New guidance on fish consumption points to contaminated ecosystems

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health released new guidance on fish consumption in Minnesota that indicate an emerging harm present in our ecosystem. It’s a sign that longstanding threats like mercury – while still dangerous – aren’t the only toxins accumulating in Minnesota food chains. The newer villain PFOS has made its way into our dinner tables.

The new guidance affects the panfish category – the crappies, sunfish, and trout. These fish are frequently caught by Minnesota anglers, especially in the southern half of the state. They’re also less likely to have elevated mercury levels than fish like walleye, bass, and northern pike.

Previous guidance recommended that people who are above the age of 15 and will not become pregnant could eat as many servings of panfish as they want in a week. The new guidance sets the number of servings per week at only four. For context, a serving of fish is equivalent to about six ounces cooked for a person who weighs about 150 lbs.

The guidance is changing because the pollutants in our environment are changing. Previously, the Department of Health only considered two pollutants in its recommendation. Mercury, with its tendency to bioaccumulate in fish in ways that are especially dangerous to humans, is one of them. Mercury pollution levels have decreased over the decades in Minnesota, but it continues to end up in Minnesota fish due to interstate coal plant emissions and mercury methylation. (Check out the MEP-commissioned report, Mercury in the St. Louis River Watershed.) The other is polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, a toxic “forever chemical” that has been banned in the United States since the 1970s. PCB continues to cause health problems, and it is estimated that more than 300,000 tons of it are present

The Department is now including Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS (brownie points if you can pronounce the full name) in determining how much panfish is safe, and the tightened number is another sign that this harmful chemical is spreading through our environment. PFOS is (perhaps confusingly) a category of PFAS appearing in the news more and more due to contamination issues from these forever chemicals.

PFOS is best known for being an ingredient in Scotchguard – a 3M-made stain protector chemical – as well as its use in industry. It’s a particularly ubiquitous and persistent chemical, estimated to be found inside the bodies of almost every person in the United States, though fortunately, concentrations are believed to be decreasing over time. Studies have indicated that PFOS can be a factor in kidney disease, immune conditions, cancers, and ADHD for those who have higher blood levels.

The chemical was largely voluntarily phased out of U.S.-made products years ago, but with an asterisk: it’s still making its way into the country via imports. The more PFOS products that are sold and disposed of, the more it will continue making its way into the food chain. Canada, on the other hand, has a ban on imports containing PFOS in addition to banning domestic production.

PFOS isn’t going away any time soon, and it certainly won’t be breaking down in our lifetimes, if ever. We can’t predict now whether future technology will help alleviate this problem, but we do know that the continued industrial use of PFOS will make the problem worse, impacting fish in Minnesota and around the world. Now would be a great time for state and federal governments to step up and take strong measures against this and other forever chemicals, so that Minnesotans can eat fish with peace of mind.

Could victories against Big Oil hasten fossil fuels’ end?

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, major legal and political changes rocked the global oil industry and indicated that ambitious climate action is gaining momentum. But while we’re thinking globally, let’s act locally. 

A court in the Netherlands ruled that energy giant Shell must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions in the country by 45% of 2019 levels by the year 2030. The Dutch court sided with the international advocacy group Friends of the Earth in holding that companies must cut their climate impacts in line with the Paris Climate Accords. Though the new precedent only directly applies to the Netherlands, it likely foretells similar action elsewhere in the European Union and the rest of the world, as courts recognize that climate obligations have the force of law.

Meanwhile, shareholders at two other energy behemoths – Exxon and Chevron – used their voting power to buck the status quo. At Exxon, shareholders – including hedge funds and pensions – defied management and tradition and elected two candidates who have vowed to address climate change more seriously. Similarly, a majority of Chevron investors voted for a more aggressive emissions cutting plan.

And in Washington, the EPA announced that it would work toward restoring the power of states and tribes to block fossil fuel pipelines and other infrastructure that goes through waterways. A Trump administration rule set limits on this veto power in favor of the oil industry, most notably affecting the states of New York and Washington.

Taken together, these are welcome signs that the status quo on fossil fuels is starting to crumble. As international scientific authorities warn that the climate can’t tolerate new fossil fuel infrastructure, courts, governments, and investors are recognizing that big oil must be forced to draw down, not trusted to do the right thing without supervision.

After all, we can’t take fossil fuel companies at their word when they promise to go green. As we wrote two weeks ago, pipeline companies like Enbridge have an abysmal track record in Minnesota when it comes to protecting the environment and maintaining public confidence. They have openly defied shutdown orders, as Enbridge did after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered them to cease operating Line 5. On issues like local jobs, health protections, and sex trafficking associated with pipeline worker camps, oil companies have broken trust just as they have broken our climate.

It’s exciting to see these victories against fossil fuel giants, because we won’t meet our climate goals without cutting their impact. Shell, Exxon, and Chevron are among the 20 or so companies responsible for one-third of all carbon emissions, and they frequently use greenwashing and biased marketing to shift the blame onto individuals.

At long last, it looks like the world is seeing through Big Oil’s smokescreen.

Once again, Legislative session ends with a comma, not a period

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The 2021 Minnesota Legislative Session ended on Monday, May 17 with little fanfare. While the House, Senate, and Governor agreed on overall budget targets, they did not pass a budget bill, and numerous provisions are still on the table. 

The Legislature will reconvene by June 14 for a special session, in which they intend to finish their work. There was a bright spot at the end of the session: strong bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate passed the Eco Act, a bill that updates the state’s Conservation Improvement Program and will lead to reduced carbon emissions by boosting energy efficiency. It’s one victory for our climate, for consumers, and for job creation in the energy sector.

But the Legislature’s unfinished work has significant implications for Minnesota’s environment. Funding for environmental agencies like the Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, and the Board and Water and Soil Resources is on the table, but not assured. 

Weeks ago, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen said that the Senate will not pass an environmental budget unless the Legislature repealed the Walz Administration’s authority to enact Clean Cars rule. Later, this demand was changed to a two-year delay. The Clean Cars rule, which would provide Minnesotans with more electric vehicle options and reduce emissions from all new vehicles sold, is currently scheduled to take effect no earlier than January 2024.

If an environmental budget is not passed in the special session, Minnesotans could see state parks shut down in July, and numerous beneficial programs to improve habitat and water quality left unsupported. 

And while they have budget targets for environmental agencies, House and Senate must also negotiate on policy provisions. Some proposals, like protections against pesticides, establishing a soil health goal for farmland, and enacting a new focus on environmental justice for new projects, should be included. Others, like rolling back the state’s ability to make pollution protection rules and delaying enforcement of water quality standards, should be left out. (Read MEP’s letter to the Legislature on these and other policy issues.)

Given the multiple challenges we face on climate, species loss, and water pollution, Minnesota can’t afford not to make investments in our natural resources or roll back the protections we have already. MEP and our partners will continue working to convince legislators to pass a budget that follows the science and meets our needs.

What you can do: Call or use our action system to contact your lawmakers and ask them to pass a clean environment budget that puts our people and ecosystems first.

Pipeline shutdown, oil industry lobbying highlight need for transition

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline due to a cyberattack led to surges in fuel prices across the eastern U.S. before it was brought back online on May 13. The attack on the largest oil pipeline in the country was the largest of its kind in history.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Enbridge (the Canadian company that operates Line 3 and other pipelines in Minnesota) disregarded an order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer to cease operation of Line 5. Governor Whitmer had ordered Enbridge to shut down the aging pipeline because of the risk of a spill into the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge said its violation of the Governor’s authority came about because only the federal government has jurisdiction in the matter.

Taken separately, the Colonial Pipeline shutdown points to the need for stronger cybersecurity, while Enbridge’s defiance points to one pipeline company with contempt for decisions that don’t go its way. But taken together, they illustrate that the United States is hooked on fossil fuels to our detriment. We’ve written about the climate consequences many times, but it’s clear that our economic resilience, the proper functioning of our government, and the day-to-day routines of our lives are harmed by oil companies’ dominance.

Minnesota is not immune

Minnesota is not an oil-producing state, but as Michael Rockhold points out in an excellent commentary from Thursday, we are an oil-transporting and oil-refining state. Four Enbridge pipelines run through our state to Superior, Wisconsin, while others transport oil to the refineries in Rosemount and St. Paul Park. It’s worth a reminder that the increased volume of oil carried by the under-construction Line 3 would have a greater climate impact than every other emissions source in Minnesota combined if it is completed and operates for the life of its permit.

What do we get for our trouble? In 1991, Minnesota was rewarded with the largest inland oil spill in our country’s history near Grand Rapids. Line 3 would follow a new route that would put entirely new lands and waters in danger of a spill, which could devastate wild rice resources that are sacred and guaranteed by treaty to the Ojibwe people. Its construction has contributed to COVID spikes and human trafficking. Some counties get tax revenue from hosting these pipelines, but as Enbridge’s recent appeal of its taxes shows, counties can have the rug pulled out from under them and be left with a steep refund bill.

Why are companies that are such bad guests allowed to continue operating in Minnesota? As Rockhold writes, they have a strong lobbying presence that often overrules the interests of a majority of Minnesotans. That’s not just on pipeline issues – blocking public transit funding and energy-saving land use, expanding highway lanes despite evidence that it makes traffic worse, fighting against clean vehicle rules: these are all in fossil fuel companies’ playbooks.

By making it inconvenient for people to avoid using fossil fuels, the industry perpetuates demand for its products. Then, as ExxonMobil has for years, they blame individual consumers for the climate crisis. It’s a good thing when an individual or family finds that it can be easy and healthy to commute by bike or transit or installs solar panels on their home. But we need system-level changes to make those options available to all.

What’s the solution?

Even without the necessity of climate action, kicking our addiction to fossil fuels will make our communities safer, healthier, and more resilient. And while fossil fuel companies remain powerful, more and more people and lawmakers are refusing to buy into their false narratives, and we have a chance to win what we need.

One of the most important solutions is to make our communities easier to get around without a car. Building out public transit that is fast, reliable, and convenient can provide a great alternative. Rethinking planning issues like parking (see article below), land use, road design, and zoning will make us less dependent on cars to enjoy basic amenities.

Meanwhile, we need to electrify everything. The remaining vehicles on the road should shift more and more toward electric models, and natural gas power in homes should be replaced with electricity. Our electricity sector is becoming greener, and while some power companies are still trying to push gas plants and other toxic infrastructure on us, we know that they are not needed for our future.

To be fair, an electrical grid isn’t invulnerable, and we need to invest in upgrades to make our grid more resilient to threats like extreme weather and cyberattacks. But when solar and wind are spread out among many locations and in many generation sizes, it creates a system much more resilient than one in which a single end-to-end pipeline can shut down an entire region. Electricity, unlike gasoline, can be safely generated in individual homes. And you’ll never hear about a wind turbine or a solar panel having a “spill.”

Indeed, oil spills can and should be made a thing of the past. Line 3, Line 5, and eventually all fuel pipelines should be safely decommissioned, and no new ones should be permitted. They won’t be needed in the economy we’re going to create.

We know that a majority of Minnesotans want to live in a clean energy-powered, climate-friendly state. Fossil fuel companies have told us otherwise for far too long. Time for us to stop buying it.

Senate holds environment budget hostage over Clean Cars, proposes rollbacks

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, May 4, through the Chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, the Minnesota Senate issued an ultimatum on the state’s environmental budget, seeking to end the Clean Cars rulemaking currently underway by the Walz Administration.  In an exchange in the Legislature’s Environment Omnibus Bill Conference Committee, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) told House Environment Lead Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul.) that the Senate will not pass a budget bill for numerous environmental programs unless the bill also repeals the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) authority to enact Clean Cars standards.

The Senate has also included numerous bad policy provisions that would rollback environmental protections across the state. Meanwhile, as we wrote in April, the House’s proposed environment bill would benefit soil health, ban harmful pesticides on many state lands, and require environmental justice to be considered in permitting for large industrial projects. (Read our letter to the conference committee on the good and bad language the two houses are considering.)

If the House and Senate cannot pass a negotiated budget bill successfully, it would result in a shutdown for beloved and critical Minnesota programs and agencies, including:

  • State Parks
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Pollution Control Agency
  • Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Numerous projects funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund

It would also cut critical state funding for:

  • Minnesota Zoo
  • Minnesota Science Museum
  • Minnesota Conservation Corps

The Senate’s grandstanding, along with its proposed rollbacks, come at a time when climate action is more urgent than ever, when most of Minnesota’s waters are classified as impaired by the MPCA, and when our pollinators are in steep decline. What’s more, opposing climate action is not a popular position – a new poll from our partners at MN350 shows that two-thirds of Minnesotans consistently favor bold climate action in our state. And even shutting down Minnesota’s state park system – which averages nearly 10 million visitors per year – would result in real economic harm and deprive families of recreation. There is no mandate for cutting environmental protections and activities.

The nonsensical opposition to Clean Cars

The Senate has presented several arguments against Clean Cars to try to justify its position, but none of them hold water. There’s the usual falsehood that it would prevent Minnesotans from purchasing gas-powered vehicles – the rule would simply make more electric vehicles available at dealerships and improve emissions standards for other vehicles. It will also be phased in over several years, giving ample time for adjustment.

Some also say that this kind of regulation is the job of the Legislature, but an Administrative Law Judge ruled on Friday that the MPCA has full authority to enact these rules to protect air quality. Given the Senate’s regrettable record on climate action and the urgent need for cuts to transportation emissions, we’d love to see them come up with alternative solutions that move us forward at the pace and scale needed. There has been plenty of time, but the Clean Cars rule just can’t wait. 

The argument that Minnesota should not allow California to dictate our regulations is also thrown around frequently, but usually leaves out the fact 13 other states have already enacted these standards. It’s true that Minnesota would be the first state in the Midwest to enact these standards, but not the first state to experience cold winters – Colorado, Maine, and Vermont have already done so. And as car companies make more and more ambitious EV pledges and the federal government promises to build more charging stations, getting ahead of the game will benefit Minnesota economically and environmentally. While much stronger action on transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and electric vehicle charging is needed, Clean Cars is a win-win for our state.

Ultimately, the Senate’s ultimatum pits the interests of polluting companies, car dealers who oppose these standards (and do not speak for their entire industry), and those who refuse to recognize climate science against the programs Minnesotans expressly care about. The people of Minnesota have shown through polling, supporting multiple constitutional amendments, and exploring our great outdoors that we want our environment restored and protected, not held hostage in a fight over long overdue electric vehicle rules. MEP and our allies will continue fighting against rollbacks on behalf of Minnesotans this session.

What you can do: Use our action system to contact Minnesota’s legislative leaders and urge them to pass an environment budget that helps the environment, supports climate action, and keeps our public recreation open.

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.