needed!

Last year, many hundreds of people stood up for our water, and some of the most passionate advocates shared their reasons for taking action in this YouTube video. We’re on track to have the same enormous turnout this year, when advocacy for our water is so crucially needed. With the Legislature nearing the finish line for passing bills that will shape our environment, now is the perfect time to stand up for water..

We thank all our partners and sponsors who are working to make Water Action Day 2018 a success. And we hope to see you there!


Water Action Day – Share Your Water Challenge!

On Water Action Day, Minnesotans will be gathering from around the state to stand up to protect our waters, and we’d like those joining us to show it in a literal way! Our challenge to you:

1. Fill a clear container with water from your favorite body of water, whether it be a lake, river, stream, or pond.
2. Take a selfie with the water and share it on the Facebook event page or on Twitter with the hashtag #WaterActionDay or #ProtectOurWater!


photo credit: MPCA

Fertilizer rule debate intensifies

(From Winona Post) — As the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) drafts the state’s first-ever regulation on commercial nitrogen fertilizer, Republican lawmakers are pushing back. As currently proposed, the rule would prohibit fall application of nitrogen throughout most of Winona County and would set up a system of mandatory best management practices (BMPs) for farmers near cities with high nitrate pollution levels in drinking water. Last week, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill that would block the proposed rule from coming into effect without legislative approval. Its sponsors say it is bound for inclusion in a Senate omnibus bill, and ultimately, Governor Mark Dayton’s (DFL-St. Paul) desk. >>Read More.


               

image credit: Douglas Co, WI

Refinery fire victim in good condition, others treated and released

(From Duluth News Tribune) — A series of explosions and fires rocked the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior Thursday, sending a black plume of acrid smoke across the city, forcing massive evacuations and sending several people to local hospitals. Essentia Health today said its Duluth and Superior hospitals treated a total of 16 victims related to the refinery incident, all but one were released. The one patient admitted was in good conditon Friday morning. St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth confirmed treating one patient Thursday.  No fatalities were reported, and all employees and hundreds of contractors working at the refinery were accounted for. >>Read More.

Smoke from Superior refinery explosion poses health risk

(From MPR News) — An explosion and asphalt fire at a Wisconsin oil refinery sent huge plumes of smoke into the air that pollution experts said almost certainly contained large amounts of toxins, posing a serious health risk to those living downwind. Asphalt is a petroleum product that when burned emits chemicals in gaseous form and small particles that can linger long after the smoke dissipates, said Wilma Subra, a chemist with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network who has examined past refinery accidents. >>Read More.


                

photo credit: NASA

Counterpoint: Minnesota DNR cannot be neutral when it comes to PolyMet

(From Star Tribune, by WaterLegacy advocacy director Paula Maccabee) — Contrary to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Tom Landwehr’s Star Tribune commentary (“Rest assured, DNR is rigorous on PolyMet,” April 19), the DNR’s insider review of scientific and factual objections to the proposed PolyMet NorthMet copper-nickel sulfide mine is not a “neutral” process. If there’s one thing PolyMet’s passionate proponents and opponents should agree on, it is that a great deal of political pressure has been placed on Minnesota regulatory agencies to approve the PolyMet sulfide mine project. >>Read More.



photo credit: Department of Energy

Minnesota team looks for synergy between solar and electric vehicles

(From Midwest Energy News) —  Minneapolis nonprofit has received a federal grant to study potential synergies between distributed solar and electric vehicle charging stations. And it doesn’t have to look farther than its own rooftop for an example. The Great Plains Institute is the lead organization on a $150,000 grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Solar Energy Innovation Network. With a growing expectation that EVs will someday represent a significant share of the car market, the government and utilities are using this study and others to learn how to manage growing electricity loads through maximizing the growing amount of renewable energy on the grid. >>Read More.


Help sustain MEP’s work. Donate today!

Do you appreciate our coverage of environmental and conservation issues? You can help sustain MEP’s work with a donation. Your support will help MEP continue educating decision-makers and Minnesotans throughout the state about important issues that impact clean water, clean air, and land conservation. Contributions also provide the financial backing we need to help organize the advocacy efforts of our 70 member organizations and take action through public organizing, media campaigns, lobbying, and research.

 


Weekly Environmental Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!  

1. How many oxygen atoms are in one molecule of ozone?

2. What Minnesota lake features the nation’s smallest National Wildlife Refuge?

3. After Voyageurs National Park, what state park is closest to Minnesota?

Upcoming Environmental Events

Water Action Day 2018, May 2
Christ Lutheran Church and State Capitol
Hosted by MN’s clean water community

Jobs and Volunteer Opportunities

Warner Nature Center Director | Science Museum of Minnesota
Program Intern – Summer 2018 | Clean Water Action
Outreach and Engagement Coordinator | Fresh Energy
Business Manager | St. Croix River Association
Chief Financial Officer | Environmental Initiative
Communications Director | Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Stewardship Associate | Minnesota Land Trust
See all job postings

Trivia Answers: 1) Three. 2) Lake Mille Lacs. 3) Isle Royale.

 


Did you receive the Environmental Insider from a friend? Subscribe here!

Follow Us:

   

Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Copyright © 2017
546 Rice Street, Suite 100, Saint Paul, MN 55103
www.mepartnership.org

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

Insider: March 23, 2018

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Environmental Insider is brought to you by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Legislature pushes rollbacks with one month left in session

This past weekend marked both Earth Day and the one-month-to-go date until the Minnesota legislative session ends. Unfortunately, the Legislature isn’t embracing the Earth Day spirit. Bills passed last week that would roll back crucial protections for Minnesota’s water and the health and livelihoods of the people who depend on it. Other harmful legislation will now be making its way into large omnibus bills, which nominally pay for state programs but are increasingly also used as vehicles for bad policies.

The House Agriculture Omnibus Bill contains rollbacks that would prevent our state from taking action to protect our groundwater sourced drinking water from nitrate pollution, which is becoming a costly crisis for communities and private well owners around the state.

After voting down a bill the previous week that would allow construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline without review, the Senate Energy Committee seemingly changed its mind and moved the bill forward on a 6-4 vote last week. Fortunately, Governor Mark Dayton has promised to veto this, and the bill does not even have public support from Enbridge. However, the legislation may be slipped into an omnibus bill as is typical with controversial policies.

The Legislature is considering multiple bills to roll back current policies – and prevent new ones – that protect wild rice waters from sulfate pollution, which is increasingly poisoning this precious resource and Minnesota’s waters. These rollbacks are in multiple bills and the House Environment Finance omnibus bill, which will all be heard soon. (See our action alert below to tell your legislators to protect Minnesota’s water and wild rice!)

Sadly, bills like these that pit profits against Minnesota’s waters, and the people who depend on them, are ubiquitous in this Legislative session. But we’re working to turn this boat around. We need to make our lawmakers understand that we reject pollution and bills that strip away our protections. We ask that you reach out to your Legislators and Governor Dayton’s office and urge them to stand firm for our right to safe and healthy water. You can do that by signing joining us for Water Action Day on May 2, when we’ll take a simple but critical message to the Legislature: Protect our water!

Some great news for our Great Lakes

Last Wednesday, the United States Senate voted down a cloture motion on the Coast Guard authorization bill that contained a poison pill – the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or VIDA, which would have stripped away vital Clean Water Act protections against invasive species brought into the Great Lakes from overseas. This prevented the passage of this detrimental legislation, which would have given large shipping companies a much freer hand to discharge ballast water containing aquatic invasives into our Great Lakes, which are already struggling from harmful species like the zebra mussel. The legislation may surface again, but this vote is a victory for our Great Lakes and the millions of people who live around them.

We’d like to especially thank Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for helping to successfully stop this harmful legislation – and we thank all those who stood up to make their voices heard on VIDA.


Registration is open for Water Action Day 2018!

Whether you joined us for our Water Action Day event last year or you’re a first timer, we hope to see you at the Capitol on May 2! This is your chance to show up and stand up to protect our waters!

This all-day event will include free breakfast and briefings in the morning, both on how to actively engage legislators and on the water issues that we face in Minnesota. Throughout the day, attendees will meet with legislators to ask them to protect our water, and the Clean Water Rally will be held in the Capitol Rotunda at 2:00 pm. Sign up today and find out how you can join us!

Water Action Day – Share Your Water Challenge!

On Water Action Day, Minnesotans will be gathering from around the state to stand up to protect our waters, and we’d like those joining us to show it in a literal way! Our challenge to you:

1. Fill a clear container with water from your favorite body of water, whether it be a lake, river, stream, or pond.
2. Take a selfie with the water and share it on the Facebook event page or on Twitter with the hashtag #WaterActionDay or #ProtectOurWater!
3. Bring it to the Capitol on Water Action Day and we’ll collect the waters in a single container, “bringing the waters of Minnesota to the Capitol” as a visible symbol of what we need to protect!

Legislature proposes to “nulllify” the pollution standard that protects wild rice

Wild rice is a defining Minnesota icon. It is at the heart of the Minnesota Ojibwe culture, providing food as well as cultural, economic, and spiritual sustenance. Unfortunately, a bill in the Minnesota House and Senate would hamstring our state agencies from making or enforcing a wild rice rule that would actually protect wild rice. This bill would disregard peer-reviewed science in order to benefit industrial facilities that would otherwise need to treat their wastewater.

We ask you to contact your legislators and let them know you support strong, science-based protections for Minnesota’s precious – and threatened – wild rice resources!

2018 Legislature: Possible harm to wild rice is simply un-Minnesotan

(From Star Tribune) — Minnesota: land of 10,000 lakes, wild rice soup and wild rice hot dish. We want our children and grandchildren to know these gifts from nature that make us all Minnesotans. But at the State Capitol, legislators are considering whether to sell our very identity to the highest bidder. Legislation (HF 3280/SF 2983) likely will be voted on that would gut protections for wild rice, our official state grain. This legislation would end a 40-year-old water pollution standard that protects wild rice and would prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from using new, peer-reviewed science to set any new protective standard. If this bill passes, Minnesotans lose. >>Read More.


               

Student Voices Column – Stop Farming Food Deserts: Why Minnesotans Need a Change in the 2018 Farm Bill

(From MEP Loon Commons Blog, by Sarah Wescott) — One point six million people, or almost one third of Minnesota’s population, do not have easy access to a grocery store. In urban spaces, food deserts are usually found in low income areas, where community members don’t have access to a vehicle and fast food industries target poor populations. However, in rural areas of the state where communities are based around agriculture, food deserts are also in abundance. In the Red River Valley, one of the most fertile areas of the United States, there are more than ten Minnesota counties with food deserts. >>Read More.


                

photo credit: Department of Energy

A sign of the future in Morris: Cows + solar panels + fast electric car charger

(From MPR News) — Picture this: It’s a hot summer day. Cows in a field are seeking shade under solar panels. And those panels? They’re feeding two electric vehicle chargers — and powering an office building nearby. That will be the scene in a few months at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris. Today, the university community is celebrating the arrival of the only fast electric vehicle charger for more than 100 miles around. And later this spring, a 30-kilowatt solar array will be installed in an adjacent cow pasture, sending clean power to the charger. >>Read More.


Climate change: The importance of making it personal

(From MinnPost and Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy) — As it turns out, conversations about climate change aren’t about how well you can talk, but rather how well you can listen. In order to have a rich dialogue about this issue, we need to be willing to learn from each other. This is especially important when trying to connect with someone who may have a different viewpoint than yours; aligning our values helps us break down barriers and find common ground. For a long time, society has talked about and reported on climate change from mostly a scientific perspective. Yet personal stories are the best way to connect such a broad issue to people’s lives. >>Read More.


Help sustain MEP’s work. Donate today!

Do you appreciate our coverage of environmental and conservation issues? You can help sustain MEP’s work with a donation. Your support will help MEP continue educating decision-makers and Minnesotans throughout the state about important issues that impact clean water, clean air, and land conservation. Contributions also provide the financial backing we need to help organize the advocacy efforts of our 70 member organizations and take action through public organizing, media campaigns, lobbying, and research.

 


Weekly Environmental Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!  

1. What 60-mile-long land formation in southwest Minnesota features more than 200 wind turbines?

2. Dorothy Louise Molter, who lived in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in 1986, was in part known for selling what beverage to passing canoeists?

3. The deepest lake wholly within Minnesota was artificially created via what type of hole?

Upcoming Environmental Events

See the film “Disruption: Climate. Change.” April 24
Davanni’s in Coon Rapids
Hosted by Anoka Area Climate Action

Trends in Energy Policy and Renewable Energy, April 25
Presentation by Ben Bratrud of Citizens Utility Board at Maple Grove Library
Hosted by Northwest Metro Climate Action

Youth Climate Justice Summit, April 25
Minnesota State Capitol
Hosted by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy

Rally for Minnesota Public Lands, April 25
Minnesota State Capitol
Hosted by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Pledge to pull garlic mustard at Crosby Farm Park, April 26
Crosby Farm Park, St. Paul
Hosted by Friends of the Mississippi River

Climate Convening Moorhead, April 28
Minnesota State University Moorhead
Hosted by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy

Water Action Day 2018, May 2
Christ Lutheran Church and State Capitol
Hosted by MN’s clean water community

Jobs and Volunteer Opportunities

Outreach and Engagement Coordinator | Fresh Energy
Business Manager | St. Croix River Association
Chief Financial Officer | Environmental Initiative
Communications Director | Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Stewardship Associate | Minnesota Land Trust
See all job postings

Trivia Answers: 1) Buffalo Ridge. 2) Root beer. 3) An iron mine.

 


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Minnesota Environmental Partnership
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546 Rice Street, Suite 100, Saint Paul, MN 55103
www.mepartnership.org

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

Minnesotans Demand Clean Water at the Capitol

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

More than six hundred Minnesotans gathered on Wednesday, May 2 at the State Capitol with a critical demand for lawmakers: take action to protect Minnesota’s waters. Hundreds of attendees spoke out on their water concerns, but were united by the belief that the Legislature should work to strengthen – not roll back – Minnesota’s environmental protections.

The day began at Christ Lutheran Church near the Capitol, where attendees had breakfast and learned about water issues facing Minnesota. Experts from groups including WaterLegacy, Land Stewardship Project, Friends of the Mississippi River, and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership presented policy briefings throughout the morning. The film Troubled Waters was screened in the sanctuary.

Throughout the day, participants shared their concerns in over 140 meetings with legislators. Dozens of students and youth met with members of Governor Dayton’s administration to discuss their water and environmental priorities at the Capitol.

 

Farmers speak out on drinking water’s decline

At 12:30, Water Action Day organizers held a press conference at the Capitol featuring farmers and well owners speaking out on nitrate contamination of Minnesota’s groundwater. Steve Morse, MEP’s Executive Director and the author of the 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, described the nitrate crisis that is making Minnesotans’ drinking water increasingly undrinkable. He explained how the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is finally developing a framework to implement key provisios of the Act, and the unfortunate effort in the Legislature to derail it.

Arlene Nelson, an Winona County dairy farmer and Land Stewardship Project member, told of how nitrate levels in her farm’s drinking water well had risen from 3 ppm (parts per million) to 48 ppm, far beyond the Health Risk Limit of 10 ppm,  in 25 years. She traced this alarming development to changes in farm practices in her area with increased corn and soybean production coupled with livestock confinement.

Nelson’s family was forced to spend more than $25,000 to drill a deeper well to get safe drinking water – but that is not the solution to our groundwater pollution problem.  She argued that the Governor’s proposed Groundwater Protection Rule would save farmers time and money, both on fertilizer and on the enormous cost of water treatment and new wells.

Gary Trogstad of Eyota and Representative Clark Johnson of North Mankato spoke to these costs directly. Trogstad lamented that he had to drill an expensive new well due to nitrate contamination, and worried that this well would become contaminated as well if nitrates remained unchecked.

Rep. Johnson noted the residents of St. Peter pay significantly higher costs for their drinking water because it needs to be treated when it comes out of their wells. He indicated that the Groundwater Protection rule made perfect sense, especially with most farmers in compliance with the fall fertilizer restrictions already.

Dairy Farmer and Land Stewardship member Darrel Mosel of Gaylord shared how he achieves high corn yields without applying nitrogen fertilizer in the fall, and thanked the MDA for working on the issue to help Minnesota lakes and groundwater.

Finally, Director of the Minnesota Well Owners Association Jeff Broberg talked about the impacts of high nitrate levels on himself and his community, and urged farmers and regulators to work on solutions to the problem. “One reason I appreciate the MDA’s Groundwater Protection rule,” he said, “is that it encourages people to get together so they can figure out what to do.”

 

Minnesotans join their voices for water


photo credit: Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Hundreds of attendees later filled the Capitol rotunda for a clean water rally, emceed by Don Arnosti of the Izaak Walton League and featuring speakers from around the state. Governor Mark Dayton was unable to give a speech as planned, but his Senior Water Advisor, Anna Henderson, presented his proclamation, declaring May 2 to be Water Action Day and recognizing the immeasurable value and unique challenges of protecting Minnesota’s water.

Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth spoke on the protection of water, land, and indigenous rights for the present and for the future. LaDuke called out Enbridge Energy’s demand for a new oil pipeline despite there being six oil lines in Minnesota already, suggesting that Enbridge should instead “send those pipes to Flint, Michigan, where they need pipes!” Former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, a chief advocate for the 1990 Clean Water Act Amendments shared the history and progress of water protection in Minnesota, ending with a call for Minnesotans to vote in the November election “to make your voice heard on your values in this state.”

Finally, farmers Darrel Mosel and Land Stewardship Project member Audrey Arner spoke on the role of agriculture in protecting Minnesota’s water. Mosel lamented that he and his two sons could not swim or fish in the polluted local lakes in southern Minnesota. He called for good practices to support cover crops and timely fertilizer application to help heal the state’s waters.

Arner rallied the crowd with a speech on the growing dialogue between water advocates and farmers on how to move forward, and addressed the threat of rollbacks by lawmakers. She told the Legislature directly, “You are acting on behalf of us, and we are acting on behalf of the water!”

Finally, Arnosti concluded the rally with a call to action: “We all have a choice this November. Vote! Make sure you vote for water!”

Following the rally, Ojibwe jingle dress dancers performed a ceremonial dance on the steps of the Capitol in honor of Minnesota’s waters.

 

Water Action Day made possible by partners

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership thanks all of the attendees, volunteers, donors, and staff who made Water Action Day 2018 a success! We especially thank all of the following groups for their sponsorship and engagement:

Sponsors:

Audubon Minnesota
Clean Water Action
Duluth for Clean Water
EMA Inc. 
Friends of Pool 2
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters – Upper Mississippi River Region

Minneapolis Rowing Club
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP)
MN350
ONE BluWorld
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club North Star Chapter
St. Croix River Association
Trout Unlimited
WaterLegacy
Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Partners:

Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Clean Up the River Environment (CURE)
Conservation Minnesota
Environment Minnesota
Honor the Earth
Minnesota River Congress

Native Lives Matter Coalition
Pesticide Action Network
Save the Boundary Waters
Take Action MN
The Nature Conservancy
Wilderness in the City

Thank you for joining us, and we hope you’ll help keep up the fight to protect our water!

Student Voices Column – Stop Farming Food Deserts: Why Minnesotans Need a Change in the 2018 Farm Bill

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of our Student Voices Series. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students. The following column was contributed by Sarah Wescott and represents her views.

One point six million people, or almost one third of Minnesota’s population, do not have easy access to a grocery store. In urban spaces, food deserts are usually found in low income areas, where community members don’t have access to a vehicle and fast food industries target poor populations. However, in rural areas of the state where communities are based around agriculture, food deserts are also in abundance. In the Red River Valley, one of the most fertile areas of the United States, there are more than ten Minnesota counties with food deserts.

Growing up on an apple orchard in Wabasha County, I was surrounded by farmland, and agriculture was the basis of my community. Despite this, the majority of food eaten in my area comes from out of state, and most people drive more than twenty miles to Rochester where there is a larger selection of fresh foods.

The Farm Bill, a comprehensive food and agriculture policy that will expire this coming September, is one of the most important pieces of agricultural legislation in the United States. As most people know, it supports commodity crop production, but it also attempts to address food security issues. We don’t eat most of the corn, wheat, and soy crops that are supported by the bill, yet these crops account for 19 million of the 25 million acres of agricultural land in Minnesota. Most of them end up feeding cows or being converted into biofuels. Therefore, widespread commodity crop production does not help feed more people, instead it contributes to the problem of food insecurity in places like Minnesota.

Every five years, the United States Congress reworks the bill. Ironically, nutrition currently absorbs 79.9% of the $489 billion dollar budget. This focuses on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a project that provides financial assistance to families who cannot afford healthy food, along with an emergency food assistance program. However, the bill does nothing to address the distance that many people must travel to reach a grocery store with healthy options.

            The remaining portions of the bill promote an agricultural system that does not produce healthy food for all. Crop insurances and conservation take about 14% of the budget. Meanwhile, commodities and disaster support, which is what many people associate with the bill, receives the remaining five percent. The resulting legislation spans a wide range of issues and affects everyone in the country. Regardless of geography, income, race, or gender every american has a stake in the Farm Bill.

However, the bill fails people on all fronts. While it does work to provide financial assistance to those who can’t afford food, it does not question why people can’t afford food, and where food is inaccessible. Therefore, local food systems are neglected and more time is spent on national output, rather than targeted and thought out food production. Farmers don’t grow other crops because they don’t guarantee profit, SNAP recipients don’t always have access to healthy foods, and most food travels far and wide before it is eaten. This leads to an agricultural system that favors heavily processed crops with little nutritional value and does not sufficiently serve Americans.

In addition, the bill does little to encourage organic production or alternative farming methods, meaning farmers receive minimal support if they want to transition to a cleaner form of agriculture. Moreover, there is no guarantee that farmers have access to healthy foods, leading to food deserts in areas of Minnesota where agriculture is the number one industry.  Therefore, the bill is fighting food insecurity on one end and fueling it from the other.

Big money feeds the problem, as large companies like Kraft, Monsanto, and Tyson who benefit from commodity crop production are able to influence agricultural policy in their favor. This year Congress is once again reworking the five year budget for the Farm Bill. We need to ensure that the people’s needs speak louder than the large influential corporations. People need to be aware of the role this bill plays in the life of millions of Americans.

What can you do to help? First, you can tell Tim Walz, Collin Peterson, and Rick Nolan, members of Minnesota’s Agricultural Committee, that you want changes made to the Farm Bill in 2018. Tell Minnesota’s representatives that you want to see investment in local food systems. The Farm Bill should encourage crops that support food security, not commodity crops. This could look like more money for organic research, more subsidies for non commodity crops, and investment in rural development.

Secure food access is a right, not a privilege. Every individual deserves equal access to food. The Farm Bill fails to make this right a reality. Call your representative today!

 

Letter to the House: Please oppose bill that blocks adoption of Groundwater Protection Rules not approved by the Legislature

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RE: Please oppose HF2887 that blocks adoption of Groundwater Protection Rules not approved by the Legislature

April 16, 2018                                                                                              

Dear Representative:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to oppose HF 2887 that would impede the Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule.  

Clean, safe drinking water should be accessible and affordable for everyone – regardless of geography, income or water source.

About 70% of Minnesotans get their drinking water from public or private wells.  That is why the legislature approved the bipartisan 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, which gives the state authority to prevent contamination of our groundwater.

Nitrate contamination in drinking water is a growing public health issue

An extensive body of research shows that nitrate from nitrogen fertilizer can leach below the root zone and migrate into our groundwater. Despite farmers’ widespread adoption of efficient nitrogen fertilizer application practices, the problem is getting worse:

  • 537 public water supply wells across the state have elevated nitrate levels.
  • More than 50 communities in MN are facing significantly elevated nitrate levels.
  • Nearly 10% of MDA tested private wells in vulnerable areas exceed the Health Risk Limit (HRL), including some townships with 30-40% or more of private wells unsafe to drink.

Because treating the well water or finding new drinking water sources can be prohibitively expensive for communities and individuals, preventing this contamination is vital to protecting public health.

The draft Groundwater Protection Rule was developed with public input

To address this growing nitrate problem, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) updated its Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) beginning in 2010, with assistance from stakeholders, advisors and more than 420 written comments from citizens over a five-year process. Based on the revised NFMP, the MDA released an informal draft Groundwater Protection Rule in 2017. The agency hosted 17 statewide listening session engaging over 1,500 individuals and reviewed over 820 written comments.

Following extensive revisions, the MDA released a revised draft rule in March 2018, to be followed by additional stakeholder input and public participation prior to adoption.

The rule helps protect public health while maintaining farm productivity

Part 1 of the rule restricts nitrogen fertilizer application in the fall and on frozen soils on only the most vulnerable soils and wellhead protection areas in Minnesota.

  • Part 1 applies to only 12.6% of Minnesota’s farmland; areas where relatively few farm operators practice fall/frozen soil application today.
  • Fall/winter application of nitrogen on vulnerable soils is not recommended under University of Minnesota Best Management Practices.
  • Fall/frozen soil application in the wellhead areas of communities with already-elevated nitrate levels poses a significant risk to public health.

Part 2 of the rule applies only in community wellhead protection areas (Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAS)) – about 0.45% of Minnesota’s cropland. The rule promotes voluntary best management practice adoption, followed by common-sense regulatory requirements developed in consultation with a local advisory team – including area farmers to reduce nitrate levels in these water supplies.

Protect our drinking water

HF 2887 impedes the MDA’s ability to protect our groundwater by putting unnecessary delays and legislative hurdles into an already lengthy and comprehensive public process. This provision undercuts the authority and ability of our state agencies to protect our public health and well being.

Minnesotans have waited nearly 30 years for the state to act in the face of mounting evidence of nitrate pollution in our groundwater, one of our state’s most valuable long-term assets. We ask you to oppose these efforts to undercut the Groundwater Protection Act’s ability to protect public health and Minnesota’s drinking water and groundwater.

Please oppose language that blocks groundwater protection rules not approved by the legislature.

Steve Morse                                                                           

Minnesota Environmental Partnership                                                           

 

Alliance for Sustainability
Clean Water Action – Minnesota       
Environment Minnesota         
Freshwater Society                                                                                        
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas     
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project     
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Native Plant Society        
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
St. Croix River Association
Wilderness in the City                                                                       

MPCA plan brings a silver lining to VW emissions cloud

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) unveiled its spending plan for the $47 million Minnesota will receive from the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement, and it promises to make major positive strides in Minnesota’s clean transportation infrastructure. The money will be distributed throughout the state to help reduce emissions well beyond those emitted during the scandal, creating economic growth in the clean transportation sector and protecting Minnesota’s health.

The Volkswagen scandal was first revealed when the EPA became aware that many of the company’s diesel vehicles were emitting a much greater volume of nitrogen oxide pollution than expected or allowed. Scientists discovered that Volkswagen had used engine programming to allow their vehicles to cheat its laboratory emissions test – the tested vehicles appeared to have legal emissions, but on the road, they emitted as much 40 times more than the legal limit of nitrogen oxides.

These emissions contribute to global warming, acid rain, and diseases like bronchitis, heart disease, and asthma, causing chronic health conditions and premature death. In Minnesota alone, the extra emissions caused by the cheating system amounted to around 600 tons of nitrogen oxide compounds. Because of the harm caused, Volkswagen settled its lawsuits with state and federal agencies. The settlement organizers, led by Robert Mueller (yes, that Robert Mueller) determined that the compensation funds should be allocated to state air quality agencies to help cut down on harmful air pollution, rather than allow political maneuvering to divert the funds to unrelated projects.

The MPCA plans to accomplish its clean air goals with major positive steps. 30% of the funds will be dispersed around the state for vehicle electrification – half for electrical charging stations, and half for electrifying vehicles like state and city-owned buses, utility trucks, and construction equipment. The other 70% will go to upgrading heavy-duty land and water vehicles – many with outdated engines – to run more cleanly and cause less toxic pollution.

The MPCA’s plan is estimated to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by more than six times the extra emissions caused by the company’s violation. The agency plans to equitably target this money in grants and investments over ten years based on the areas hardest-hit by the emissions throughout Minnesota. And it estimates that in addition to the local health benefits, the plan will reduce greenhouse gases by as much as 34,000 tons. Minnesota’s transportation sector is narrowly outranked by electrical generation for highest greenhouse gas emissions in our state, so this change will be an enormous boost to meeting our need to combat climate change.

We are glad to see state, local, and federal agencies working together in the aftermath of a tragedy to help make Minnesota a clean and healthy place to live! 

More good news – on the pipeline front

On Thursday evening, the Minnesota Senate Energy and Utilities Committee voted on a bill that would bypass the Public Utilities Commission’s review process and approve construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which would cross Minnesota’s most vulnerable lands and waters. We’re happy to report that the committee voted 5-4 against the bill after hearing substantial testimony against it from various speakers. The vote was a victory for the thorough and public pipeline review process conducted by the Public Utilities Commission and the thousands of Minnesotans who have spoken out on the pipeline.

However, this vote doesn’t mean the legislation is dead in the water. A companion bill passed in the House Jobs and Energy committee, and it seems likely that the legislation will be included in a later omnibus bill to be sent to Governor Dayton. It’s important that citizens continue to speak up against this harmful legislation when and wherever it next appears – and we thank the dedicated staff and volunteers who are leading this important effort.

Student Voices Column – Minnesota: A Leader in the Clean Energy Transition

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Source: Tony Webster/Creative Commons

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of our Student Voices Series. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students. The following column was contributed by Katie Lund and represents her views.

 

As countries around the world commit themselves to a clean energy future, the Trump Administration is clinging on to the fossil fuel industry. The time has come for states to lead the clean energy transition. If we have the political will, Minnesota can be a leader in this transition.

Throughout this past year, the Trump administration has used the slogan of “energy dominance” to describe its energy policy. Central to this policy is keeping the United States reliant on fossil fuel sources of energy such as coal, oil and gas. In just the past year, this policy has led to the support of the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and the proposal to open up U.S. waters to offshore drilling – including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In his first State of the Union Address on January 30th, President Trump even boasted about his administration’s efforts to promote fossil fuels.

“We have ended the war on American energy – and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” he said.

By continuing to promote the use and development of fossil fuel resources, the United States is losing the clean energy leadership it once had on the federal level.

Last November I attended the UN Climate Summit (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, an international gathering of countries to assess progress in dealing with climate change, as a student observer. While the United States took a leadership role at these conferences under the Obama administration, the American presence at this conference was a shadow of its former self. The Trump administration sent a very small delegation, remained largely silent during negotiations, and decided to use their only scheduled event to promote the continued use of coal – a decision that was ridiculed on the international stage and subjected to protest.

Just three days after the Trump administration put on the fossil fuel promoting event, a global alliance was formed between countries including the United Kingdom and Canada to declare a phase out of coal. It was a rebuke to Donald Trump’s policies. The message couldn’t have been clearer – the rest of the world was ready to move on, leaving the United States behind.

It appears unlikely that the Trump administration will embrace a clean energy transition. That’s why we now have to focus on efforts on local action. If the Trump administration won’t fight for the clean energy future we want, states, local governments, and communities must take up the fight.

Numerous states, cities, and local communities across the country have committed themselves to pursuing a clean energy agenda. Over 50 U.S. cities including Portland, St. Louis, and Salt Lake City have made commitments to transition to 100% renewable energy. Currently 15 states, including Minnesota, have joined the United States Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All across the country, local leaders are stepping up.

Minnesota has emerged as a leader in this movement. The state passed historic clean energy laws in 2007 and 2013, which encouraged renewable energy development across the state. Clean energy jobs contribute greatly to the state’s economy. Xcel Energy, a major electric utility, has already cut carbon emissions 23 percent below 2005 levels and plans to add huge amounts of wind and solar developments. Renewable energy now makes up 25% of Minnesota’s electricity generation, putting it in second place as Minnesota’s largest source of electricity generation. This track record is impressive, but we must not become complacent.

I urge the Minnesota Legislature to use this legislative session to take clean energy policy in Minnesota to the next step. On February 22nd, a new bill was introduced in the Minnesota House (HF 3003), which allows for large hydroelectric and nuclear energy to count toward the Renewable Energy Standard and changes the name to the Carbon Free Standard, but it does not change the percentage of said energy that utilities are required to meet. This bill will not take the crucial next step that Minnesota needs in order to continue to be a leader in the clean energy transition. The Minnesota legislature must take advantage of the momentous growth of renewable energy and set an ambitious goal to increase the Renewable Energy Standard to 50% by 2030 as former Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith proposed last year.

If Minnesota is to remain a clean energy and climate leader, we must push our local leaders. Cities around Minnesota – join peers such as the city of Rochester and commit yourselves to the transition to 100% renewable energy. No matter who you are, let your voice be heard. A clean energy future is in sight and our peers around the world are committing themselves to it. If the Trump administration insists on holding the United States back on the world stage, we, as Minnesotans, can join the world in imagining and pursuing a future free of fossil fuels.

Student Voices Column: The Fight Against Fracking Isn’t Over

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photo credit: Kendahl Schlueter, Winona Daily News

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of our Student Voices Series. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students. The following column was contributed by Kaitlyn Lindaman and represents her views.

 

Fracking took hold of Winona in 2010.

On a warm summer day in 2010, I was on my usual four-mile running route in Winona. This route crossed a creek by bridge and then followed a back road along the marshes and other small ponds, under the shade of trees and on relatively flat elevation next to the bluffs. I often encountered turtles making their way across the road, who only had to watch out for the occasional bikers and runners.

Then I began to notice fracking. Suddenly there were large trucks, nearly pushing me off the side of the road and I was accumulating sand in my shoes. Soon the turtles disappeared too.

Frac sand mining extracts silica sand, mined from sandstone formations, for the future use in oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing operations. With its pristine bluffs, deposits of the sand, and the Mississippi River wide and deep enough for barges to pass through it, Winona is an enticing location for fracking sand companies. Furthermore, the operations require the input of water, so marshes and other lakes fell victim, as they were up for grabs in some areas of Winona County. Large trucks began to erode the roads, leaving gapping holes, with dust covering the air and the booming noise of trucks.

The community took notice too. Operations ramped up as did destruction of the area until 2015 when oil prices began to decline and the popularity of fracking waned with it. At this point, the community was becoming increasingly unsettled with their newest neighbor.

Due to the destruction of scenic bluffs along the Mississippi River, health concerns from the blowing silica sand dust, contamination of groundwater, and damage to roads, it became apparent that some action needed to be taken. With high community pushback against fracking, the Winona County Board moved to ban the operations. Nearly 70% of the community supported this trajectory. In late 2016, Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the ban.

This was a great victory for the residents of the County, as we were one of the first to ban to such operations, further demonstrating the influence that public comments and resistance can have in shaping a community. However, Minnesota Sands, the main silica sand company, is relentless in their efforts to continue their operations. They claim to hold leases or interests to $3.6 billion in frac sand deposits within the county borders. In November 2017, Winona County District Court Judge Mary Leahy ruled in favor of the county, ruling that “the wide variety of evidence presented to the county amply supports the county’s actions” going on to add that “the county determined there were several unique characteristics to industrial mineral mining that could be hazardous to the county in a way entirely different from construction mineral mines”.  

While our victory has been upheld in Winona County, Minnesota Sands looks to nearby Fillmore County as a back up option. When the company first laid down routes in the area they proposed 11 mines in Winona, Fillmore, and Houston counties. So far, Winona is the only one that has put bans on fracking. The company initially promised to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze the environmental effects of their proposed mines. They have yet to follow through on this, evidence of their negligence to the area and community.

While wrapped up in court cases late last year, the company simultaneously asked the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to release it from the EIS requirements so that it could move forward with mining at its Fillmore County site. The EQB has refused to act until the Winona County case was resolved. State regulators were expected to review the issue again this past March, but have yet to do so.

With the obvious lack of care and unacceptable absence of an EIS, members of Fillmore County would be wise to put pressure on their Commissioners to follow Winona County lead. Furthermore, the EQB should protect counties from large, corporate interests and back local decisions. At the very least, Minnesota Sands should not be allowed to proceed before the completion of an EIS. The community can get involved by putting pressure on the EQB and potentially go as far as to petition for an EIS to occur.

We thought our fracking trouble would soon be behind us in Southeast Minnesota. I urge you to continue to pay attention to what is going on in your backyard. Winona County needs to continue to maintain the ban, and should support our county neighbors. Then, after our fight is finally over, hopefully we can eventually return to runs along the bluff, with the occasional turtle spotting.