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MN lege: When will the crazy end? Part 2

by Dan Burns on February 21, 2017 · 0 comments

mn_capitolMore from our merry crew of emboldened, even giddy, right-wingnuts.
 

House file 702 and Senate file 695 would give powerful interests that oppose water quality standards the ability to force Administrative Law Judges and the Court of Appeals to conduct an independent “do-over” of rulemaking based on their own determinations about which scientific issues and data matter.
 
These bills
– ask judges with no subject matter expertise to do the complex work of expert career agency scientists,
– duplicate the rulemaking process and increase the cost, delay and uncertainty of developing water quality standards, and
– significantly undermine public input into rulemaking and agency transparency to the public.
(Friends of the Mississippi River)

Regarding the following, it won’t shock me if the federal money is “redirected.” But probably not as the noted legislators have in mind. More military spending and more tax cut handouts for the 1% are far more likely.
 

A pair of Republican state lawmakers announced a resolution to the Secretary of Transportation requesting $929 million in federal funding for Southwest Light Rail Transit be redirected to other transportation projects in Minnesota.
 
Sen. David Osmek (R-Mound) and Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines) would rather see that money go toward roads and bridges across the state than to one transit project they say wouldn’t benefit most Minnesotans.
(Fox 9)

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bwcaThis isn’t a pleasant matter to brood over, but it is the reality with which we now have to deal.
 

Similar federal measures blocking mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will also bite the dust. Now, bear in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean that shovels will turn in the near future. It does, however, create a regulatory environment where they could. Companies would still need to invest in the expensive business of mining the widely dispersed ores in the region’s mineral reserves. (As I’ve explained recently and for the last 16 years, that is why we should always maintain healthy skepticism and foster more diverse economic opportunities for our region)…
 
That brings to mind the old wounds likely to be re-opened in coming years. As this wonderful recent Tom Weber story on Minnesota Public Radio shows, the 1970s BWCA debate created enduring division in the city of Ely. Some of the same people, their kids and grandkids, are prepared to fight the issue all over again.
 
For years, the nonferrous mining debate has centered on mining projects *near* the BWCA. The same watershed, but not within the boundaries of the park. But as this Jan. 19 story in the Guardian shows, Republicans don’t just want to eliminate regulations near federals lands like the BWCA, they actually want to transfer the lands, at a significant discount, in most cases to the states.
(Minnesota Brown)

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desertPerhaps they’re feeling pretty full of themselves after Trump’s “win,” (and the disgraceful coattails thereof in Minnesota), or perhaps they would have tried this anyway. In any case, it’s interesting to see who all is lining up against it.
 

A group of large industrial users joined consumer advocates in decrying a bill that would permit Xcel Energy to build a 786 megawatt combined cycle natural gas plant without regulatory approval.
 
The gas plant, likely to cost more than $1 billion, would replace two coal-fired units at Xcel plant near the town of Becker that are slated for closure by 2026.
 
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Newberger, whose district includes Becker, the bill was approved by the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance committee (January 17). A companion bill will be heard in the Senate.
 
Leading opposition to the decision are the Minnesota Large Industrial Group and the Citizens Utility Board, as well as several clean energy groups. A letter signed by dozens of church leaders also voiced objection to the legislation.
(Midwest Energy News)

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PolyMet gets its land swap

by Dan Burns on January 11, 2017 · 0 comments

sulfideThis was not a surprise, but it still sucks.
 

Paul Danicic, Executive Director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, issued the following statement in response:
 

“The transfer of thousands of acres of Superior National Forest land to PolyMet is a bad deal for taxpayers, premature, and not in the public interest. No exchange of land can undo the damage that PolyMet would do to this area. The land that PolyMet seeks to mine contains thousands of acres of high-value wetlands that are irreplaceable.
 
The standard for federal land exchanges is that the exchange must be in the public interest. PolyMet would create polluted water that would require expensive treatment for hundreds of years. PolyMet would be the largest permitted destruction of wetlands in Minnesota history. The risk to the St. Louis River, Lake Superior, and downstream communities from this mine proposal demonstrates why it is not in the public interest…

(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

Meanwhile, copper and nickel prices remain at long-term lows in a glutted market, and the inevitable Trump recession will only drive them further into the depths.
 

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Let’s think about Mars

by Eric Ferguson on December 25, 2016 · 0 comments

Mars? No, Earth didn’t just suddenly become a happy place and the man-child who won the electoral college didn’t just suddenly hand over the presidency to a adult. I just need a break from Trump and trumpers and deplorables thinking they get to lord it over decent people. I’ve written a bunch about Trump and recovering the Democratic Party and salvaging something of our democracy, and I’ll write more of course. Readers, I assume, have read and will read as much as I have, but now it’s late December and I want a break from it. So if you want a moment’s break too, … Mars.
 

What brings this up is the National Geographic mini-series Mars, which combines a drama about the first attempt to build a colony on Mars with a documentary about real-life space flight. It was just six one-hour episodes, so easy to binge watch. I recommend it. Spoiler alert: I’m going to mention plot points, though I’ll put them after the “read more” link in case you’re reading this on the front page or from a search result.
 

The fictional Martian colony was built in the 2030’s, and though NASA is currently working on a Mars lander to send a manned mission, assuming our new anti-science second-place finisher doesn’t kill it — ugh, couldn’t stop thinking about the current catastrophe — the 2030’s seem awfully optimistic for a colony. Wouldn’t it make more sense to build a base on the moon first? It’s the same technological problems to be solved either way, basically. I’m aware Mars and Earth’s moon aren’t the same, but close enough. The key difference is that the moon is about three days away, starting from blast-off, assuming Apollo speeds, whereas Mars is about a year each way. Problems will be inevitable, and not all foreseen, so it seems utterly logical to develop the technology to build an extraterrestrial base where help is three days away instead of year.
 

I’m thinking of how ironic it is that when in the 2012 campaign Newt Gingrich suggested building a moon base, he was laughed at, but it’s the only sensible thing he’s ever said. Well, there was the time as Speaker of the House he said, “I resign”, but otherwise the moon base was the only smart idea he had. Ugh, guess I just ventured into thinking about the anti-science party again.
 

…READ MORE

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Keeping green energy on a roll

by Dan Burns on December 19, 2016 · 0 comments

solar2I may well be naïve, but I’m going to continue to mostly focus in my blogging on things that are not total doom-and-gloom. Like the following.
 

A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.
 
This has happened in isolated projects in the past: an especially competitive auction in the Middle East, for example, resulting in record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
(Bloomberg)

“This election and basically the victory of Trump has raised a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to be the direction of the federal government on issues of climate and energy policy,” said study co-author Devashree Saha, senior policy associate at Brookings.
 
“At the state level, entities have implemented a lot of progressive climate change policies, a lot of creative and innovative experiments. In the new political reality where signs point to the fact the federal government is going to abandon the ship, so to speak, on energy and climate, the state role is going to become even more critical.”
 
She noted that in addition to setting energy policies, states also have much control over land use and transportation plans that relate to power generation and carbon emissions.
 
“States are really crucial actors in the carbon drama, much more than the federal government, which is a good thing,” Saha said.
(Midwest Energy News)

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Twin Metals leases application gets crushed

by Dan Burns on December 16, 2016 · 0 comments

sulfideSweet!
 

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness applauds the decision by federal agencies to deny Twin Metals Minnesota’s application to extend two federal mineral leases. This decision comes after an extensive public input period where over 70,000 people asked the federal government to deny the lease extension. Hundreds of people showed up to public meetings in Duluth and Ely to express their concerns.
 
The Department of Interior also announced it has received an application from the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw federal mineral rights in the Boundary Waters watershed. This starts a public review process to analyze withdrawing federal mineral rights for a twenty-year period. A public input period on this permanent protection for the Boundary Waters will begin once notice is published in the Federal Register and will last ninety days. This review also creates a two-year “time out” when no new federal mineral leases can be issued.
 
“These actions happened because tens of thousands of people spoke up against locating a sulfide mine on the edge of America’s most popular wilderness area,” stated Executive Director Paul Danicic.
(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

There is more detail in this article from MPR, though I would suggest that it’s too friendly to Twin Metals’ inflated estimates of alleged positive economic impact on the region (start on page 17 of the linked pdf). It notes that Twin Metals says they’re not giving up. If you ask me and a whole lot of other people, it’s high time that they do so. So should PolyMet.

 
And I have to note that I don’t know how much interest Trump & Co. will take in this issue. Obviously efforts could be initiated to reverse the above, and bring about the worst outcomes instead.
 

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fracking-infographic_webWith President-”elect” Donald Trump’s administration clearly preparing not only to allow, but to actively encourage, fracking always and everywhere, this has added significance.
 

U.S. EPA (Dec. 13) abandoned its contentious assertion that hydraulic fracturing hasn’t caused “widespread, systemic” problems with drinking water as it released the final draft of its study on the practice.
 
The agency’s multiyear research instead made the less-sweeping conclusion that “hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances.”
 
…The change from the draft drew swift condemnation from industry groups this morning. The American Petroleum Institute called the change “beyond absurd” and said the Obama administration had decided to “reverse course” on the way out the door.
 
Environmental groups, which had seethed over the draft conclusion, said the report confirmed their long-standing accusations that oil and gas activity is dangerous.
(E&E News)

Also, this. I won’t venture to guess, at this time, how far Trump & Co. will go to actively try to undermine green energy. Green initiatives are in fact politically popular: in Florida, for example, voters rejected an amendment that would have screwed up efforts to install more solar.
 

And the good news is that NRDC’s Fourth Annual Energy Report reaffirms that, regardless of partisan ideological differences and even the possibility of climate naysayers in prominent federal roles, our clean energy transition is unstoppable for all the right reasons: lower bills, more jobs, and cleaner air.
(National Resources Defense Council)

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Group seeks to righteously crush Twin Metals

by Dan Burns on November 30, 2016 · 0 comments

sulfideGov. Mark Dayton opposes the Twin Metals proposal, and because of that and other factors it is essentially on life support. We hope.
 

The environmental group Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has asked a federal judge to let them intervene in a lawsuit that could decide mineral leases under the proposed Twin Metals copper mine near Ely.
 
The group filed paperwork Tuesday, Nov. 22, in federal district court in St. Paul in hopes it can intervene in the suit filed by Twin Metals against the U.S. Department of the Interior.
 
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness also filed notice that it plans to ask that the case be dismissed, although that can’t happen until the first hearing scheduled in the suit on April 28.
(InForum)

If you’re not familiar with the issue, here is a quick primer from Save the Boundary Waters.
 

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prairieThis article may seem a little bizarre if you’re progressive and you remember David Strom‘s “legacy“ in Minnesota politics, but nonetheless it is worthwhile and I’m passing it along on that basis.
 

A new report says proposed renewable energy investments in Minnesota could create more than 5,000 construction jobs and $7 billion in economic activity, largely in conservative, rural parts of the state.
 
“We are clearly seeing a bigger (political) divide in Minnesota and clean energy is a way to bridge that divide,” said Chris Kunkle, Wind on the Wires regional policy manager for Minnesota. “You’re talking about advancing policies and investments from the Twin Cities that benefit rural Minnesota and create new jobs and tax revenue.”
 
And Minnesota is not the only place where wind development is happening in Republican districts.
(Midwest Energy News)

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