A victory for clean water: PolyMet permit goes back to DNR

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Wednesday, April 28, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision on the PolyMet copper-nickel sulfide mine proposal that puts another wrench into the works and keeps the door open for protecting Minnesota’s waters. The Court upheld a lower court’s decision to overturn PolyMet’s permit to mine on the grounds that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) erred on at least two issues when it granted the permit.

First, the DNR needs to include public, scientific testimony in deciding whether the use of bentonite clay in the mine’s tailings dam – where PolyMet plans to store its toxic waste – would provide effective protection against a spill. And the DNR failed to set an actual time limit on when the operation needs to be cleaned up. The Court’s decision doesn’t preclude PolyMet getting another permit in the future, but it does send it back to the drawing board, and prevents PolyMet from putting a single shovel in the ground for the time being.

While the court result wasn’t a total victory, the result is that PolyMet faces another hurdle that improves the possibility that it can be stopped entirely. The DNR will have to revisit these issues and hold a public contested-case hearing on the bentonite clay issue, and will have to set a deadline for the mine’s operation and decommissioning. 

The use of the dam and the cleanup efforts afterward are critical, because the waste from a sulfide ore mine is acidic and destructive to the surrounding environment. The dam storing the waste would have to be maintained for decades or more just to keep the acid contained. A spill of this waste into the local watershed would be devastating to downstream communities and waters. We’ve seen no solid guarantee that PolyMet would stick around to pay for protecting the water or cleaning up the pollution. 

MEP applauds the plaintiffs in this case: the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (whose reservation lies downstream from PolyMet and whose treaty rights to hunt and gather include the mine site), as well as MEP member groups Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and WaterLegacy.  We’re glad to have them fighting these legal battles as Minnesotans and organizations continue to stand up against sulfide mining.

The long game on PolyMet

The DNR’s mission statement in part reads that it works “to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life.” This is a laudable goal, but one that the DNR has not lived up to when it comes to PolyMet, whose mine proposal is not conducive to a sustainable quality of life in the St. Louis River-Lake Superior watershed. It also conflicts with Minnesota’s climate goals, as it would result in the destruction of 900 acres of wetlands, a crucial carbon sink. PolyMet’s approval by the DNR and other agencies is an unfortunate example of “regulatory capture,” a situation in which an agency’s policies and actions are more accommodating to the  corporations which pollute, rather than the public interest they are supposed to serve. 

That’s part of the reason that MEP groups have supported Prove It First legislation in Minnesota. Prove It First would prevent a sulfide mine from being permitted in Minnesota until we have independent proof that a similar mine elsewhere in the United States has operated for ten years and been closed for ten years without polluting the surrounding environment. No sulfide mine has met that standard in the history of this country, and there’s no reason for Minnesota to be the guinea pig. Prove It First is not poised to become law this year, but a growing number of lawmakers, currently at 52 in the House and Senate – are signing on as they recognize the threat that sulfide mining poses.

The legal and political battles around sulfide mining in Minnesota will continue, and this Supreme Court decision gives us hope that PolyMet can be prevented from causing destruction in northern Minnesota. We hope that the DNR under the Walz Administration recognizes that its highest responsibility is to the people, water, and climate of Minnesota, not to PolyMet and its supporters and investors.

Is the tide turning on climate action?

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, President Joe Biden announced a pledge for the United States to cut our climate pollution emissions by at least 50% of 2005 levels by the end of this decade at a virtual climate summit with world leaders. At the summit, other large nations like Russia and China made their own pledges, while business and labor groups showed their support for bold climate action.

This is a time when bold commitments are necessary, and we applaud President Biden’s commitment and plans to steer us toward securing a stable climate. And we thank all the people and organizations across the nation and world who have been fighting every day for climate action.

It’s heartening to see that in so many sectors, we are seeing support for this all-important goal. A coal miner’s union endorsed a just transition to clean energy. Auto manufacturers are setting faster and faster goals for going all-electric. Countries and states, including our neighbor Wisconsin, are preparing massive tree planting efforts to soak up carbon and restore habitat.

Having strong climate leadership at our highest levels of government is a hopeful sign. What we do to confront the climate crisis everywhere matters. Now it’s time for Minnesota to do our part. We have an economy larger than most countries, almost 90,000 square miles of land and water, and a population approaching 6 million people. A solid majority of Minnesotans want bold climate action, and it’s time to make it happen.

How do we get there? We have to address all major sources of climate pollution simultaneously. While clean electricity is an important and very visible piece, electricity only accounts for about a quarter of our emissions. We also need to tackle sources that are as large or larger, including transportation, agriculture, and buildings.

There are bills moving in the Minnesota Legislature that would address these problems and advance environmental justice in our state. The House Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus bill would support reforestation and long-term agricultural practices that store carbon in the soil. The House Climate and Energy Omnibus bill would set a goal of 45% greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, and of 100% clean electricity in Minnesota by 2040. These provisions and others should be passed by the House and Senate so that Minnesota can fully get to work on reshaping our economy.

We also need Governor Walz to put his full authority behind these climate solutions. As we wrote last week, the recent climate report card for the Governor released by 18 organizations shows that on key climate and environmental justice issues like Line 3, farming, and transit investments, the Governor has not shown the kind of leadership we need. But he has time to get his grades back up, and we’re asking for Minnesotans to call him to ask for bolder action in the second half of his term. The report card includes doable steps that Governor Walz can take to push us towards the Biden climate targets.

For Minnesota to do our part, we need all hands on deck – government, workers, businesses, schools, and scientists. We have a fighting chance to create the sustainable future we want. Let’s keep going.

Coalition launches Climate Report Card for Gov. Walz

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, a coalition of 17 Minnesota organizations including MEP released a Climate Action Report Card that graded Governor Tim Walz on his administration’s climate action efforts so far. We identified several issue areas and and graded them individually, while providing context on how much each area affects the climate. While we gave credit where credit is due, the overall picture is that Governor Walz needs to pull up his grade and lead Minnesota where we need to go.

We have been encouraged by Governor Walz’s promises to pursue ambitious climate action. His administration has taken some positive steps, especially on clean power and electric vehicles. But on key issues like fossil fuel infrastructure, forestry and land use, and reducing emissions from homes and businesses, the Governor’s record doesn’t live up to his potential to cut emissions as neededand create a sustainable future. Given the shrinking time we have to tackle these issues, we can’t afford any failing grades.

The Coalition

The 17 organizations represent a cross section of the broad range of environmental and social justice issues in Minnesota. The list includes organizations working in the Latinx and Indigenous communities as well as groups specifically focused on water, agriculture, and democracy. The core principles we agree on are simple: that Minnesota needs to think and act both more broadly and bolder on climate action, that our solutions must address environmental and racial justice, and that our state’s Governor must be active and firmly committed to this work. We worked on the issue sections collaboratively and strove to be as fair and objective.

The Objective

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is not a partisan organization. We don’t take sides in elections and we have never affiliated with or endorsed political candidates. But we do use tools to educate the public and to influence policymakers to protect Minnesota’s environment and public health.

The goals of the Climate Report Card are to help identify areas in which the Governor should be doing better and to give Minnesotans a tool to persuade him to do so. It identifies sources of emissions, explains what has been done about them, and outlines a path forward. We ask Governor Walz to hit the climate solution accelerator during the remaining half of his term.

Some have asked why the coalition chose only to grade Governor Walz’s record rather than, for example, the Minnesota Senate. Indeed, the Senate continues to block progress, even voting down an amendment this week that would have recognized the human contribution to climate change. This vote illustrates why we deemed grades for the Senate unnecessary: members have openly declared that they do not recognize settled climate science at this time.

With this report card, we chose to focus on making sure Governor Walz’s actions live up to his words. We hope that the Legislature takes action on climate this session, but the ball is not in their court alone.

The Next Step

MEP has engaged with the Walz Administration for the past two years, encouraging agencies as they work on good initiatives like the Clean Cars Rule and opposing bad decisions like permitting the Line 3 pipeline. We will continue to do so as we work towards a clean, equitable future for all Minnesotans. And Minnesota voices will be needed to make sure it happens.

We ask our supporters to contact Governor Walz and ask him to step up his efforts and be the climate champion we need. Minnesota can’t wait.

House Environment Bill offers a lifeline to Minnesota’s natural resources

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources released its omnibus budget bill, H.F. 1076. This bill is chock full of projects and protections that would improve our environment and fight ecological harm, and MEP Advocacy Director Sara Wolff testified in support of the bill on Wednesday.

The bill faces the challenge of having to be negotiated and reconciled between the DFL-controlled House and the GOP-controlled Senate, and MEP and our members will keep up our support throughout the remainder of this Legislative session. Among the great provisions we’re fighting for:

  • Healthy Soil and Water: The bill includes a stable funding source for Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which help farmers across Minnesota to enact conservation practices. It invests $1 million in establishing a Soil Health Cost Share Program to further support farmers, especially those from historically marginalized communities. It would also set a goal that at least 30 percent of Minnesota farmland implement soil-healthy farming practices like cover or perennial crops, no-till, or managed rotational grazing by 2030.
  • Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund Spending: The bill would unlock funds from the constitutionally-dedicated, lottery-supported ENRTF for projects relating to habitat restoration, scientific research, and other projects to support our environment. The funds have been held up for the last year after the Senate refused to move forward without tying it to “poison pill” legislation. (See the Star Tribune article link further in this Insider for more on the controversy around the ENRTF.)
  • Environmental Justice: The bill would require a cumulative impacts analysis for new or expanded projects seeking permits in communities living in environmental justice areas. This means that permit seekers from an industrial project would have to consider how pollution would affect these disadvantaged communities over time.
  • Pollinator Protection: The bill would ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides or chlorpyrifos in many state lands, which would help cut down on this major health risk to pollinating insects and other wildlife as well as humans. It would also continue support of the Lawns to Legumes program that helps Minnesota residents create pollinator-friendly habitat in their own yards.
  • Carbon Sequestration: The bill requires the DNR Commissioner to set carbon sequestration goals for public and private Minnesota forests, ensuring that they can be better used to address climate change.

MEP hopes to see these great ideas make it into the final budget bills signed by Governor Walz, and we’ll be asking Minnesotans to speak out in their favor. As Minnesota grapples with multiple issues – economic, public health, environmental, and social justice – we have solutions on the table that can address many problems at the same time. Let’s make sure they become law.

Biden’s infrastructure proposal would be a boon for climate and drinking water

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Biden Administration released the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion national infrastructure proposal that would have enormous implications for the country’s environment and public health. Though it is first and foremost an economic development plan, it is also a climate plan, a clean water plan, and generally a lifeline for our environment.

While infrastructure is often described with the pithy phrase, “roads and bridges,” the plan recognizes that the basic systems we rely on constitute a much broader category. It includes the wires that deliver power and internet, the pipes that deliver drinking water, supply chains, housing, essential services and more. It’s a welcome paradigm shift away from one that too often focused on how we can mostly serve people in cars, not people in general. Simply repairing crumbling old systems won’t work anymore, and the Biden Administration’s plan correctly recognizes the need to think bigger.

The American Jobs Plan is expansive and covers a multitude of areas – here are some of the projects that would have major implications for our environment in Minnesota:

  • Transportation: The largest source of carbon emissions in Minnesota and in the United States, transportation is a tough nut to crack, as the preeminence of fossil fueled personal vehicles is deeply embedded in our systems and economy.

    The American Jobs plan addresses this from multiple angles. It invests heavily in public transit systems ($85 billion), Amtrak ($80 billion), and safe pedestrian and bike routes to provide clean transportation options that help reduce vehicle miles traveled. Lack of funding has been an obstacle for providers like MetroTransit, and this funding would help close gaps in service. It would also invest in electric chargers, targeting half a million built by 2030, as well as other incentives to make it easier to replace fossil fueled cars and trucks with zero-emission models.

    It would start the important work of replacing public vehicles, like school buses, with electric models, reducing carbon emissions and air pollution. And it would do away with land use policies that discourage clean transportation, such as mandatory parking minimums and harmful zoning restrictions.

  • Clean Water: The water systems around our country are as old and as harmful as many roads, and are in dire need of upgrades. Our work in Duluth on testing for lead in household drinking water has helped demonstrate the need to replace lead lines.

    The American Jobs Plan includes the most ambitious effort in history to eliminate lead in drinking water: it would replace all lead service lines in the nation and provide grants to states and communities to bring their water systems into the 21st century.
     

  • Clean Energy: While electricity is becoming less and less carbon intensive, especially in Minnesota, our power grid needs a big boost from the federal government. The plan would rejuvenate clean energy investment incentives to utilities, and spend $100 billion on making sure the power grid can handle it. Major utilities that serve Minnesota, like Xcel and Minnesota Power, have already set goals to bring 100% clean electricity within decades, and these investments could help move up the timeline.
     
  • Natural Spaces and Land Use: Reforestation, conservation and other land use tools are critical to helping soak up emissions and approach net-zero. The American Jobs Plan identifies these natural spaces as infrastructure worthy of investment, and would create a Civilian Climate Corps to conduct restoration work around the country. This would create shovel-ready jobs that would support real comebacks for nature, improving the health of people and wildlife. We’ve seen what good natural lands restoration can do in Minnesota through our Legacy Amendment and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – the American Jobs Plan would bring even more of this support to Minnesota and the nation.

The American Jobs Plan may look different as it makes its way through Congress, but these project ideas represent the most significant environmental proposal from the U.S. Executive Branch in history. We hope to see Congress support this plan.

PolyMet permit pause may signal turning tide on sulfide mining

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended a key permit for the PolyMet sulfide ore mining project, tapping the brakes on the project due to the need for more review. The permit, which would allow PolyMet to destroy more than 900 acres of wetlands in northern Minnesota, will be paused for 90 days while the EPA considers how the mine may affect the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa downstream from the site in the St. Louis River watershed.

The EPA review and the permit suspension are a hard-fought victory for the Fond du Lac Band. The tribal community had sought to overturn PolyMet’s state-level water pollution permit at a U.S. District Court. While they didn’t win that argument, Fond du Lac was allowed to maintain pressure on the EPA to review PolyMet’s potential impacts on the reservation. If the EPA finds that PolyMet may affect Fond du Lac, the agency will have to notify the band, which opens up additional review on the permit.

While the review process is complex, and other legal challenges are moving simultaneously against PolyMet, the Army Corps’ permit suspension is good news for all those who are rightfully concerned about sulfide mining in Minnesota. Every additional review step and successful challenge helps rectify a process that has been stacked in PolyMet’s favor, and represents another opportunity for the mining company to be definitively told “no.”

The science is clear: sulfide mines like Twin Metals and PolyMet would be disastrous for Minnesota and the planet. The stored waste from the mines would be highly toxic, and a spill – increasingly likely due to climate change – would obliterate vast swaths of ecosystem and threaten downstream neighbors like Fond du Lac, not to mention 10% of the world’s surface freshwater supply in Lake Superior. And even absent a spill, the destruction of hundreds of acres of wetlands – key carbon sinks – would be harmful to the climate.

That’s why another development on the sulfide mining front is also welcome this week. Senator Tina Smith sent a letter asking for the Biden Administration to initiate a mineral segregation and withdrawal process in the Rainy River watershed, to allow study on whether sulfide mining can be safely done in that ecosystem. The watershed of the Rainy River and the Boundary Waters around it would be impacted by Twin Metals, the other well-known sulfide mine project in Minnesota. In the letter, Smith notes that the land and water resources of the region are critical to native communities and to Minnesota’s recreation economy.

Previously, the Obama Administration had initiated a mineral withdrawal process for the same purpose, only for it to be canceled in the second year of the Trump Administration. This withdrawal would allow for study to be continued. The Boundary Waters watershed is one of the most vulnerable freshwater ecosystems on earth, and an accurate scientific picture of how sulfide mining would affect it can help make the case that the risk is too great.

We thank Fond du Lac and all the organizations working to pressure leaders and continue legal challenges. Through their work, there’s hope that we can say “No Thanks” to these ill conceived sulfide mining proposals.

Haaland makes history, heads Interior Department at a critical time

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland made history upon her swearing-in as the first Native American woman in the United States Cabinet and the first to lead an Executive Branch department. Approved on a bipartisan 51-40 vote, Haaland will lead a Department with enormous authority over public lands, natural resources, and indigenous issues.

While bipartisan, the road to Secretary Haaland’s confirmation was fraught with environmental controversy and racial biases. One Minnesota member of congress led a campaign in the House to oppose her nomination. Minnesota U.S. Senator Tina Smith spoke out against the attacks on Haaland, which played on tropes about Native Americans and sought to paint the appointee as a radical.  MEP and around forty other organizations, members of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, signed a letter of support for Haaland’s confirmation.

Secretary Haaland is a former U.S. Representative from the area of Albuquerque, New Mexico and is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. She has a background in law, business, and tribal government. Her service as Secretary means that she will be the first Native American to oversee the federal department largely responsible for indigenous tribal issues, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At Interior, Haaland leads one of the oldest and largest federal departments in the United States. The Department of the Interior administers 75% of the roughly 640 million acres of land controlled by the federal government. This includes National Parks, monuments, reservoirs, and other resources.

The Department of the Interior, and Haaland’s service, has powerful implications for Minnesota through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Twelve federally recognized tribes, both Dakota and Anishinaabe, hold land within the state’s boundaries. Minnesota’s history is inseparable from the state’s continual attacks over centuries on tribal land and sovereignty, which continues today in the form of environmental injustice and other offenses. Having an Interior Secretary who is a tribal member, who appeared at protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and who has opposed fracking may signal a positive change in the government’s relationship with tribes.

Other Interior Agencies, including the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey, are active in Minnesota and around the Lake Superior watershed. They oversee many treasured public lands like Voyageurs National Park, Isle Royale and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, provide vital scientific data, and make decisions on the use of natural resources within the areas they oversee. We know that good stewardship of public lands will be crucial in the fight against climate change, so it is encouraging to see the Interior Secretary’s record in favor of ambitious climate action.

We hope to see Secretary Haaland continue to lead on climate action, Great Lakes restoration, protection of our public lands and other issues critical to our future in Minnesota and the nation.

As ground thaws, Minnesotans keep standing against Line 3

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photo credit: Margie O’Loughlin

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered in St. Paul near the Ford Parkway Bridge across the Mississippi to speak out against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline being pushed into the earth in Northern Minnesota. Their aim: to persuade President Joe Biden to revoke permits for the pipeline, as he wisely did for Keystone XL, and prevent the climate-harming project from being completed. In the immediate term, this would keep Enbridge from drilling under the Mississippi River headwaters and nine other rivers, which they are poised to do as soon as the ice is off the water.

The rally was organized by MEP partner Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, and was part of a grassroots multi-faith day of action that lifted up bold climate demands in over 40 countries. More than 300 high-level faith leaders stood in solidarity with those directly working to halt Line 3.

It comes at a critical time: the pipeline is nearly at 50% completion, and Enbridge is likely to begin drilling again within days. Water protectors will continue doing what they can to halt the pipeline, after Minnesota state agencies enabled construction by permitting this Enbridge boondoggle. Federal action could still stop this pipeline before more harm is inflicted on Minnesota.

If you’ve read our previous coverage of Line 3, you likely know why it ought to be stopped:

  • Tar sands oil is among the most carbon-heavy on Earth, and this pipeline’s oil and operation would have a yearly climate impact greater than Minnesota’s entire economy combined. Despite being billed as a replacement project for the aging Line 3 that is already in the ground, it would more than double the amount of oil being transported.
  • Line 3 violates the treaty rights of these sacred lands guaranteed to the Anishinaabe tribes of Minnesota. It carves a new path underneath waters that are home to the resources that the treaties are meant to protect, such as wild rice and fish. A spill in these lakes and rivers at the headwaters of the Mississippi would be devastating to these resources and represent yet another attack on Anishinaabe culture.
  • The threat to those waters, and to Lake Superior, is a real one. While Enbridge claims that its new pipeline is a safe alternative to the old one, its track record is not one of safety: the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history took place on the old Line 3 right here in Minnesota. Saying, “but this time it will be different!” is not especially convincing.
  • Pipeline opponents predicted that Line 3 would lead to a spike in sex crimes and exacerbate the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis in Minnesota, and so far this prediction is proving painfully accurate. Reports of assaults and harassment near the construction corridor are continuing to emerge.
  • The Line 3 process was designed and allowed by agencies to favor Enbridge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not prepare an environmental impact statement, leading to a court challenge by plaintiffs that include the Red Lake and White Earth Anishinaabe bands. Fortunately, President Biden has the power to send the Corps back to the drawing board.

The alternative to the aging Line 3 that currently snakes through Minnesota is not to replace it with a new pipeline; it’s to remove it entirely, leave the tar sands oil in the ground, and transition to an economy that is no longer powered by fossil fuels. We’ve been encouraged by many of the climate steps that President Biden has taken so far. We hope to see him make the right decision on Line 3.

I am fighting for my right to go solar – and need your help.

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Let your legislators know that you support the right of HOA Homeowners to go solar

By Nancy Simmet, HOA homeowner and Solar United Neighbors solar advocate

Like more and more Minnesotans, I want to produce clean, renewable solar energy from my rooftop. But there is a problem for me. My home is part of a Homeowners Associations (HOA) and my HOA has blocked my effort to go solar. As I have learned more about this issue, I have discovered that this is a common occurrence for HOA homeowners that want to go solar and is slowing the growth of rooftop solar in our state.

Fortunately, state legislation has been introduced (House File 257 & Senate File 381) that would give HOA homeowners like me the right to go solar. HOA’s could still place reasonable restrictions on the solar array but could not block it. The legislation has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate and if it passes my dream to go solar can become reality.

Please, let your state legislators know you support this legislation by clicking here: Tell lawmakers to protect solar in Minnesota from unfair HOA limits

This issue impacts a lot of Minnesotans. Minnesota has 7,725 HOA’s making us 15th in the country for number of HOA’s. There are 1,506,000 Minnesotans living in these HOA’s. That is just over 1 in 4 Minnesotans. Many HOA homes like mine are perfect for solar with large, flat roofs with no shading from trees.

I have owned my home in the Oakpointe of Eagan Homeowners Association since August of 1999 and even served on the first community board of the association. During the summer of 2020, I heard of the Federal and local incentives that were being offered to put solar panels on the roof of your home. Due to an interest in the environment and Covid giving me nothing but time to research, I dug in. I gathered information on solar installations and solar companies. I found a local solar company that put together a comprehensive package that met my homes specifications.

Next, I approached my HOA board to apply for approval. I forwarded the information and filled out the HOA application form that they required for outside changes or construction. I submitted all the information on October 13, 2020. I received the rejection email the following day, October 14, 2020. Basically, no discussion between the Board members or with me. Just following what has been done in the past with the outdated 1999 bylaws.

I was and still am very disappointed in this rejection and think it is wrong and bad for HOA homeowners. Why?

 I believe in renewable energy and that the consequences of NOT moving forward are real.

I believe Minnesota can be a leader in the renewable energy field by developing businesses and manufacturing jobs to meet our future head on!

And I believe with proper restrictions, that HOA homeowners have a right to put solar energy panels on their own roofs. That it is architecturally attractive and, indeed, an update that improves the association as a forward-thinking community in which people want to live.

Since the rejection, I ran and got voted on to the Oakpointe Association board. Now I can say as a HOA homeowner and board member, I strongly support this legislation. Please, let your legislator know that you support it too – Tell lawmakers to protect solar in Minnesota from unfair HOA limits

Minnesota shows up for Lake Superior on Great Lakes Day

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MEP staff and allies meet with Libby Foley of Rep. McCollum’s office on Great Lakes Day

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

March 1-5 marked Great Lakes Days 2021, an annual occasion of advocacy and collaboration with the Healing Our Waters (HOW) Great Lakes Coalition, for North America’s largest freshwater resource. Great Lakes Day brings together organizations from across the region to talk to members of Congress about the needs of this watershed, home to 30 million people.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s Great Lakes Day took place virtually (hence the Zoom screenshot at the beginning of this article.)  Minnesota’s citizen delegation spoke up for our communities at the headwaters of Lake Superior. MEP is the Minnesota co-state lead of the HOW Coalition. Great Lakes Program Director Andrew Slade represented MEP staff. The team also included Steve Schultz of Clean Water Action, Kris Eilers of the St. Louis River Alliance, ChaQuana McEntyre of Families Rise Together, and Christina Trok of Duluth’s Health Equity-Northland. Additionally, MEP Board Member Mark Sanstead of Hastings Environmental Protectors, Whitney Smith of the Healing Our Waters Coalition, and MEP Executive Director Steve Morse each joined us for one congressional call.

Our team met virtually with staff members from the offices of U.S. Senators Klobuchar and Smith, as well as staffers for U.S. Representatives Craig, McCollum, Omar, Phillips, and Stauber. Our advocacy supported several priorities, but centered on the health of Lake Superior and the people who live on and near its shores.

Clean and Affordable Drinking Water

Communities like Duluth are able to draw from the world’s largest source of surface freshwater, but also tend to suffer from aging infrastructure and water pipes. In Duluth, lead water service lines are hurting families, especially in low-income communities. Children are especially vulnerable to this invisible problem, on which MEP has helped to shed light by organizing water testing in households. As Whitney Smith said in one of our meetings, “One child poisoned by lead in their drinking water is one too many.” To address this problem, we asked members of Congress for a $10 billion investment in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which would help to replace lead service lines around the basin. 

Additionally, the COVID-19 recession and water infrastructure issues have left many families struggling to pay their water bills. The Minnesota team supported an extra $500 million in COVID-19 relief legislation for water bill relief.

Great Lakes Restoration

MEP has long supported continued and expanded Congressional funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which has improved public health, natural habitat, water quality, and economic revitalization around the basin. In our meetings, we showcased the positive impacts of the GLRI on the St. Louis River Area of Concern in Northeastern Minnesota; GLRI has helped the water and landscape of the polluted St. Louis estuary to take large steps toward recovery in the last several years. Said Kris Eilers, “We’re rebuilding our relationship with the water, actually swimming and paddling on the St. Louis River now.”

We also focused on the issue of equity in distributing GLRI funds. Indigenous communities and communities of color around the Great Lakes experience disproportionate environmental threats from pollution, and have received less investment in recovery. ChaQuana McEntyre drew on her organizing experience as the founder and President of Families Rise Together in Duluth, telling Rep. McCollum’s staff, “People of color know the problems, they don’t know how to be part of the solution.” The GLRI should help give these communities the resources and information they need to improve public health and environmental quality at the local level.

Stopping Line 3

The planned Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, like other Enbridge pipelines, passes through the Lake Superior watershed and threatens resources that are sacred to Minnesota tribes. A spill in the watershed would be immensely destructive to the Lake Superior ecosystem and communities nearby. And its climate impact, which will exceed Minnesota’s entire economy if it begins full operation, is a threat to the Great Lakes at large. Warmer temperatures are disrupting their ecology and threatening people with extreme weather events.

For all these reasons, winning Congressional support for action to put a hold on this project is needed. In our meetings, we thanked Representatives Omar and McCollum for their separate letters to President Biden, which both asked him for action to halt current pipeline construction. While other Minnesota members of Congress have been quiet or supportive on Line 3, we will continue working to build public pressure on them to protect Minnesota.

Democracy and the Environment

The HOW Coalition was deeply concerned about the anti-democratic actions after the November election, including those taken by former President Trump and by the insurrectionists at the US Capitol on January 6. Some members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation enabled these anti-democratic actions by joining the Texas lawsuit or by voting to not accept the results of the Arizona and Pennsylvania elections. Because of these actions, the Minnesota Great Lakes Day team chose not to meet with Reps. Emmer, Fischbach and Hagedorn. 

HOW sent a statement to every member of Congress from the Great Lakes. At its core, it says we believe there is a direct connection between a strong democracy and environmental protection.  

Here’s a short excerpt:

“America’s democratic electoral process at local, state, and federal levels of government is a critical component in protecting the health of our communities and our water resources—as well as ensuring that no community has to disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution and environmental harm.”