News Watch: April 6

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April 6, 2017

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Clean Energy, Climate Change, Mining, Oil and Pipelines, Parks and Trails, Transportation, Water, Waste and Recycling, Wildlife & Fish

Featured Article:
MinnPost: Legislature makes a sweeping assault on Minnesota’s Environmental Traditions (featuring MEP Executive Director Steve Morse and Friends of the Mississippi River Executive Director Whitney Clark)

News Release:
MEP Floor Letter for House Omnibus Jobs Growth and Energy Affordability Bill: SF 1937

Agriculture & Food
West Central Tribune: Destructive weed threatens U.S. corn fields
Austin Daily Herald: A day for crop and soil health; Mower SWCD partnering with farmer for field day on cover crops

Clean Energy
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune: Clarkfield moves on solar garden

Climate Change
New York Times: Antarctic Ice Reveals Earth’s Accelerating Plant Growth

Mining
Duluth News Tribune: Judge: Work can restart at former Essar site
Jackson County Chronicle: Sand mines and silica dust

Oil and Pipelines
Pioneer Press: Minnesota regulators push back release of pipeline review
MPR News: Thousands of defects found on oil train routes
Duluth News Tribune: Local View: Stop Enbridge Line 3 to save Minnesota’s wildlife, hunting heritage

Parks and Trails
Pioneer Press: Outdoors: Time to pony up for Minnesota’s state parks

Transportation
Mankato Free Press: MnDOT plans $150 million in area road upgrades

Water
Austin Daily Herald: Mower SWCD assisting landowners with state buffer law

Waste and Recycling
Rochester Post Bulletin: St. Charles company aims to be “ecorestorative”

Wildlife & Fish
Pioneer Press: Minnesota DNR pushing for hunting, fishing fee hikes
Albert Lea Tribune: Golden shiners at center of bait debate in Minnesota

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MEP Floor Letter for House Omnibus Jobs Growth and Energy Affordability Bill: SF 1937

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April 5, 2017

Dear Members of the Minnesota House:

 

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to vote NO on the S.F. 1937 – the Omnibus Jobs Growth and Energy Affordability Finance Bill. This bill will roll back energy efficiency and solar standards, stifle Minnesota’s developing solar industry, discriminate against small electrical utility customers and take away citizens’ rights to know, receive notice and participate in processes that affect their land, water and lives.      

 

The budget does not meet agency recommendations for either the Department of Commerce (DOC) or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), both of which are doing critical work. The cuts to the DOC budget total over a million dollars; the largest is a $678,000 per year cut to the Energy Division, which would have a devastating effect on Energy Regulation and Planning. When coupled with the President’s proposed budget cuts, this proposal cripples State Energy Office functions, directly affecting our state’s renewable energy efforts. The bill does not fund several programs within the Department of Commerce, including the Guaranteed Savings Program for increased building efficiency, or the increase in the state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard. The cuts to the Public Utilities Commission budget are $110,000. At a time when our state is facing a surplus, these cuts are simply irresponsible.

 

Energy efficiency standards set in 2013 legislation are weakened in this bill, and customers of small and medium sized utilities would lose access to important programs for energy efficiency, low income and on bill repayment.

 

The bill also contains many provisions that would send market signals that Minnesota is no longer actively welcoming to solar businesses. 3800 hardworking Minnesotans are currently employed in the solar industry. Any legislation that impedes the growth of installation of rooftop solar hurts our state. Our small solar businesses need to be able to compete with larger out of state companies.

 

This bill is out of sync with Minnesota voters. Just last month, our extensive statewide issue poll, with an over-sampling of rural residents, found that more than seven in ten Minnesotans favor a 50% clean energy goal. Yet this bill goes in the opposite direction.

 

Though what follows is not a comprehensive list, we are deeply concerned that this bill:

 

Removes pipelines from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Certificate-of-Need Process. (Article 10, Sec. 23):

 

Allows oil and gas companies to build petroleum, oil or natural gas pipelines without justifying a public need and eliminates the authority of the PUC to determine whether the state’s energy demands could be better addressed by an alternative proposal. This will allow pipeline companies to seek route approval—and ultimately use the power of eminent domain—without considering the accuracy of energy demand forecasts.

Prohibits consideration, in any environmental review, of alternate routing of pipelines that does not include the applicant’s preferred start and end points.

(Art. 10 , Sec 36):

 

Takes away citizens’ right to know about, receive notice of, and to suggest reasonable alternative routes for an impending project. It unreasonably ties Minnesota’s hands at a particularly pertinent time — when aging infrastructure is being replaced and new corridors are being proposed. This provision was never heard in a committee.

 

 

Weakens local control by changing interim ordinance rules.

(Art. 11, Sec. 2, 205.2 – 205.32):  

 

Weakens local control for cities by requiring a ⅔ super majority to enact an interim ordinance in some cases. Currently, an interim ordinance may be enacted by a simple majority — that is how a democratic system should work. The simple majority requirement for an interim ordinance allows a city to quickly enact a moratorium when unanticipated development is proposed that is of concern to the community.

 

 

Dramatically alters the Xcel Energy users’ Renewable Development Fund.

(Art. 10, Sec. 4, 5, 6, 7, 26, 27, 44):  

 

Changes the primary focus of the fund from expansion, research and development of emerging renewable electric technology in Minnesota to projects that reduce air emissions and cost. The provision caps payments into the fund at specific dollar amounts per dry storage nuclear waste cask, disregarding the original agreement with Prairie Island Indian Community. It also removes independent oversight by the PUC, ratepayer advisory group, and independent third party expert oversight of grants with primarily politically appointed advisors on a new council.  Past legislative appropriations have not been consistent.

 

 

Weakens 1.5% Solar Energy Standard for medium sized utilities.

(Art 10, Sec 13, 15):   

 

Allows some utilities to meet the standard with a small number of large projects instead of marketing solar to a broader number of customers. It allows Minnesota and Ottertail Power to meet the standard by counting some community solar gardens. And it raises the cap of solar projects that would count toward the standard, from 20 to 40 kilowatts – a disincentive for investing in smaller projects.  

 

 

Exempts small utilities from participating in energy efficiency programs.  

(Art 10, Sec. 15, 17, 19, 20):

 

This provision denies rate-payers receiving energy from small utilities (often rural customers) the ability to participate in programs including the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), on-bill repayment for efficiency investments, and low income programs.

 

 

Suspends indefinitely residential loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for single-family homes. (Art 10, Sec. 3 )

 

Establishes a temporary stakeholder group to assess and develop consumer protection programs in order to develop a report for the legislature, but fails to mention a resumption process for the loans.

 

 

 

Eliminates the popular Roof-top/ Made in Minnesota Solar rebate program

(Art. 10, Sec. 2, Sec. 28, Sec. 41, Sec. 45)

 

This program has created more than 495 jobs since its inception in 2013. The number of Minnesota made manufacturers has increased from two in 2013 to five in 2017 and inspired an estimated 500 companies. The energy generated each year from Minnesota made solar is equivalent to that used by 1,856 homes. This year’s participants will have to pay the full cost of projects already started. One of the repealers (216C.416 in Article 11) also repeals solar thermal rebates.

 

 

Repeals the subpoena power of the Department of Commerce for information and witnesses in energy rate, planning and conservation functions.  (Art 10, Sec. 45):

 

Hampers the State’s ability to access energy information quickly during emergencies, during the adequacy determination of need for energy facilities, and on rate cases.

 

 

Politicizes the appointment the of Public Utilities Commissioners. (Art. 10, Sec. 8,9):

 

This provision rotates authority to fill open seats on the PUC in this order: house speaker; senate majority leader; house minority leader; senate minority leader; the governor. Advice and consent of the senate for these appointments is eliminated. This provision also requires the replacement of the two newest Commissioners in July 2017, in disregard of the current statute citing six year terms. Good governance does not change the appointment process out of frustration with the current commissioners’ approach to energy policy.

 

 

Prohibits local government from banning or placing fees on plastic bags.      

(Art. 8, Sec. 9):  

 

Banning or charging a fee for plastic bags is a proven effective method of reducing air and water pollution, protecting wildlife and protecting human health.  Reducing use of plastic bags can provide significant economic savings to communities. Local communities have already democratically voted to implement a bag ban, and this pre-emption bill erodes local control and overrides the political will of the residents.

 

 

Potentially jeopardizes and politicizes the use of Clean Air Act Settlement money (Art. 10, Sec. 3):

 

Minnesota stands to gain $43 million from the VW settlement, but this provision could result in Minnesota missing out on those funds. The funds should be used under the guidance of the Trustee, to redress the public health effects of pollution from VW’s vehicles.

 

 

Lastly we would like to object to the insertion of the large amount of unrelated policy language into this biennial appropriations bill. This action ignores the strong objection Governor Dayton expressed in his letter to Speaker Daudt on March 13, 2017. As many of the policy provisions that have been added to this bill are highly unpopular with the voting public, this combining of budget and policy provisions allows these issues to avoid the public process and scrutiny they would receive otherwise. These unpopular issues should be required to stand on their own as separate policy bills.

 

 

Minnesota has seen great progress and growth as it transitions to a clean energy economy; creating jobs and cleaning our air simultaneously. We are concerned that the provisions of this bill both undermine the public processes that we have in current law and slow our progress toward a clean energy future. Please vote no on S.F. 1937.

 

Sincerely,

Steve Morse

Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability

Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis

Center for Biological Diversity

CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)

Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest

Friends of the Mississippi River

Institute for Local Self Reliance

Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division

Land Stewardship Project

League of Women Voters Minnesota

Lower Phalen Creek Project

Lutheran Advocacy Minnesota

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Minnesota Conservation Federation

Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light

Minnesota Native Plant Society

Minnesota Ornithologists Union

Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter

MN 350

Pesticide Action Network

Pollinate Minnesota

Renewing the Countryside

Save Our Sky Blue Waters

Transit for Livable Communities

WaterLegacy

 

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MEP House Omnibus Legacy Bill Letter – April 4, 2017

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April 4, 2017

Dear Members of the Minnesota House:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to vote NO on the H.F. 707 – the House Omnibus Legacy Bill.

In 2008, 1.8 million Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, which dedicates 3/8th of 1 percent sales tax increase dedicated to water quality, land conservation, parks & trails, and arts and culture. Support for the Amendment has grown since its passage, with fully 75% of Minnesotans favoring the Amendment in a recent non-partisan statewide poll.1

While we appreciate the work of committee members to bring this year’s Legacy bill to the floor early in the session, the bill in its current form undermines the promise of the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment by:

  • Raiding more than 10% of the annual appropriations from the Clean Water Fund to pay for general fund cuts to base Soil & Water Conservation District operations, violating the spirit of the Amendment and the Legislature’s 2015 promise to taxpayers as laid out in law;
  • Reducing funding for priority drinking water programs, watershed restoration initiatives and agricultural research programs that hold great promise for restoring Minnesota’s waters; and
  • Cutting over $4.2 million from Wildlife Management Areas and Scientific and Natural Areas acquisitions.

Raiding the Clean Water Fund
The most contentious provision in HF 707 shifts $22 million in base grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) from the General Fund to the Clean Water Fund for administrative costs to help landowners comply with the buffer law. When the buffer law was enacted in 2015, legislators agreed to one-time funding for the first two years of this work with Clean Water Fund money, with the promise that future appropriations for SCWDs would come from the general fund.2

The House bill reneges on this agreement and once again dips into the Clean Water Fund for buffer implementation funding. This shift from the general fund to the Constitutionally-dedicated Clean Water Fund violates the spirit of the Legacy Amendment, and flagrantly breaks the trust of the millions of Minnesota voters who successfully supported passage and continue to support the Amendment. If the legislature again raids this fund, for the second consecutive time, it is a grave threat to the long term integrity of the Clean Water Fund.

Cuts to Priority Clean Water Programs
In order to pay for this $22 million shift, the House makes a number of cuts to priority clean water programs recommended by the Clean Water Council. These cuts undermine Minnesota’s progress toward our clean water goals. These cuts include:

  1. De-funding drinking water protections: H.F. 707 reduces or eliminates nearly $8.9 million in Clean Water Fund money for several programs that protect Minnesota’s drinking water and groundwater resources. These cuts include:

    •    $3.5M less for BWSR Targeted Wellhead/Drinking Water Protection
    •    $5M less for BWSR Surface and Drinking Water Protection/Restoration Grants
    •    $280,000 less for Minnesota department of Health Source Water Protection
    •    $100,000 less for Met Council Metropolitan Area Water Supply Sustainability Support

    In addition to planned general fund cuts to our environmental agencies, these cuts reduce funding for groundwater and drinking water protection programs that help address urgent drinking water and water supply protection needs across the state.

  2. Cutting funding for the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Agricultural Initiative: H.F. 707 includes $950,000 less in Minnesota Department of Agriculture funding for the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Agricultural Initiative. This innovative initiative is successfully developing new cover and perennial crops that protect water quality, soil health and support habitat and pollinator health while enhancing farm profitability in Minnesota. H.F. 707 represents a significant cut to this program despite its longstanding bi-partisan support.
       
  3. Slowing the pace of watershed restoration: H.F. 707 makes several cuts to programs that protect and restore rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands throughout the state. These cuts, which will slow implementation of projects that improve water quality in Minnesota, include:
    •    $3 M less for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), foregoing a federal match of $7 million.
    •    $1M less for MPCA Watershed Restoration & Protection Strategies.
    •    $710,000 less for BWSR One Watershed – One Plan planning and implementation.
    •    $198,000 less for DNR Watershed Restoration & Protection Strategies.
    •    $100,000 less for DNR Nonpoint Source Restoration & Protection Strategies.
    •    $850,000 less for Public Facilities Authority Point Source Implementation Grants.
      
  4. Eliminating vital protection for healthy waters: With a growing number of degraded waterways, it’s critical that we protect those waters that remain in pristine condition.
    •    $2 M less for Aquatic Management Areas.
       $1.5 M less for Forests for the Future.

Major cuts to Scientific Natural Areas and Wildlife Management Areas Acquisition Funding.
H.F. 707 cuts over $4.2 million in funding for land acquisition in both Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) and Scientific Natural Areas (SNA’s) programs — nearly 50% of the Outdoor Heritage Council recommendation.

We strongly urge legislators to respect the Clean Water Fund recommendations of Minnesota’s 28-member Clean Water Council. The Council includes citizens with water resources expertise, legislative members, members from state agencies, the University of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council. The legislature has traditionally relied on the expertise of the Clean Water Council to craft science-based, non-partisan Clean Water Fund recommendations.

This bill turns a deaf ear to the Minnesotans who expect the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment dollars to be strategically invested for maximum long term return for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors and that the existing citizen process will be honored. Please vote no on H.F. 707.

Steve Morse
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis
Center for Biological Diversity
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Friends of the Mississippi River
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
MN 350
Pesticide Action Network
Pollinate Minnesota
Renewing the Countryside
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Transit for Livable Communities

1 Statewide poll, with an oversampling of rural Minnesota, conducted February 1 – 5, 2017 by the national bi-partisan polling team of Public Opinion Strategies
and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.
2 Session Laws 2015, 1st Special Session, Chapter 4, Article 3, Section 4: “The base [general fund] for the board in fiscal year 2018 and thereafter is increased by $11,000,000 for grants to soil and water conservation districts to implement buffer requirements.”

News Watch: April 3

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April 3, 2017

Today’s Topics: Loon Commons, Agriculture & Food, Clean Energy, Mining, Oil and Pipelines, Parks and Trails, Pollution, Transportation, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Loon Commons blog and News Releases:
News Release: Letter to Senators on Environment Omnibus Bill, S.F. 723
Loon Commons Blog: Minnesota Takes Two Steps Backward on Energy Policy
Loon Commons Blog: Time for Minnesotans Get Serious About Climate

Agriculture & Food
Hibbing Daily Tribune: Renegotiating biomass agreements could be bad for loggers
Duluth News Tribune: Sweet new facility highlights syrup-making at Maplewood Park
Pioneer Press: Aquaponic company to offer $1 gallons of water from Schmidt Brewery Aquifer

Clean Energy
Midwest Energy News: Minnesota cities learn from buying community solar together
CBS Minnesota: Talking Points: The Battle Over Environmental Regulations
Bismarck Tribune: North Dakota House committee rejects “glorified moratorium” on wind energy 

Mining
Ely Echo: Amid controversy, Twin Metals continues its work
Duluth News Tribune: (editorial) Local View: Cherished lands like BWCAW require federal-level protection

Oil and Pipelines
MPR News: Dakota Access fights provides blueprint for pipeline protests
Alaska Dispatch News: Officials: Oil no longer leaking from Cook Inlet pipeline, but scope and cause of spill still unknown

Parks and Trails
Star Tribune: Minnesota arboretum voted Best Botanical Garden in U.S.
West Central Tribune: His Mission Is Getting Minnesota Veterans Outdoors
Star Tribune: Proposed trail aims to bring people to the Crow River in western suburbs

Pollution
MPR News: Minnesota House backs GOP-driven changes to environmental agencies
Pioneer Press: Fed-up residents clean up infamous trash pile, dump it in bags outside city hall
MPR News: MnDOT cuts back road salt use to save money, protect water – featuring MEP member groups Freshwater Society and Friends of the Mississippi River
Washington Post: The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war
Star Tribune: April Fools’ Day post by Minnesota agency has serious message

Transportation
Alexandria Echo Press: Transportation bills pass, starting the real Minnesota talks
Austin Daily Herald: Cedar Valley Services awarded state grant; Transit group 1 of 23 providers in Greater Minnesota awarded money

Water
Star Tribune: Anderson: With some reservations, Stearns County buffer law compliance widespread
Albert Lea Tribune: A sign of progress moving forward: Shell Rock River Watershed breaks ground on District’s project site

Wildlife & Fish
Inforum: Minnesota so far cool to outdoor fee increases – featuring MEP member group Minnesota Trout Unlimited
 

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News Watch: March 30

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March 30, 2017

Today’s Topics: Loon Commons, Agriculture & Food, Clean Energy, Conservation, Mining, Parks and Trails, Pollution, Transportation, Water, Wildlife & Fish

Loon Commons blog and News Releases:
News Release: Letter to Senators on Environment Omnibus Bill, S.F. 723
Loon Commons Blog: Minnesota Takes Two Steps Backward on Energy Policy
Loon Commons Blog: Time for Minnesotans Get Serious About Climate

Agriculture & Food
Agrinews: What farmers are doing for Minnesota’s water – featuring member group Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
MPR News: EPA decides not to ban a pesticide, despite its own evidence of risk
Tri-County News: Lochen farm recognized by Dept. of Agriculture

Clean Energy
Midwest Energy News: Amid lawmaker concerns, record year ahead for Minnesota solar incentive program
Winona Daily News: County approves solar energy deal
MPR News: What Trump misses about energy jobs in America
Alpha News: MN Politicians React to Trump’s Climate Change Executive Order

Conservation
Duluth News Tribune: Birch bandits: thieves illegally cutting saplings in Minnesota and Wisconsin woods

Mining
Duluth News Tribune: Fourth lawsuit filed against PolyMet land exchange – featuring member groups Save our Blue Sky Waters, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Save Lake Superior Association, Center for Biological Diversity, MCEA, Izaak Walton League, WaterLegacy

Parks and Trails
Pioneer Press: Opinions sought for future of Lake Byllesby Regional Park

Pollution
Albert Lea Tribune: Wisconsin, 3M reach fine-free pollution settlement

Transportation
MinnPost: Breaking-up bad: Plan to dissolve key Twin Cities transit funding board is now, officially, dead
Star Tribune: Proposed House Budget would deeply cut Metro Transit bus service

Winona Daily News: Budget cuts could threaten Amtrak service to Winona

Water: 
Star Tribune: White Bear Lake water trial ends in acrimony over elevation drop
Alexandria Echo Press: Republicans want to delay, change vegetative buffers around Minnesota waters, Dayton says no way
Austin Daily Herald: Establishing water progress is large challenge

Wildlife & Fish
CBS WCCO: Bees’ Endangered Status Halts Metro Road Construction
 

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MEP House Omnibus Environmental Budget Bill Letter – March 30, 2017

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March 30, 2017

Dear Members of the Minnesota House:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, ask you to vote NO on the Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Budget Bill, H.F. 888. We do not make this request lightly. This bill will roll back environmental protections and erode the basic foundation of Minnesota’s legacy of protecting our Great Outdoors. The bill contains many provisions that undo existing protections and make it more costly and time consuming to adopt new protections for our state’s air, land, lakes, rivers and streams.

In addition, at a time when the state’s coffers are full, this bill makes historic cuts, effectively raiding $21 million in general public support from the core work of protecting our Great Outdoors. The impacts of this nearly 7% cut in support will be compounded if the significant cuts in grant funds to the state, proposed by the Trump Administration, are adopted. These combined cuts threaten the long term viability of major areas of work for the citizens of our state.

This bill is out of sync with Minnesota voters. Just last month, our extensive statewide issue poll found that 20% of voters think our environmental laws are at the right levels and fully 62%, from all corners of the state, would like to see environmental laws be made tougher or enforced better. Yet this bill goes in the opposite direction.

House File 888 includes a large number of policy provisions that obstruct or prohibit the state agencies, charged with protecting our water and controlling pollution, from carrying out their functions and duties. Some of these duties are delegated to Minnesota under the Federal Clean Water Act, and legislative action interfering with the state’s ability to carry out delegated duties puts Minnesota at odds with the Clean Water Act.

Though what follows is not a comprehensive list, we are deeply concerned that this bill:

Unravels Buffer Protections for Habitat and Water Quality (Art. 2, Sec. 80, 81.)
– Limits the 50-foot buffer requirement to only those waterways that have a shoreland classification, leaving all other waterways subject to only the 16.5 foot buffer requirement. This exempts 200,000 acres and 24,000 miles of watercourses from 50-foot buffer requirements, rolling back water protections that were in place before passage of the 2015 buffer law.
– Eliminates the buffer requirement altogether unless the state or federal government pays for the entire cost of establishing the buffer.
– Delays implementation of 50-foot buffers for one year, despite Board of Water and Soil (BWSR) and local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) reports that most counties already have 60 – 100% compliance with the law.

Hobbles the MPCA and DNR from carrying out their duties. (Art. 2, Sec. 6, 110, 111):
– Bars the MPCA and DNR from enforcing against any permittee or polluter any guidance, policy, or interpretation that meets the definition of a rule under Minn. Stat. 14.02, without first conducting full Chapter 14 rulemaking, and creates a presumption against the agency in any challenges alleging that MPCA is enforcing an unadopted rule. The guidance, policy, and other interpretations provided by the MPCA is intended to answer common questions, typically from regulated parties, about how the MPCA’s rules and state law would be applied, without resorting to court action.
– Establishes presumption that DNR and PCA guidance documents are invalid, unpromulgated “rules.” This makes environmental regulation much more complex, time consuming and expensive – it’s the opposite of streamlining. It also invites litigation. Guidance documents that are truly being used inappropriately can already be challenged in court under existing law.

Takes the science out of agency decisions. (Art 2, Sec. 98):
– Eliminates deference to PCA’s science when a water quality decision is challenged, and creates a special process for municipalities to end run existing expertise and challenge agency decisions. This is a favor for a few municipalities that want to re-fight a losing battle over the state’s river eutrophication standards. Their science and arguments haven’t held up in front of agencies or courts, and this section creates a new opportunity to rehash the same arguments at taxpayer expense.

Delays actions to clean-up polluted drinking water. (Art. 2, Sec. 132):
-Exempts cities that build new facilities from future technology updates to meet standards for clean water for 16 years. This provision broadly delays actions to clean-up pollution and creates more uncertainty for operators because it puts state-issued water pollution permits at odds with federal Clean Water Act requirements.

Eliminates public participation in mining permits (DNR). (Art. 2, Sec. 51, 52):
– Limits the right of affected citizens and local governments to have a “contested case” hearing on mining permits, allowing it only for adjacent property owners and affected governments. A contested case is an opportunity to present evidence, question industry and agency experts, and build a solid record to support smart decisions, including how lands can be reclaimed and what type and amount of financial assurance should be required from mining companies. Since 1969 this has been a right of citizens, guaranteeing public participation in important decisions that affect the whole state.

Allows corporations to write their own environmental impact statements. (Art. 2, Sec. 117, Lines 106.2 – 106.27):
– Puts the fox in charge of the hen house, allowing corporations to author their own environmental impact statements and restricting the government’s role to “review, modification and determination of completeness and adequacy” of an EIS. This is antithetical to the whole point of environmental review, which is to allow the regulator (and public) to gather information about environmentally destructive projects and alternatives. It also prevents the public from accessing all of the underlying data and analyses that support the EIS because private companies are not subject to data practices laws.

Undermines effective environmental review by requiring agencies to begin action on permits before environmental review is complete. (Art. 2, Sec. 115, 105.8 – 105.11)
– This undermines the core purpose of environmental review which is to do an assessment of potential environmental harm to see if it can be mitigated through conditions on the permit. To be effective, action on the permit must wait until environmental review is complete.

Requires DNR and PCA to issue draft permits within 150 days. (Art. 2, Sec. 3, 106):
– DNR and PCA are already issuing more than 90% of permits in line with statutory streamlining goals. This mandate is a one-size-fits-all requirement that does not recognize that some projects are located in sensitive areas or are simply too big or too complex to be permitted within such a short period.

Eliminates requirement to adopt air quality rules and environmental review standards for frac sand facilities. (Art. 2, Sec. 121, Lines 108.1-108.17):
– Removes the requirement that the MPCA must develop ambient air quality standards for frac sand mines. Long-term low level exposure to silica dust can cause silicosis, which is fatal.

Prohibits rules regarding use of lead shot. (Art.2, S. 71):
– Restricts the DNR from using existing authorities to reduce non-target mortality of birds (including Bald Eagles) and wildlife exposed to lead shot. Steel shot is readily available, performs similarly as lead, costs the same or less, and is non-toxic to birds and wildlife that ingest it. Modern ballistics have developed many superior ammunition loads and restricting the use of toxic lead shot makes environmental sense and does not impact Second Amendment rights.

Interferes with science-based forest planning process at Sand Dunes State Forest. (Art. 2, Sec. 126, Lines 110.17 – 111.13):
– This provision does an end run around the existing well-established, science-based forest planning process that includes the involvement of local representatives. It also suspends the authority to restore any part of the forest to native oak savannah, of which less than 1% of Minnesota’s original oak savannah forest remains. Finally, it improperly delegates approval of the state forest plan to an unspecified county board.

Lastly we would like to object to the insertion of the large amount of unrelated policy language into this biennial appropriations bill. This action ignores the strong objection Governor Dayton expressed in his letter to Speaker Daudt on March 13, 2017. As many of the policy provisions that have been added to this bill are highly unpopular with the voting public, this combining of budget and policy provisions allows these issues to avoid the public process and scrutiny they would receive otherwise. These unpopular issues should be required to stand on their own as separate policy bills.

This bill is not right for the shared legacy of Minnesota’s Great Outdoors and it is not acceptable to Minnesota voters. Please vote no on HF888.

Steve Morse
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

 

Alliance for Sustainability

Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis

Center for Biological Diversity

Clean Water Action

CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)

Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest

Friends of the Mississippi River

Institute for Local Self Reliance

Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division

Land Stewardship Project

League of Women Voters Minnesota

Lower Phalen Creek Project

Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Minnesota Conservation Federation

Minnesota Native Plant Society

Minnesota Ornithologists Union

Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter

Minnesota Trout Unlimited

MN 350

Pesticide Action Network

Pollinate Minnesota

Renewing the Countryside

Save Our Sky Blue Waters

Sierra Club – North Star Chapter

Transit for Livable Communities

Water Legacy

Minnesota Takes Two Steps Backward on Energy Policy

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

Contributed by Eliana Langer, Macalester student —

Minnesota legislators are undoing decades of progress on renewable energy, public health, and civic engagement. On February 9, 2017, the Minnesota State Legislature passed two bills that are aimed at gutting renewable energy in Minnesota and raising costs for consumers. Together, these bills cripple a movement towards renewable energy that is better for the environment and healthier for Minnesotans than the alternative. They also bypass important independent oversight on utilities in Minnesota, setting a dangerous precedent.

Two summers ago, I worked on a campaign with the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter to shut down the largest coal-fired power plant in Minnesota, the Sherburne County Generating Station (Sherco). We gathered signatures, postcards, and input from Minnesotans, small businesses, and advocacy groups across the state. The consensus was clear: Minnesotans and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) supported a switch to cleaner energy. Sherco’s two generators are to be closed in 2023 and 2026. Xcel was asked to explore renewable alternatives to fill the energy needs left by the shuttered coal plant.

The first bill, HF 113/SF 85, authorizes Xcel Energy to construct a natural gas power plant in Becker, MN to replace Sherco. At the PUC meeting in October 2016, when the decision was made to close Sherco, Xcel submitted a proposal to construct a natural gas-fired plant in its place. The PUC requested that Xcel explore renewable alternatives, but this bill green-lights Xcel to build a natural gas plant without PUC approval. There are economic and environmental costs. Renewables are becoming more cost-efficient, but natural gas prices are expected to rise; the bill is designed to allow the company to shift future costs onto consumers without PUC oversight. Natural gas releases releases large amounts of methane, which also contributes to global warming.

The other bill, HF 235, weakens an in-state solar initiative funded through the Renewable Development Fund (RDF). Known as the “Made in Minnesota” solar initiative, homeowners and small businesses who install solar panels made in Minnesota are given RDF-funded tax rebates. Xcel Energy contributes to this fund because of an agreement that allowed nuclear waste storage tanks to be installed on Prairie Island. HF 235 will allow Xcel to phase out payments to the RDF and will hobble the fund’s ability to support renewable energy. The fund has a $15 million per year annual budget through 2023, but it will peter out if HF 235 is passed and businesses drawn by the state’s promises to support solar energy will leave.

These two bills undo intentional and collaborative decisions made by the state’s citizens, activists, and the PUC, an organization whose goal is to “protect and promote the public’s interest in safe, adequate and reliable utility services at fair, reasonable rates”. Bypassing the PUC diminishes the role of independent oversight and citizen engagement. Furthermore, the RDF was created in close cooperation with the Prairie Island Indian Community, and weakening it threatens its goal of restorative justice.

By passing these two bills, state legislators have failed Minnesotans on many fronts.They are stopping the growth of solar energy sources in Minnesota, and limiting the jobs and economic boon that stem from that booming industry. Because they are bypassing the PUC, the legislators are choosing to grant more power to Xcel Energy, a near-monopoly in Minnesota, at the cost of rate-payers’ wallets and health. The natural gas plant is expected to provide only 150 jobs. By comparison, if Xcel used a wind power plant to offset Sherco’s energy production, it would create 1,150 jobs and cost rate-payers $1 million less over 20 years. HF 113 was signed into law in late February, wreaking havoc on the PUC’s ability to protect consumers today and in the future. By passing this law, the Legislature and Governor Dayton empowered Xcel, a near-monopoly, at the cost of consumers and devaluing a process of meaningful civic engagement before and during PUC meetings.

HF 235 has not yet been signed into law. Made in Minnesota supports a strong economy, provides jobs, and ensures clean air for all Minnesotans. It encourages environmental justice and is cost-efficient today and in the long-run.

Minnesotans fought for their voices to be heard, and succeeded, through the PUC hearing process two years ago. The values of social justice, a healthy environment for all, and citizen engagement are again at risk. The victory won in 2015 will be lost unless Minnesotans take action again.

Now is the time to call state legislators and Governor Dayton to voice disapproval at the passing of HF 113 and to ask Governor Dayton to veto HF 235. Information on who represents you and how you can reach them can be found online at https://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/legdir or by calling (651) 296-8338. Governor Dayton’s office can be contacted by calling 651-201-3400.

Eliana Langer
Macalester Student

Letter to Senators on Environment Omnibus Bill, S.F. 723

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Dear Members of the Minnesota Senate:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, ask you vote NO on the Senate Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Budget Bill, S.F. 723. We do not make this request lightly. This bill will roll back environmental protections and erode the basic foundation of Minnesota’s legacy of protecting our Great Outdoors. The bill contains many provisions that undo existing protections and make it more costly and time consuming to adopt new protections for our state’s air, land, lakes, rivers and streams.

In addition, at a time when the state’s coffers are full, this bill makes historic cuts, effectively raiding $40 million in general public support from the core work of protecting our Great Outdoors. The impacts of this nearly 13% cut in support will be compounded if the significant cuts in grant funds to the state, proposed by the Trump Administration, are adopted. These combined cuts threaten the long term viability of major areas of work for the citizens of our state.

This bill is out of sync with Minnesota voters. Just last month, our extensive statewide issue poll found that 20% of voters think our environmental laws are at the right levels and fully 62%, from all corners of the state, would like to see environmental laws be made tougher or enforced better. Yet this bill goes in the opposite direction.

Senate File 723 includes a large number of policy provisions that obstruct or prohibit the state agencies, charged with protecting our water and controlling pollution, from carrying out their functions and duties. Some of these duties are delegated to Minnesota under the Federal Clean Water Act, and legislative action interfering with the state’s ability to carry out delegated duties puts Minnesota at odds with the Clean Water Act.

Though what follows is not a comprehensive list, we are deeply concerned that this bill:

Unravels Buffer Protections for Habitat and Water Quality (Art. 2, Sec. 74, Lines 23, 28-29 (p. 67), Lines 20-21 (p. 68); Sec. 75, Lines 3-5 (p. 69) and 9-12 (p. 70).)
– Limits the 50-foot buffer requirement to only those waterways that have a shoreland classification, leaving all other waterways subject to only the 16.5 foot buffer requirement. This exempts 200,000 acres and 24,000 miles of watercourses from 50-foot buffer requirements, rolling back water protections that were in place before passage of the 2015 buffer law.
– Eliminates the buffer requirement altogether unless the state or federal government pays for the entire cost of establishing the buffer as well as annual payments or an easement for the land.
– Delays implementation of the Buffer Law for 2 years, despite Board of Water and Soil (BWSR) and local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) reports that most counties already have 60 – 100% compliance with the law.

Hobbles the MPCA and DNR from carrying out their duties. (Art. 3, Sec. 4 & 14):
– Bars the MPCA from enforcing against any permittee or polluter any guidance, policy, or interpretation that meets the definition of a rule under Minn. Stat. 14.02, without first conducting full Chapter 14 rulemaking, and creates a presumption against the agency in any challenges alleging that MPCA is enforcing an unadopted rule. The guidance, policy, and other interpretations provided by the MPCA is intended to answer common questions, typically from regulated parties, about how the MPCA’s rules and state law would be applied, without resorting to court action.
– Establishes presumption that DNR and PCA guidance documents are invalid, unpromulgated “rules.” This makes environmental regulation much more complex, time consuming and expensive – it’s the opposite of streamlining. It also invites litigation. Guidance documents that are truly being used inappropriately can already be challenged in court under existing law.

Takes the science out of agency decisions. (Art 3, Sec. 9, Line 107.25-11.6):
– Eliminates deference to PCA’s science when a water quality decision is challenged, and creates a special process for municipalities to end run existing expertise and challenge agency decisions. This is a favor for a few municipalities that want to re-fight a losing battle over the state’s river eutrophication standards. Their science and arguments haven’t held up in front of agencies or courts, and this section creates a new opportunity to rehash the same arguments at taxpayer expense.

Delays actions to clean-up polluted drinking water. (Art. 2, Sec. 114, Line 100.27-101.6):

– Exempts cities that build new facilities from future technology updates to meet standards for clean water for 16 years. This provision broadly delays actions to clean-up pollution and creates more uncertainty for operators because it puts state-issued water pollution permits at odds with federal Clean Water Act requirements.

Suspends water quality standards and rules. (Art. 3., Sec. 18, line 122.10-122.20):
– Suspends water quality standards adopted between mid-2014 and mid-2019 if a facility would have to make updates to protect water quality. This section aims to block standards that protect rivers from algae-causing pollution and new standards proposed for pollutants such as sulfate or nitrate. This could lead MPCA to rely more on less-certain narrative standards, and put MPCA at odds with the Clean Water Act, which requires compliance with EPA-approved standards such as the river eutrophication standard.

Doubles the size a large feedlot can be before mandatory environmental review is required from 1,000 animal units to 2,000 in virtually all cases. (Art. 3, Sec. 15, lines 119.23-119.27):
– Removes the requirements for a mandatory environmental assessment worksheet for an animal feedlot facility with a capacity of less than 2,000 animal units, unless the feedlot will be in an environmentally sensitive area. The current standard is very generous impacting only the largest 7% of feedlots in our state and is so large that only 9 factory farms were required to do an environmental review in 2016.

Eliminates public participation in mining permits (DNR). (Art. 3, Sec. 6):
– Eliminates the right of affected citizens and local governments to have a “contested case” on mining permits. A contested case is an opportunity to present evidence, question industry and agency experts, and build a solid record to support smart decisions, including how lands can be reclaimed and what type and amount of financial assurance should be required from mining companies. Since 1969 this has been a right of citizens, guaranteeing public participation in important decisions that affect the whole state.

Allows corporations to write their own environmental impact statements. (Art. 3, Sec. 17):
– Puts the fox in charge of the hen house, allowing corporations to author their own environmental impact statements and restricting the government’s role to “review, modification and determination of completeness and adequacy” of an EIS. This is antithetical to the whole point of environmental review, which is to allow the regulator (and public) to gather information about environmentally destructive projects and alternatives. It also prevents the public from accessing all of the underlying data and analyses that support the EIS because private companies are not subject to data practices laws.

Requires DNR and PCA to issue draft permits within 150 days. (Art. 3, Sec. 1 & 11):
– DNR and PCA are already issuing more than 90% of permits in line with statutory streamlining goals. This mandate is a one-size-fits-all requirement that does not recognize that some projects are located in sensitive areas or are simply too big or too complex to be permitted within such a short period.

Removes requirement to adopt air quality rules for silica sand. (Art. 2, Sec. 107):
– Removes the requirement that the MPCA must develop ambient air quality standards for frac sand mines. Long-term low level exposure to silica dust can cause silicosis, which is fatal.

Prohibits rules regarding use of lead shot. (Art.2, S. 59):
– Restricts the DNR from using existing authorities to reduce non-target mortality of birds (including Bald Eagles) and wildlife exposed to lead shot. Steel shot is readily available, performs similarly as lead, costs the same or less, and is non-toxic to birds and wildlife that ingest it. Modern ballistics have developed many superior ammunition loads and restricting the use of toxic lead shot makes environmental sense and does not impact Second Amendment rights.

Interferes with science-based forest planning process at Sand Dunes State Forest. (Art. 2, Sec. 113):
– This provision does an end run around the existing well-established, science-based forest planning process that includes the involvement of local representatives. It also suspends the authority to restore any part of the forest to native oak savannah, of which less than 1% of Minnesota’s original oak savannah forest remains.

Prohibits local government from banning or placing fees on plastic bags. (Art. 2, Sec. 105):
– Banning or charging a fee on plastic bags is a proven effective method of reducing air and water pollution, protects wildlife and human health by keeping plastic out of our food stream and can provide significant economic savings to communities. Local communities have already democratically voted to implement a bag ban, and this pre-emption bill erodes local control and overrides the political will of the residents.

Lastly we would like to object to the insertion of the large amount of unrelated policy language into this biennial appropriations bill. This action ignores the strong objection Governor Dayton expressed in his letter to Senator Gazelka on March 13, 2017. As many of the policy provisions that have been added to this bill are highly unpopular with the voting public, this combining of budget and policy provisions allows these issues to avoid the public process and scrutiny they would receive otherwise. These unpopular issues should be required to stand on their own as separate policy bills.

This bill is not right for the shared legacy of Minnesota’s Great Outdoors and it is not acceptable to Minnesota voters. Please vote no on SF 723.

Steve Morse
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Water Action
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Friends of the Mississippi River
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
MN 350
Pesticide Action Network
Pollinate Minnesota
Renewing the Countryside
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
Transit for Livable Communities
WaterLegacy

News Watch: March 27

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March 27, 2017

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food, Climate Change, Mining, Oil & Pipelines, Pollution, Transportation, Waste & Recycling, Water, Wildlife & Fish, Loon Commons

Agriculture & Food
Alexandria Echo Press: Agriculture funding bills prioritize new Minnesota crops
High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal: USDA takes 21 percent hit under Trump budget plan

Climate Change
MPR News: EPA Chief: Trump to undo Obama plan to curb global warming
Rochester Post Bulletin: Approval of utility-scale solar gardens is booming across SE MN

Mining
Mesabi Daily News: In D.C., a changing tone in withdrawal

Oil & Pipelines
Star Tribune: Enbridge tax challenge could cost northern Minn. counties millions
MPR News: Trump approves Keystone XL, calling it a “great day” for jobs

Pollution
Winona Daily News: Future of Minnesota Environmental Quality Board in question
Hibbing Daily Tribune: MPCA to visit local leaders
Star Tribune: University of Minnesota researchers invent nano-sponge to soak up pollution

Transportation
Rochester Post Bulletin: Light rail debate continues to divide
Crossroads Blog: Bicycling industry, events have economic impact in Minnesota

Waste & Recycling
West Central Tribune: Would single-sort recycling be better for Kandiyohi County?

Water: 
Agweek (Editorial): Farmers leading progress on buffer requirement
Washington Post: How eliminating two large EPA programs could affect large parts of America

Wildlife & Fish
St. James Plaindealer: Once-rare pelicans on yearly return to Minnesota

Loon Commons blog and News Releases: 

Time for Minnesotans to Get Serious About Climate

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Time for Minnesotans to Get Serious About Climate

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.

Contributed by Rebecca Krasky, Macalester student –

President Trump’s budget, released on March 16th, makes huge cuts to climate change programs administered by the EPA, Department of Energy, NOAA, and NASA. At a time when more Americans than ever believe in the urgency of climate change, it is outrageous that the federal government thinks investing in climate change research and mitigation is “a waste of money”, as stated by Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney. The fact is Minnesota’s climate is changing, regardless of whether President Trump believes in climate change. Radical climate action needs to be taken now, and the federal budget needs to fund it. 

This winter’s balmy weather has been pleasant for Minnesotans, but let us not forget the negative  consequences of climate change: increased flooding and severe storms, early bird migration, loss of our northern coniferous forests, and scorching summer temperatures. Minnesota will be hard hit by climate change, but other communities around the planet will be virtually erased by it. The United States needs to be leading the way in massive climate action, cutting carbon emissions drastically and heavily investing in renewables. The only way this will happen is if the people of the United States mandate government action through mass mobilization. 

It’s time for concerned Americans to rise up and force our government to take action. A study by Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication after the 2016 election found that a majority of Americans, 62%, are “somewhat” or “very” worried about global warming. These remarkable numbers mandate action, but real change will require radical action and intense political pressure. In the past few weeks we’ve witnessed the efficacy of constituents interrupting Republican legislators’ town hall meetings and marching in the streets. This needs to be amplified: across the nation, Americans must demand that their representatives in Congress fight for climate justice. 

Trump’s budget slashes the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31%, and eliminates funding for 50 EPA programs. State Department funding for climate change, in the form of aid to developing countries for climate change adaptation and clean energy, is also cut. NOAA, NASA, and the Department of Energy also lose billions of dollars of key funding for climate change research and adaptation initiatives. If you’re interested, here’s a link with more information about the cuts. This budget will derail the United States from its climate progress, potentially permanently. The health of our earth and of Americans is threatened, and defunding critical climate initiatives will condemn the planet to climate destruction. 

As a young person, I especially feel the urgency of this issue. In my lifetime, I will witness natural disasters, famines, the extinction of thousands of species, the melting of the Arctic sea ice, and the disappearance of the brutal Minnesota winters I have grown to love. My asthma, triggered by exposure to high temperatures and air pollution, will likely worsen, and I may have to limit my time outdoors. However, my asthma challenges are nothing in comparison to the worldwide deaths from drought-caused famines, the refugees fleeing climate-provoked conflict, or the rising seas inundating beloved homelands. This is the reality my generation is faced with, and we have no choice but to fight for the survival of ourselves and our children and grandchildren. It is imperative that older generations recognize their stake in a livable climate as well, and support us in this fight for climate justice. 

Like the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the Climate Movement must be led by the people. We must support environmental organizations like never before, building a broad-base of passionate citizens spurred to action by the immense urgency of this issue. All Americans need to turn out for climate justice and demand that our country take responsibility for the crisis that we’ve created. The people have the capacity to thrust climate action into the spotlight. 

So, what will you do right now? 

  1. Contact your representatives in Congress, and tell them that you support funding climate change programs through the EPA, NOAA, NASA, and the Department of Energy. Don’t know who represents you? Find out here.   
  2. Support scientists and the important work they do on Earth Day, April 22nd at the March for Science, in Washington DC and in cities across the country. The next week, join thousands of other Americans in the People’s Climate Mobilization on April 29th in Washington D.C. It’s time to take a stand for the climate, and show the the world that Americans refuse to wait any longer for serious climate action. 

Thank you! 

Rebecca Krasky
Geography/Environmental Studies
Macalester College ’19