Line 3 appeal hangs in the balance, Governor’s decision will be critical

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This Wednesday marks the deadline for the Minnesota Commerce Department to choose whether to renew a critical challenge to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline expansion project. Two years ago, it filed an appeal against the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision to approve the pipeline, on the grounds that Enbridge had not proven that demand merited its planned doubling of the current Line 3’s capacity on this new route. The Commerce Department previously argued that the new pipeline was not needed by Minnesota at all, and that Minnesotans would be better off if Enbridge shut down the old Line 3 rather than replacing it.

Because of legal requirements, the Commerce Department has to affirmatively refile its appeal, and the ball is in Governor Walz’s court. If he directs Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley to continue the challenge, it will continue being a useful tool in the fight against Line 3.

There is no scientific or economic reason that continuing the appeal this year would be any less correct than it was last year. Enbridge still has not given proof that its pipeline is needed to meet oil demand, which has been dropping in Minnesota for years and is not expected to bounce back. The Canadian tar sands oil industry, which would provide the dirty oil that would flow through Line 3, is in a massive economic downturn. And any oil that did flow would mostly head for foreign markets, though Minnesotans would end up subsidizing Enbridge for the privilege of carrying the unnecessary oil.

Beyond the legal specifics of this appeal case, we know, as we have for years, that Line 3 is a catastrophic threat to climate, water, and Minnesota communities.

Science has unambiguously told us that the world needs to cut emissions and fossil fuel infrastructure now, not add to them. The consumption of this oil and the operation of the pipeline over the course of its life would emit the equivalent greenhouse gases of 50 new coal plants, with a social cost estimated at nearly $300 billion. Enbridge won’t be paying that money, of course – the company’s total net worth is less than $70 billion. It will socialize those costs by making the climate crisis worse, while retaining private profits for itself.

Right now, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is considering whether to grant Enbridge a water quality permit, and MEP and our partners – as well as 34 Minnesota legislators – have asked it to deny the permit. Aside from the climate damage to our water resources, the hundreds of waters this new pipeline would cross would be under the ever-present spill risk. Based on Enbridge’s track record, and the increasing likelihood of severe weather events, such a spill is less a question of “if” than of “when.” While it’s true that the existing Line 3 is aging and is itself a spill risk, the responsible solution is not to invest in more obsolete infrastructure, but to shut the old line down, given that its capacity is no longer needed.

From the beginning, Enbridge’s pipelines have trampled the rights of Ojibwe communities, as its pipelines cross through treaty lands where the Ojibwe have the legal right to hunt and harvest natural resources, including wild rice. While the new Line 3 route was created in part to avoid reservation land, it still threatens Ojibwe communities’ safety, treaty resources, sacred lands, and water supplies. As we’ve seen with other oil pipeline companies, Enbridge has treated indigenous opposition to Line 3 as an obstacle to be managed through capture of the regulatory system, not by respect for environmental justice.

All of these issues are moral reason enough to stop Line 3 from ever snaking its way through Minnesota. Unfortunately, members of legal bodies like the PUC have not seen it that way, and frequently abdicated their responsibility to protect Minnesotans’ interests. But Enbridge has willfully violated the law by failing to prove that its pipeline is needed to meet demand (because it isn’t) rather than the economic interests of oil companies. That’s an opening to put a halt to this industry-dominated process.

What you can do:

Call Governor Walz at 651-201-3400 and ask him to continue the Line 3 appeal. This is an opportunity for the Governor to show climate and environmental leadership at a time when it is more important than ever to act boldly and decisively for our people and planet.

Widespread lead poisoning crisis persists, despite established science on solutions

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

One of the most harmful health problems in the United States today, as it has been for decades, is lead poisoning. It’s one of the largest environmental sources of developmental problems in children, and has inflicted massive human and financial costs on communities across the country. Millions of American homes have lead exposure hazards, and millions of children have been harmed. There are areas of the United States where 90% of children have detectable levels of lead in their bloodstream.

None of this is acceptable.

Unlike a number of metals, lead has no biological function in the human body. When it is absorbed into the body, it ends up accumulating in nerve cells and inhibiting their growth and function. This is especially harmful to children, who absorb two-thirds of the lead they are exposed to and whose nervous systems are still developing. There is no safe level of lead – if it is detected in a person’s bloodstream, the damage has been done. Pharmaceuticals exist that can help remove some lead from the body, but patients sometimes experience harmful or even lethal side effects. The only surefire way to address this problem from a health perspective is to eliminate lead exposure to begin with.

This poisonous problem, to a large extent, is a crisis of choice. It is solvable using existing technology, but only if governments, companies, and nonprofits invest the needed resources into getting it done. For this reason, MEP has chosen to make lead a priority in our work, in both policy organizing and direct community work in Minnesota.

An often-invisible threat

For most of the 20th century, the omnipresent source of lead was motor vehicles. To address certain engine problems, oil companies began adding the compound tetraethyllead to gasoline. When the gas combusted, it releases tetraethyllead into the air. When lead is inhaled, the absorption rate is as high as 100%, making it especially dangerous. Though science began to recognize the devastating consequences of this gasoline additive in the early 1940s, it wasn’t until 1976 that the EPA began to order a phase-out under the Clean Air Act over industry objections and lawsuits.

Not long after EPA’s action began to take effect, crime rates in the United States fell dramatically to the far lower levels of today. There is a well-supported hypothesis that the latter benefit is largely the result of the former – that doing away with lead in gasoline helped reduce neurological problems in children that would otherwise put them at risk for harmful behavioral patterns. 

But lead hazards are by no means a thing of the past. Another major source of exposure is in drinking water, as has been so painfully illustrated by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Homes with lead service lines or plumbing, as well as pipes made of galvanized steel that contain lead, become sources of ingested lead as pipes corrode. Such homes can be found throughout Minnesota; the city of St. Paul alone has more than 20,000 houses with lead pipes, and actively controls the pH of municipal water to combat pipe damage.

In such houses, residents can mitigate the problem by running their sink for several minutes each morning or installing filters. Unfortunately, many residents aren’t even aware of the danger. MEP has been working to help families test their water and take steps toward mitigating lead exposure (more on that work in an upcoming edition of the Environmental Insider.)

The other major source of poisoning is lead paint, especially common in older homes. Lead paint on windows is the primary specific culprit, as the opening and closing of the windows releases paint dust and chips that are likely to be inhaled or ingested by small children. Some government agencies offer grants for households to replace such windows, and certain kinds of encapsulating paint can also be effective at reducing the danger. But again, residents aren’t always aware of the danger or lack access to the resources to fix it.

Other sources of lead pollution exist. The use of lead in shot and tackle is notably harmful to wildlife, and fragments of shot can end up in meat consumed by humans, creating another pathway to exposure. Cigarette smoke also frequently contains lead. There are few applications of lead that cannot be replaced, and the sooner that it is eliminated from those uses, the better.

What can be done

The fortunate thing about this problem is that the solutions are well-known. In the short-term, drinking water can be filtered at the tap or at the in-home service line. Lead and galvanized steel pipes can be switched out for copper or other safe materials. Lead paint can be mitigated through replacement or covering.

The reason that so many people in Minnesota and in the United States generally still suffer from lead exposure is the lack of investment in these solutions. Complacency and the deprioritization of these critical health measures have perpetuated this environmental injustice, which disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color.

Replacing pipes and windows can be expensive for municipal budgets, and even more so for individual families. But the consequences of this problem are far costlier than the solutions. The Minnesota Legislature should heavily invest in programs that help communities and families eliminate lead from pipes and paint, and phase out its use wherever possible. It’s high time that the lead problem was relegated to the history books.

Blue Line extension blockage highlights transportation inequities in Minnesota

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, municipal elected officials from several northwestern Twin Cities suburbs – Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, and Robbinsdale – called on state and Metropolitan Council leaders to push harder for the construction of the Bottineau Blue Line project, which would extend Metro Transit’s light rail corridor to connect to these communities. The project has been in limbo for several years, largely due to stonewalling by the BNSF Railway company that does not wish to share its right-of-way with commuter rail. The elected officials ask the state and Met Council to push BNSF to negotiate, as they have done for other projects.

In their letter, the officials noted that these five cities are relatively diverse, and argued that the delays to the Bottineau project exemplify the systemic racism that has pervaded transit planning decisions in Minnesota (and the United States broadly) for years. The writers point out that  “diverse communities along this line have a higher number of people living in poverty and experiencing transportation barriers than other areas that will be served by light rail.” Indeed, the Southwest Green Line extension, a similar light rail project that will stretch from Minneapolis to more affluent and more white communities in Hennepin County, has been approved and is currently under construction.

The Blue Line extension’s position in planning purgatory highlights a broader issue of environmental injustice: transportation investments tend to benefit affluent, white, and fossil-fueled interests at the expense of communities of color and a healthy environment. This is part of the reason that low-income and diverse communities suffer higher levels of air pollution than the rest of Minnesota, and why transportation is our largest, most stubborn source of greenhouse gas emissions.

This structural inequity has shown itself time and again throughout the Twin Cities’ history. The Twin Cities streetcar system, which for a time was considered one of the best in the United States, was dismantled by corporate raiders in the early 1950s, and light rail did not return until a half-century later. This coincided with policy changes that encouraged an ideal of individuals commuting in their own cars, as well as white flight and redlining that contributed to inequality.

One of the most egregious examples – and darkest chapters in Twin Cities history – was the literal destruction in the 1950s and 60s of the majority-Black Rondo Neighborhood in St. Paul to make way for I-94. Rondo community groups’ voices were largely ignored by state highway planners, and one in eight Black residents of the city lost their homes to the freeway. Four years ago, MNDOT and the City of St. Paul formally apologized for the resulting devastation, but the lingering harms – economic, social, and environmental – are still being felt.

Inequities and a bias towards fossil fuels are baked into the way that Minnesota plans and funds public transit even today. This year’s bonding bill – which the Legislature failed to pass after a regular session and two special sessions – contained funds to invest in currently-planned transit infrastructure, though it had no money for planning new routes and projects. But the bonding bill shouldn’t be the go-to solution for transit anyway. The Legislature has consistently refused or failed to pass a comprehensive transportation bill that supports transit riders or invests in the future, leaving gaps for bonding to fill. Metro Transit raised its fares in 2017 for the first time in 9 years, largely because the legislature did not fund it adequately to stave off a budget deficit. Ultimately, it was transit riders and the Twin Cities economy that suffered.

More widespread examples exist. The elimination of trees in low-income neighborhoods to create wider, faster roads. Zoning restrictions that prevent even modest increases in housing density. Speed limits that endanger pedestrians. Time and again, decisions that disadvantage people who can’t or prefer not to drive a single-occupant motor vehicle have been made in Minnesota, and coincide with detrimental effects on our climate, our air, and our ecosystems.

There are solutions available to these injustices and to our climate crisis. While electric vehicles are part of the overall solution, they won’t do the job by themselves – it’s critical to give people alternatives to driving. Investing more funds, more consistently in public transit is a core tool, and one that policymakers should not shy from during the COVID-19 crisis given what we’ve learned about the relative safety of public transportation under the right precautions. 

State, city, and regional authorities need to build a foundation of trust with historically disadvantaged communities and listen receptively to their needs. Then they need to do the hard, necessary work of building equity in transportation.

Third time’s the charm? Legislature to reconvene Monday

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Governor Tim Walz has called the Legislature to return this Monday for another summer special session, after the previous special session from June 12-19 failed to bear fruit on critical issues. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted normal operations of the Legislature significantly, but strong bipartisan cooperation earlier this year has given way to gridlock over the past few months.

The needs of Minnesotans haven’t changed since business was last conducted at the Capitol. Criminal justice reform, a robust bonding bill, and the need to keep environmental programs and jobs afloat are all awaiting legislative solutions that fell through a few weeks ago.

Minnesotans deserve to feel safe in our neighborhoods, but aggressive, unchecked, militant policing has contributed to the inequitable dynamics that disproportionately harm people of color in our state. Many positive steps have been proposed in the Legislature toward reforming our justice system. The House of Representatives moved forward with a credible package of proposals to check police violence, but the Senate’s bills were not nearly as strong – and don’t support programs that would replace or supplement traditional policing models – and no agreement was reached. Making progress on these issues is a matter of justice, and of the state’s basic responsibility to protect residents’ lives.

The Legislature continues to negotiate a bonding bill, the outcome of which is critically important to Minnesota’s economy. Many of this year’s bonding proposals would be powerful boosts to safe and clean water, public transportation, and building a cleaner economy in Minnesota. But the longer that funding is delayed, the less likely it is that many of these projects will be completed this construction season, which means that many polluted waters will worsen as Minnesotans continue to struggle with unsafe water.

Lawmakers should also take up a bill to keep spending funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the lottery-funded resource that supports vital scientific studies and natural resources improvements in the state. If a bill isn’t passed, numerous jobs may be in jeopardy, as well as important research that should not be delayed at this time of drastic environmental change.

Will there be action?

While Governor Walz has called this special session, either house of the Legislature can adjourn it, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has signaled that he will only support a short special session. Hopefully, this special session will bear more fruit than the previous one, but fissures on criminal justice reform and the state’s COVID-19 may continue to make consensus difficult.

This gridlock is an important reminder that state lawmakers are ultimately hired, in even-numbered years, by the people of Minnesota to responsibly govern. This year’s elections include the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, in addition to the national-level elections for Congress and the Presidency. The partisan primary, in which contested races for party support will be decided, will conclude voting a month from now, on August 11th. The general election is less than four months away, on November 3.

We strongly encourage all eligible Minnesotans (and our friends in other states) to exercise their right to vote in every election. With COVID-19 presenting a health hazard to in-person voting, we recommend voting by mail as the safest way to do so. Minnesota has a proud tradition as one of the highest-turnout states in the nation, and we won’t make progress on the environmental and equity issues that define our lives if we don’t continue to build on that tradition.

Ellison sues oil giants for climate deception

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Minnesota fight against Big Oil continues on Line 3 front

From left to right: Assistant Attorney Generals Peter Surdo and Leigh Currie, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke, MN Youth Climate Strike organizer Juwaria Jama, MN350 Executive Director Sam Grant

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that his office has filed consumer protection litigation against oil giants ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute for their decades-long activities deceiving the public on climate change. The lawsuit points to evidence that the oil industry has known for seventy years that their products’ greenhouse gas emissions would contribute to a warming planet, calamitous weather pattern changes, and rising sea levels, and that they chose to deliberately obscure this information in the interest of profits.

The lawsuit aims to hold the oil industry accountable in two ways: through financial damages, and by forcing them to fund a public relations campaign that counters years of mistruths and misdirections in service of climate denial.

Why it’s the right move for Minnesota

Climate change is a global issue, but its impacts on Minnesota provide ample standing for the Attorney General to take a stand against the fossil fuel sector. Minnesota is among the fastest-warming states, and the effects of warming winters, changes in rainfall, and smoke from wildfires are ravaging our farms, cities, and natural spaces. And the impacts of climate change are exacerbating the Twin Cities’ already-large racial disparities: due to decades of segregation, Minneapolis neighborhoods that black residents were redlined into living in decades ago are about 11 degrees hotter than neighborhoods that racist policies reserved for white residents.

Big Oil firms knew that the world’s continued addiction to their products would warm the planet, and likely cause the kinds of harms that Minnesota is experiencing. As Sam Grant, Executive Director of MEP member MN350, said on Wednesday: “We have a choice between freedom to profit and freedom to breathe…it should be a no-brainer – we have to be able to breathe for anything else to happen.” ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and their allies chose profit, and now the planet is reaping what they sowed.

The local angle on oil

Meanwhile, Minnesota has been in the gradual process of falling victim to another oil industry long con: the case for the Line 3 replacement pipeline. Yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) refused to reconsider its approval of Line 3’s Certificate of Need, despite tribal and environmental advocates and the state Department of Commerce pointing out that the risks of the pipeline far outweigh any benefits. 

Line 3 and the oil it would carry would be a climate catastrophe, with yearly emissions levels greater than that of Minnesota’s entire economy combined. We can’t call ourselves committed to climate action if our state isn’t willing to take the strongest step we can to move away from fossil fuels.

Moreover, there’s no reasonable argument for why Minnesota needs Line 3 or its oil. Oil demand in Minnesota has cratered and the Alberta oil industry – the source of Line 3’s oil – has tanked. With the rise in electrification of transportation, demand is on track to shrink, not grow or hold steady. But Enbridge is a pipeline company, and under current pro-pipeline regulatory structures, it will profit whether the oil is needed or not.

4 out of 5 of the Public Utilities Commissioners, however, remain locked in on the flawed rationale the Commission used two years ago to move the project forward, focusing on the state of the current, aging Line 3 pipeline that operates at half capacity. Indeed, the old pipeline should halt operation, but it should not be replaced – just removed.

Action Step

The Line 3 fight is not over ‘till it’s over, and advocates around the state are keeping up the effort to protect Minnesota and the planet from this pipeline. We encourage our followers to check out Tuesday’s online event: Stronger Together to Stop Line 3: Briefing & Action Summit. This event will include updates on what’s happening with the Stop Line 3 effort, and opportunities for Minnesotans to continue taking action for the rest of the summer and fall. 

The oil industry has been getting their way for decades, but through bold actions such as the Attorney General’s lawsuit, or by working together to stop Line 3, we can change the story and help secure our livable future.

With Senate stonewalling, special session ends with no agreement

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Early this morning, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned its weeklong special session after reaching no agreements on racial justice, police accountability, funding for environmental projects, COVID-19 responses, or any other outstanding major issue from the end of the regular session in May.

Though Governor Walz and leadership in the DFL-controlled House wished to continue negotiating on these bills, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that the Legislature needed a break before returning to the table, and his caucus voted to adjourn the special session. It’s not certain when the Legislature will return, but if Governor Walz extends his emergency powers in response to COVID-19 once again, another special session is inevitable later this summer.

It’s frustrating that the Legislature is pausing its work for Minnesotans during this critical time. Minnesota communities are in desperate need of economic relief, of equitable and effective public safety measures, and of solutions for our increasingly damaged environment.

The Senate resistance to listening to the Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) caucus’ policy proposals stymied much needed progress toward making our state safer and more equitable for Minnesotans of color. The failure to pass a bonding bill or an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund bill further delays vital environmental restoration and construction projects and may put others in jeopardy, costing jobs at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is at a record high of nearly 10%.

The longer this work is delayed, the more Minnesotans’ health and economic well-being will be impacted. And this is no time for half-measures: not on criminal justice reform, not on community rebuilding, not on jobs, not on water, not on transit, not on climate action.

We can’t control when the Legislature will return, or what they will agree and disagree on when they do. But MEP and our allies will continue lobbying lawmakers to get the job done, and we need Minnesotans to keep up the pressure. Our Action Alert page has several email forms that you can use to speak out on environmental issues; we also encourage you to use the form at the bottom of the page to find your lawmakers’ contact information and send them a personal message. Let them know that anything less than real progress forward is a surrender to a status quo that is actively taking Minnesota backward.

How the Legislature should make the most of the next week

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Yesterday, on June 12, the Minnesota Legislature reconvened for a Special Session, as they were legally required to do owing to laws concerning Governor Walz’s emergency declaration. The Republican-controlled Senate has indicated that they only plan to stay in session until next Friday, leaving less than a week remaining to work out legislation on police accountability, the continuing health and economic crisis, and bonding, as well as unfinished business.

This seems a very limited span of time to address the broad array of issues facing Minnesotans, but MEP and our partners are focusing our effort with the time we have. As we wrote last week, we’re especially concerned with legislation to create a racially just future for Minnesotans, and with the bonding bill, which is an opportunity to help support thriving, resilient, healthy communities, and do our part for climate action.

With a struggling economy that is squeezing state and local budgets, this year’s bonding bill is especially critical, and as Bradley Peterson of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities argues, the bill should be big. Borrowing funds inexpensively now will stave off economic hurt and environmental damage in the mid- and long-term.

What the bonding bill should do

This bill should first and foremost meet the most urgent needs of struggling communities. Amid the recent unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, a number of buildings were damaged in underserved communities. The bonding bill can provide funds to these communities to help residents reimagine and shape the rebuilding of their spaces in an equitable way. In this case, the state can help effect just changes without imposing top-down decisions on communities that have historically borne the brunt of racial injustice.

Also key to environmental justice is investing in public transit. Minnesotans deserve to have accessible, affordable, clean options for getting to jobs, school, and other places. And while concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have caused many people to avoid trains and buses, studies in other countries have found encouraging signs that taking transit may be no more dangerous than any other public activity, and safer than spending time in an office or restaurant. Minnesota should not be scaling back our investment in clean transportation – MEP is advocating for $75 million in bonding for bus rapid transit in the Metro Area and $10 million for transit infrastructure in greater Minnesota.

We’ve written previously about how bonding can help provide safe water infrastructure to thousands of Minnesotans; that’s why MEP and a number of aligned organizations publicly launched the Fix the Pipes alliance last month. There is broad, bipartisan support for using bonding to upgrade Minnesota’s water systems, though we encourage Minnesotans to contact their legislators on this issue. We’re asking for at least $300 million for water infrastructure in Minnesota, and requesting that powered facilities run on renewable energy to save communities money and cut emissions.

Finally, with Minnesota farms facing economic and environmental crises, we’re asking for $55 million for programs that help farmers and land managers conserve and protect land to help mitigate climate change. This is an opportunity to help Minnesota’s land use sector go from a carbon emitter to a carbon absorber, while strengthening our vital soil and water resources.

All of these bonding projects are not only investments in Minnesota’s “stuff,” they are also jobs programs. These dollars mean jobs for pipefitters, engineers, bus drivers, electricians, farmers, retailers, and more. They can help light our way out of the COVID-19 recession and emerge as a stronger, healthier, more equitable state on the other side. Over the next six days, we will keep working to make sure lawmakers see the necessity for these bold solutions.

Racial justice, bonding on the table in special session

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature is almost certain to reconvene for a special session starting by this Friday, June 12. 

Several major items of concern are likely to be considered that are of great importance to Minnesota’s environmental community. The Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus has put forward a series of proposals in response to the murder of George Floyd. The 2020 bonding bill is a top priority in both the House and the Senate, though the two parties are not unified on how large it should be or which projects it should fund. The Legislature may also continue negotiating its environmental omnibus bill and legislation to fund programs from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund.

What the POCI caucus wants to accomplish

The POCI caucus released its broad 2020 legislative priorities in February; these included policies on education, health and human services, criminal justice, housing, economic development, elections, and environmental justice. 

The newly released proposals focus specifically on police accountability and criminal justice reform. They would modify laws and procedures governing the investigation and prosecution of officer-involved deaths and wrongful actions, including automatically making the Attorney General primarily responsible for these prosecutions. They would make reforms to make policing data more transparent and police officers more accountable to the communities they serve. They would raise standards of conduct and training, and lift the state ban on local-residence requirements for officers. And it would invest in programs that support mental health and trauma relief.

These policies have broad support from House leadership, but their path in the Senate is uncertain at this time.

Why it’s so important for environmentalists

MEP’s vision pledges to “put people and planet first,” and that includes ending systemic violence against Minnesotans of color. We recognize that there can be no environmental justice as long as we continue to tolerate a justice system that is fundamentally unjust and devalues black lives through police brutality, segregation, and pollution. As of this moment, MEP’s member representatives have not formally voted to approve these policies, but many members have pledged to support them. We will be paying close attention to this legislation and considering how best to use our resources in support of racial justice.

How the bonding bill will look

Governor Walz and Minnesota’s legislative leaders largely agree that passing a bonding bill is a top priority, as it will help to rejuvenate our COVID-ravaged economy and fix aging infrastructure. There is disagreement on the scope of the bill, and what projects it will fund, however. It is likely that legislators will attempt to address rebuilding in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the wake of the fires that destroyed businesses in the last two weeks.

Why it’s so important for environmentalists

MEP and a number of our allies are members of the Fix the Pipes alliance, and we are asking the Legislature to pass a large bonding bill and dedicate at least $300 million in funds to fixing water infrastructure around Minnesota, benefiting human health and creating jobs. In addition, we hope to see projects that reduce our carbon footprint, lay the groundwork for cleaner transportation, and promote environmental justice in our communities. This is exactly the right time for bold investments in Minnesota’s future.

What you can do

Contact your lawmakers to ask them to prioritize racial justice, environmental improvements, and economic revitalization when they return for the special session. Let them know that this is no time for small ideas or delaying progress.

On George Floyd and justice: Where do we go from here?

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George Floyd was murdered. It’s an outrage and an injustice. But we need to do more than just make this declaration. He was murdered by the staff of a Minnesota city. By police that were hired, trained and retained under the laws of our land, empowered with our collective tax dollars. And this isn’t the first such event. Yet similar past incidents have not resulted in our laws, institutions and operations being reformed to prevent such reoccurrences. This needs to change.

We are complicit in George Floyd’s death. Collectively, we have allowed this failure of our society to continue; this failure to afford basic rights, equal protections and quality of life for all Minnesotan’s. It was less than a year ago that the Minnesota Environmental Partnership adopted a new vision statement to reflect our understanding that the health of our natural systems are inextricably linked to the well-being of the people who depend on them. We called for putting people and planet first to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for every Minnesotan. But we simply cannot attain this goal when whole communities of our state face structural bias and discrimination. We can and must do better. We look forward to not only standing with friends and allies to call out such injustices, but to move forward together to correct them.

The events of this last week have been gut wrenching for us all, as an organization and for our staff personally. Below are some personal reflections from MEP staff members as we all work to process what this means for us, our work, our communities and our state.

From Andrew Slade, Great Lakes Program Director:

Maybe in this time of darkness and destruction, I shouldn’t be thinking about nature and privilege. But I am. I live by Lake Superior, and the 70% of my body that is water came mostly out of that great lake. So please bear with me. To the family of George Floyd and my hometown St. Paul, all love.

When the lake is stormy, when the strong winds blow, physics and fate combine to throw wave after wave of lake power against the shores, sometimes wrecking walls, sometimes destroying homes, sometimes flooding the land. After the storm passes, society will rally to fix the damage it can. We will struggle a little more to understand what we cannot fix. And new treasures of wave-tossed beach glass glimmer on the beach. And the coastal wetlands, flooded during the storm, soak up the nutrients that high water brought. The mightiest cliffs, the most mysterious sea caves and even summer’s gorgeous beaches, are all carved by these storms.

It sucks to live in a world of storms. George Floyd should never have died, protestors should not have to riot. I can only hope that, if things do settle down, we can find some little bit of beauty, like that worn shard of beach glass, in the new world left behind by the storm. Just a little joy before the next storm comes.

From Stephan Witherspoon, Northeast Minnesota Organizer:

In addition to my position with MEP, I currently serve as president of the Duluth NAACP chapter. While I reflect on the horrors of this past week, I also want to look forward to how we can work together to drive the change we need to see. Here are five priorities that I developed earlier this year.

In these times, allies to people of color, this is what you can do to ignite that change: 

Get Involved: Whether it is NAACP or other like organizations, join and use your set of skills to forward the movement.

Invest in social change: If you really want to see a more equitable society, put your money where your mouth is. Invest in organizations and people who promote it.

Call out hate speech: If you hear family, friends, and or people use hate speech call it out and let them know that it is highly unacceptable anytime, anywhere.

Show up: Go to cultural events other than yours. Participate and get your family involved. 

Vote: In this election year, show up to the polls, take your ballot, and utilize your right to vote!!

The effects of our synergy today will create the blueprint for tomorrow!! Which side of history will you be on?

From Matt Doll, Operations Coordinator:

As a small drop in the ocean of grief and anguish in our community in the Twin Cities, I’ve had a lot of feelings over the past few days since the murder of George Floyd. Sadness. Confusion. Anger. Frustration. My heart goes out to George’s loved ones, and to all those who are venting their outrage over police violence against black folks that has gone unchecked for so long.

What I keep landing on is the same, dull ache of a feeling that has stuck hard with me since the murder of Philando Castile: I feel ashamed. I’m a resident of the Twin Cities who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. These two areas have some of the best quality-of-life indicators of any in the United States – if you’re white, as I am. For my black neighbors, they’re some of the most unequal places in the country. I have watched for years as white Minnesotans have sung the praises of a beautiful state that seems to do everything right except offer justice to people who don’t look like me, often blind to the reality that racism is equally – if not more – insidious here as it is anywhere else in America. It has taken the shape of redlining, of pollution, of the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, and of white Minnesotans using the police as our blunt instrument. My heart breaks due to George Floyd’s murder, and I hate to see us lie to ourselves by thinking of it as an aberration from our history.

Shame can be a useful tool, if it leads to action, rather than lazy, empty gestures of guilt. I’ve seen many calls for justice from Minnesota politicians in the last few days, but less apparent is what they’re committed to doing after the arrests of the murderers, after the trial, and after the verdict. I’m hoping – I’m demanding – that they listen to the protesters, and start acting on their demands: demilitarizing black neighborhoods, raising standards to hold police accountable, ending the violence against peaceful protestors, making Minnesota more equitable. I will continue to love the state of Minnesota, but I will not let go of my sense of shame for the place I call home until we confront the disease of racism at our core.

From Sara Wolff, Advocacy Director

With all of the heartache of these dark days, I find myself going to the recent words and thoughts of Brittany Packet Cunningham: there can be no justice for George Floyd. He should be alive. Everything else is accountability. 

If we want justice going forward, we have to be part of making it ourselves. 

Our state’s environment and conservation community is broad, strong and active, but we have a long way to go to reflect the diversity of people and priorities necessary to create the prosperous and sustainable future for all that we envision. MEP looks forward to working with friends and allies to move forward together.