MPCA plan brings a silver lining to VW emissions cloud

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

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

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

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

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 The other 70% will go to upgrading heavy-duty land and water vehicles – many with outdated engines – to run more cleanly and cause less toxic pollution.

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

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

More good news – on the pipeline front

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

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

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

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Source: Tony Webster/Creative Commons

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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photo credit: Kendahl Schlueter, Winona Daily News

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

 

Fracking took hold of Winona in 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s our water, and our Capitol

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

In last week’s Environmental Insider, we reported on several bills moving through the Minnesota legislature that would have dangerous consequences for our ability to protect the vital waters of our state.

  • A bill to prevent the Minnesota Department of Agriculture from adopting policies that would protect community drinking water and well owners from nitrate pollution and the staggering financial costs of treating it.
  • A bill to prevent the Pollution Control Agency from protecting against toxic sulfate pollution in wild rice waters – a resource guaranteed to the Ojibwe people and critical to their health and culture.
  • A bill to bypass the Public Utilities Commission’s review process and approve construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline across Minnesota’s most vulnerable lands and waters.

Why the bad bills?

All this seems surprising, knowing that a large majority of Minnesotans don’t want protections for our water stripped away. MEP-sponsored public opinion polling last year found that 79% of Minnesotans were concerned about our state’s drinking water, and 70% said that they would look less favorably on their legislator if they tried to weaken our environmental laws. But citizens’ concerns – and critical state safeguards to protect them – too often take a backseat in the face of lobbying by interests who want the legislature to maintain the status quo, or, as in the case of Line 3, hand over extraordinary power to enrich a private company.

Governor Mark Dayton has promised to veto several of these bad bills. But this drive to preempt pollution protections can only be stopped by organized, vocal opposition at the Capitol. MEP and our partners are at the Capitol every week to urge lawmakers to reject these bills and make positive change for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors.

The strongest power to make positive change lies with citizens.

Lawmakers consistently say that the biggest impact a constituent can make is to come to a meeting in person, and make themselves heard – showing up is indeed half the battle. Meeting with your legislature to talk about legislation, calling them to express your concerns, and attending town halls and hearings are some of the strongest steps that you as a citizen can take to help steer the policy boat in the right direction.

Your legislators represent you, and you have the power to let them know you stand for Minnesota’s water, land, and air. Minnesota Environmental Partnership is here to help you accomplish that, and we invite you to contact us if you need information or help navigating the process.

And that’s why we invite you to join us at the State Capitol on May 2 for Water Action Day. We’ll handle the work of arranging meetings with your legislators to talk about clean water – all you have to do is sign up and prepare for a good conversation! And in the afternoon, we’ll hold a rally in the rotunda to send a strong, clear message to the Legislature – our state’s water, like our State Capitol, belongs to all Minnesotans, and we’re here to protect it.

Letter to House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee Regarding HF 3759 Hearing and Line 3 Testimony

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The Honorable Pat Garofalo
Chair of the House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Committee
State Office Building, Room 485
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55115

The Honorable Dan Fabian
State Office Building, Room 365
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55115

 

April 4, 2018

Dear Representatives Garofalo and Fabian,

On Tuesday night, March 27, 2018, Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s Duluth-based Great Lakes Program Coordinator, Irene Folstrom, testified at the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee hearing on Representative Fabian’s HF 3759, a bill to authorize immediate construction of the Line 3 pipeline on Canadian oil pipeline company Enbridge’s preferred route.

Ms. Folstrom began her testimony by making a number of points that reflect the concerns of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership regarding the proposed tar-sands oil pipeline and the legislation.

However, she then made a series of extemporaneous comments. These included statements that do not reflect the position of Minnesota Environmental Partnership, nor were they presented in a manner that is acceptable to or consistent with MEP’s approach to working with our state’s elected leaders.

We believe that the proposed Line 3 pipeline is not needed and will do harm to the state of Minnesota, its residents, and the rights of its Tribal communities, and we oppose this legislation which bypasses citizen input and the Public Utilities Commission process. However, we will respect the outcome of the Line 3 government review process and want to be very clear that we do not support or condone violence in any form.

We apologize for the errant statements that were made and the inappropriate manner in which they were delivered.  We look forward to a civil, fair, and just process on the Line 3 project.

Steve Morse
Executive Director

cc: Members of the House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Committee

Letter to Legislators: Please Vote NO on HF 3759 Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Approval Bill

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RE: Please Vote NO on HF 3759 – Terminating PUC process and granting immediate Approval to Construct Canadian Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline

To: Chairperson Garafalo

Members of the House Job Growth & Energy Affordability and Finance Committee

March 27, 2018

Dear Representative,

We, the undersigned, wish to express a deep concern about HF 3759, a bill to immediately authorize the construction and routing of the Canadian Enbridge Line 3. This measure would terminate all review and permitting processes at the Public Utilities Commission and give Enbridge full authority to build the pipeline immediately, on the company’s chosen route, without any substitute form of regulatory oversight.

Minnesotans have worked hard to ensure a fair and evidence-based process. So far, the review process has taken into consideration hundreds of hours of public testimony, tens of thousands of public comments, and the expert analysis of dozens of witnesses brought by Enbridge and intervening parties. This legislation would disregard proceedings put in place in statute and rule, the good faith participation of community members and groups with a wide variety of views, and ignore due process — solely to the benefit of one corporation. This bill is not in Minnesota’s tradition of good governance.

Moreover, HF 3759 would grant this approval without actually issuing the customary Certificate of Need and Route Permit, meaning that the State would be unable to impose conditions on those permits or revoke them in the future, even to avoid harm to Minnesota citizens. To circumvent this process would neglect the needs and concerns of communities, landowners, industries, and First Nations along the proposed route.

The Line 3 pipeline review process is almost complete as planned, with a Public Utilities Commission decision expected by June. Minnesota’s leaders must let it finish instead of preemptively granting extraordinary power to a foreign company and telling tens of thousands of Minnesotans that their time and investment in Minnesota’s review process has been ignored.

We ask you to please vote NO on HF 3759.

Sincerely,
Steve Morse
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

and the following 13 groups

Alliance for Sustainability
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Mississippi River
Honor the Earth
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Native Plant Society
MN350
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
Wilderness in the City

Enbridge spent $5.34 million on lobbying in Minnesota last year

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, we learned that Enbridge, the Canadian company pursuing a pipeline across our precious lands and waters, spent $5.34 million on lobbying in Minnesota in 2017. Enbridge’s lobbying costs were greater than any other lobbying interest’s one-year spending in the last decade. $5.08 million of the total went toward lobbying the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 “replacement” pipeline. The new Line 3 would replace the current, aging Line 3 and double its maximum capacity to 760,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day, carrying the oil from the Alberta tar sands through Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.

There’s no inherent problem with lobbying the PUC or the Minnesota legislature – it’s important that stakeholders make their concerns heard on energy issues. But this level of paid lobbying by one organization hasn’t been seen in Minnesota for a decade – so why did Enbridge spend 1 in 14 of all lobbying dollars in the state in 2017?

1.) The Line 3 pipeline would be a financial boon for Enbridge – even if it isn’t needed – and they can pass the high costs of lobbying on to consumers. Pipeline companies’ profits are set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which imposes fees on petroleum products in the United States to pay the companies’ expenses. These expenses include the pipeline’s physical construction as well as related costs – including lobbying for the pipeline. The costs would be passed along to Minnesotans – with an estimated price tag of $1.6 billion over the next 15 years – through additional taxes on gasoline, plastics, and other petroleum products.

2.) Minnesotans object to the new pipeline. In 2017, MEP’s public opinion poll showed that two thirds of Minnesotans are opposed to moving more tar sands oil across our lands and waters. For that reason, pipeline backers have called the pipeline a “Line 3 replacement” despite the fact that it would carry double the volume oil and follow a different route.

This line meets especially strong opposition from Minnesota’s tribal communities. It would pass through lands that support wild rice and fishing, which are culturally vital to the Ojibwe bands and legally guaranteed to them by treaty. A tar sands spill in wild rice waters would poison the waters and permanently destroy the wild rice in the area, endangering the Ojibwe communities’ health and way of life. For this reason, the Red Lake Tribal Council recently pulled out of an agreement to allow Enbridge to have four pipelines crossing reservation land, and tribal advocates have pointed out that the official assessments of the pipeline proposal do not adequately take tribal rights and culture into account.

3.) In September 2017, the Minnesota Department of Commerce stated that Line 3 is not needed and that Minnesota would be better off without the old or new pipeline. In its analysis, the Department noted that a greening, more efficient economy meant that Minnesota would have no need for the oil transported by the new Line 3, but would suffer harm from its environmental and social impacts. It further recommended that the old Line 3 be removed from Minnesota’s lands and waters.

The Department of Commerce’s recommendation doesn’t have the authority to override the PUC, but it underscores an important concern – the only party with any real economic interest in this this pipeline is Enbridge.

Fortunately, Enbridge was not the only group influencing the PUC in 2017. Advocates and volunteers from a variety of organizations – including MEP partners Honor the Earth, MN350, Friends of the Headwaters, and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter – have made tremendous efforts to shape the process at the PUC and at the Legislature, where a harmful bill putting Line 3 on a fast track was stopped last year.

We thank all the staff, volunteers, and speakers who have worked tirelessly to make Minnesotans’ concerns about Line 3 heard. And we urge the PUC to look clearly at what the evidence shows: Minnesota has no need for this costly, hazardous new pipeline.

Letter: Please Vote NO on Wild Rice Waters and Nullifying of Water Quality Standards

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RE: Please Vote NO on Wild Rice Waters and Nullifying of Water Quality Standards

To: Chairperson Carrie Ruud and Members of the Senate Environment & Natural Resources Policy & Legacy Finance Committee

March 19, 2018

Dear Senator:
We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to vote NO on SF 2983 – a bill removing a water quality standard that protects wild rice.
The science supporting retaining existing sulfate standards for wild-rice waters is not disputed: wild rice will largely not grow in waters with a sulfate content greater than 10 parts per million. Sulfate’s effects through chemical transformations in the sediments cause a series of reactions that negatively impact the chemistry and biology of lakes and streams.

Repealing the sulfate standard because it is unpopular with area industries that emit sulfates dangerously and unfairly jeopardizes the viability of this plant and crop in Minnesota. That is not acceptable for the water nor the people who depend on it.

Minnesota tribes maintain treaty rights to harvest wild rice and work hard to protect the lakes and wetlands it grows on. Wild rice lies at the heart of Ojibwe culture as a source of food, spiritual sustenance and economic activity.

Minnesota should maintain the evidence-based standard on sulfates – to protect the communities who rely on the wild rice and who would otherwise have to live with the impacts of high sulfate levels.

Please vote no on SF 2983.
Steve Morse
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Honor the Earth
Alliance for Sustainability Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Clean Water Action League of Women Voters Minnesota
Environment Minnesota MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas Minnesota Native Plant Society
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Friends of the Mississippi River Wilderness in the City

Insider: March 16

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Environmental Insider is brought to you by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Getting to the Roots of Nitrate Pollution

Ag Dept, Legislature Consider Groundwater Solutions

Last Tuesday, Governor Mark Dayton laid out a framework for the Groundwater Protection Rule to limit the movement of nitrates into Minnesota’s waters as part of the Department of Agriculture’s proposed work to implement the Groundwater Protection Act. The proposal aims to limit the overuse of nitrogen fertilizer in targeted agricultural areas to stave off some of the worst nitrate contamination affecting Minnesota communities and drinking water.

Acting on this contamination soon is crucial as more than 50 community water systems serving more than 225,000 people around Minnesota are currently working with the state to reduce elevated nitrate levels in their water systems. For now, they rely primarily on upgrades to treatment technology in their systems, addressing the symptom of nitrate pollution, not the cause: the high levels of nitrogen runoff and filtration from our state’s agriculture systems that are tainting our waters.

The Problem

Upgrades to water treatment facilities and maintenance can run up enormous costs for communities, with some costs per household ranging in the thousands of dollars – a tall order for many small towns. And Minnesotans with private wells, of which ten percent of those tested already exceed health risk limits for nitrates, face enormous costs of their own.

Our communities don’t have time to delay drinking water solutions. If the nitrate contamination in our water supplies isn’t addressed, the health and cost consequences will add up. Exposure to high levels of nitrates causes “blue baby syndrome” – a condition that causes serious breathing and circulatory problems in infants. Exposure has also been linked to certain types of cancer in adults. And once nitrates enter a groundwater supply, they don’t break down unless treated. Their prevalence in our drinking water will continue to rise without strong action.

The Proposed Rule

The Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule takes steps in the right direction, and it represents an improvement over the initial draft rule the Department proposed last year. We are especially glad to see that the Department moves to use their authority to protect the groundwater recharge areas for community drinking water supply areas around the state.

The framework of the rule would restrict nitrogen fertilizer use in the fall and winter in certain vulnerable areas, and implement special protections for wellhead areas of communities that are already struggling with nitrate contamination. But it’s disappointing that this rule does not extend protections to those Minnesotans who may need it most — private well-owners. And the pace of change in the rule is slow. Minnesotans shouldn’t need to wait a decade or more for clean drinking water.

Still, the proposed rule is a good opportunity to start developing drinking water protections that work for communities, farmers, and well owners across the state. MEP and our partners stand ready to collaborate with the  Department of Agriculture on creating stronger drinking water protections for all of Minnesota’s communities and families.

Unfortunately, some members of the legislature are seeking to move in the opposite direction, pushing a bill that would prohibit the Department of Agriculture from regulating nitrogen fertilizer and protecting our water.

How You Can Help

It’s critical that we act now and act boldly to protect our drinking water, for the infants at risk of health problems and the communities and rural citizens struggling to pay the cost to treat their contaminated water. If you want to stand up for our drinking water, there are several steps you can take:

  1. Call your legislators to tell them you oppose any attempt to challenge the state’s authority to protect our health from groundwater pollution.
  2. In May, the Department of Agriculture will open a comment period on the nitrogen rule plan and hold hearings throughout the summer. Share your comments online or at a hearing, and help make sure the revised rule holds water and protects drinking water for all Minnesotans.
  3. Help educate the public and policymakers on programs that would help transition our agriculture to a more water-friendly system of agriculture by raising cover crops and perennials that restore soil and keep our water healthy. Check out the Forever Green Initiative and the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program, which would help advance these healthy practices and increase their productivity and economic viability.

The strongest way to advocate for Minnesota’s health and natural resources is to share stories with lawmakers in person at meetings and hearings. If you live in a community that has struggled with contaminated water, let us know! We can help you get in touch with your legislators and be a strong advocate for Minnesota’s waters – contact us at info@mepartnership.org or call 651-290-0154.

MEP Press Release: Statement on Governor Dayton’s Proposed Groundwater Protection Rule


Bloody red shrimp a reminder that Great Lakes need stronger protections

(From Star Tribune, by Steve Morse and Molly Flanagan) — News broke last month that a solitary bloody red shrimp (hemimysis anomala), an aquatic invasive species not found before in Lake Superior, was discovered in the Twin Ports Harbor (“Worries of a new invasive species,” February 20). With ship ballast tanks being the top means of moving invasive species across the globe and around the Great Lakes, this news is disappointing but not a surprise.This finding is a stark reminder of the unknowns floating around in ship ballast tanks waiting to be emptied in ports around the region. >>Read More.

Safe drinking water must be a shared value in Minnesota

(From Star Tribune) — It’s hard to persuade residents of a state whose very name bespeaks an abundance of water to worry about water quality. Maybe that’s why three successive governors did little to implement a 1989 statute empowering state agencies to “promote best practices … to the extent practicable” to minimize groundwater pollution. Then again, Govs. Arne Carlson, Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty were in office before Minnesotans knew the extent to which nitrate is contaminating groundwater, the drinking water source for 75 percent of Minnesotans. Nitrate causes a potentially fatal condition in infants and is a suspected source of other health disorders. >>Read More.

Registration is open for Water Action Day 2018!

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

This all-day event will include free breakfast and briefings in the morning, both on how to actively engage legislators and on the water issues that we face in Minnesota. Throughout the day, attendees will meet with legislators to ask them to protect our water, and the Clean Water Rally will be held in the Capitol Rotunda at 1:30 pm. Sign up today and find out how you can volunteer and support this important event!


               

Minnesota is in the midst of a massive and historic energy transformation

(From MinnPost) — Minnesota is on the front lines of a clean energy transformation that is reshaping the U.S. energy landscape. Increased use of clean energy sources and strong and consistent investments in energy efficiency are saving Minnesotans money and creating tens of thousands of jobs. The question? How do we build on this success? The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently released its 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The data told a compelling story: Energy businesses are thriving and growing faster than many imagined possible. It also stated that energy efficiency, renewable energy, and natural gas are — together — dominating today’s energy economy. >>Read More.


                

Safety tops talk at bike summit

(From Rochester Post Bulletin, featuring MEP member Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota) — Ed Denbow said he sees both sides of the issue when it comes to creating new bike lanes. As a daily bicycle rider who logged more than 5,000 miles last year, he said safety is a priority.As a homeowner in the Country Club Manor neighborhood, he knows his neighbors are concerned about a proposed bike-lane project that could reduce on-street parking, which some worry would affect property values. “Being retired, you are always concerned about values going down.” he said. However, he said he expects changes could address unsafe biking conditions in the area, which includes Harriet Bishop Elementary School. >>Read More.

Northern Lights Express project cleared to seek funding

(From Duluth News Tribune) — Having cleared a pair of environmental hurdles recently, the proposed half-billion-dollar passenger train between the Twin Ports and Twin Cities is proceeding to its next phase — namely seeking funding for final design and construction, said a Minnesota Department of Transportation news release on Wednesday. The Northern Lights Express Higher Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Project was found to have no significant environmental barriers and will not require an Environmental Impact Statement, MnDOT said. Processes and public comment periods by both the Federal Railroad Administration and MnDOT came to similar conclusions in recent months. The Federal Railroad Administration’s “Finding of No Significant Impact on the Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment” was the most recent conclusion on the 152-mile project corridor. That finding in late February clears the way for the project to move forward, MnDOT said. >>Read More.


A family goes to war with the dozen factory farms that surround them

(From City Pages) — Eighty-eight-year-old Lowell Trom was born on his family’s farm about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities. This is land his parents purchased back in 1925, land he’s worked for the last 75 years, harvesting corn and soybeans with his two sons. When you’ve been living and working on the same farm for three-quarters of a century, you get to see agriculture evolve first-hand. Over the years Dodge County, where the Troms live, has welcomed a thicket of factory farms where thousands of pigs, pumped full of antibiotics, huddle in windowless buildings. >>Read More.

Your yard is a powerful force against climate change

(From MPR News) — City yards are more than just idle patches of grass. They’re also powerful traps of carbon — a primary cause of the warming climate, put into the atmosphere as a gas by human activity. A new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Carly Ziter and Monica Turner finds that spaces like backyards or public parks can store more carbon than urban grasslands or forests. That means even the smallest urban green spaces are a major factor in how the natural world is holding down rising temperatures. For the study, Ziter took soil samples from a variety of locations in Madison and measured how different features on the urban landscape store carbon, affect water quality and mitigate floods. >>Read More.


Apply now to be a Minnesota GreenCorps Host Site!

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is now accepting applications from organizations interested in serving as host sites for the 2018 – 2019 Minnesota GreenCorps program year. Minnesota GreenCorps is an environmentally focused AmeriCorps program coordinated by the MPCA. The program places AmeriCorps members with organizations around the state to spend a year of service addressing critical environmental issues. Eligible organizations include public entities, school districts, not for profit institutions of higher education, and 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organizations.. Applications are due by 5:00 pm CDT on Friday, March 23, 2018.

Host site application materials, including a detailed guidance document and the application are available on the Minnesota GreenCorps website.


Regulators OK environmental review for disputed northern Minnesota oil pipeline

(From Pioneer Press) —  Minnesota regulators approved the final environmental review Thursday for Enbridge Energy’s proposal to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota, setting the stage for a final decision on the disputed project in June. The Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to declare the review “adequate,” meaning it met the legal requirements, after ordering rewrites in December in four narrow areas dealing mostly with proposed route alternatives. “You’re going to make a really important decision here in a couple months,” Brent Murcia of Youth Climate Intervenors, which opposes the project, told the commission. >>Read More.

 


Weekly Environmental Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!  

1. What state park, known for its namesake lake, is the oldest and second-largest in Minnesota?

2. Minnesota rivers flow into the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and what other body of water?

3. What Minnesota city and county are named after the Ojibwe word for wild rice?

Upcoming Environmental Events

Brewing a Better Climate, March 16
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis
Hosted by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy

Farmers Take the Stage, March 16
Amazing Grace Bakery, Duluth
Hosted by Sustainable Farming Association

Unveiling the World’s First Beer with Solar Honey, March 22
56 Brewing, Minneapolis
Hosted by Fresh Energy

Code Blue for for Patient Earth: Responding to the urgent threat of climate change to One Health, April 20
Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul
Hosted by Fresh Energy

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

Jobs and Volunteer Opportunities

Event and Engagement Coordinator | Fresh Energy
Ecological Restoration Technician – Full Time | Natural Shore Technologies
Seasonal Outreach Assistant | Friends of the Mississippi River
Interim Executive Director | Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center
Development and Membership Director | Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Executive Director | Cannon River Watershed Partnership
See all job postings

Trivia Answers: 1) Itasca State Park. 2) Hudson Bay. 3) Mahnomen


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

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

Getting to the Roots of Nitrate Pollution

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Ag Dept, Legislature Consider Groundwater Solutions

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Tuesday, Governor Mark Dayton laid out a framework for the Groundwater Protection Rule to limit the movement of nitrates into Minnesota’s waters as part of the Department of Agriculture’s proposed work to implement the Groundwater Protection Act. The proposal aims to limit the overuse of nitrogen fertilizer in targeted agricultural areas to stave off some of the worst nitrate contamination affecting Minnesota communities and drinking water.

Acting on this contamination soon is crucial as more than 50 community water systems serving more than 225,000 people around Minnesota are currently working with the state to reduce elevated nitrate levels in their water systems. For now, they rely primarily on upgrades to treatment technology in their systems, addressing the symptom of nitrate pollution, not the cause: the high levels of nitrogen runoff and filtration from our state’s agriculture systems that are tainting our waters.

The Problem

Upgrades to water treatment facilities and maintenance can run up enormous costs for communities, with some costs per household ranging in the thousands of dollars – a tall order for many small towns. And Minnesotans with private wells, of which ten percent of those tested already exceed health risk limits for nitrates, face enormous costs of their own.

Our communities don’t have time to delay drinking water solutions. If the nitrate contamination in our water supplies isn’t addressed, the health and cost consequences will add up. Exposure to high levels of nitrates causes “blue baby syndrome” – a condition that causes serious breathing and circulatory problems in infants. Exposure has also been linked to certain types of cancer in adults. And once nitrates enter a groundwater supply, they don’t break down unless treated. Their prevalence in our drinking water will continue to rise without strong action.

The Proposed Rule

The Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule takes steps in the right direction, and it represents an improvement over the initial draft rule the Department proposed last year. We are especially glad to see that the Department moves to use their authority to protect the groundwater recharge areas for community drinking water supply areas around the state.

The framework of the rule would restrict nitrogen fertilizer use in the fall and winter in certain vulnerable areas, and implement special protections for wellhead areas of communities that are already struggling with nitrate contamination. But it’s disappointing that this rule does not extend protections to those Minnesotans who may need it most — private well-owners. And the pace of change in the rule is slow. Minnesotans shouldn’t need to wait a decade or more for clean drinking water.

Still, the proposed rule is a good opportunity to start developing drinking water protections that work for communities, farmers, and well owners across the state. MEP and our partners stand ready to collaborate with the  Department of Agriculture on creating stronger drinking water protections for all of Minnesota’s communities and families.

Unfortunately, some members of the legislature are seeking to move in the opposite direction, pushing a bill that would prohibit the Department of Agriculture from regulating nitrogen fertilizer and protecting our water.

How You Can Help

It’s critical that we act now and act boldly to protect our drinking water, for the infants at risk of health problems and the communities and rural citizens struggling to pay the cost to treat their contaminated water. If you want to stand up for our drinking water, there are several steps you can take:

  1. Call your legislators to tell them you oppose any attempt to challenge the state’s authority to protect our health from groundwater pollution.
  2. In May, the Department of Agriculture will open a comment period on the nitrogen rule plan and hold hearings throughout the summer. Share your comments online or at a hearing, and help make sure the revised rule holds water and protects drinking water for all Minnesotans.
  3. Help educate the public and policymakers on programs that would help transition our agriculture to a more water-friendly system of agriculture by raising cover crops and perennials that restore soil and keep our water healthy. Check out the Forever Green Initiative and the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program, which would help advance these healthy practices and increase their productivity and economic viability.

The strongest way to advocate for Minnesota’s health and natural resources is to share stories with lawmakers in person at meetings and hearings. If you live in a community that has struggled with contaminated water, let us know! We can help you get in touch with your legislators and be a strong advocate for Minnesota’s waters – contact us at info@mepartnership.org or call 651-290-0154.

MEP Press Release: Statement on Governor Dayton’s Proposed Groundwater Protection Rule