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Environment

oilspillA couple of recent developments.
 

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, MN350, and Center for Biological Diversity filed comments (April 17) opposing reauthorization of a permit that could allow Enbridge’s existing Line 3 pipeline to operate in the Chippewa National Forest for up to thirty years. Substandard welding and extensive corrosion on thousands of joints risk an immediate tar sands oil spill from the pipeline. The permit being sought by Enbridge would allow a six pipeline corridor, including Line 3, to continue to operate across Chippewa National Forest land. The existing permit expires at the end of 2017. Because of the threat to the Chippewa National Forest, the conservation groups argue Enbridge’s special use permit application should be denied, or at a minimum, that environmental review of the application is required.
(Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy)

In 1990, a helicopter patrol spotted a patch of oil on the ground about a mile south of Millecoquins Lake near Engadine. The oil was from Enbridge Line 5, which had spilled 630 gallons through a pinhole leak.
 
That spill is among almost 30 spills along the pipeline — many of them previously unknown or largely forgotten incidents — unearthed in federal records by National Wildlife Federation (NWF) pipeline safety specialist and researcher Beth Wallace.
 
The organization released the results of Wallace’s research this week, estimating that Line 5, which runs from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan, has spilled at least 1.13 million gallons of oil in 29 incidents since 1968.
(MLive)

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minnesota_state_capitolAt least, that seems the readily apparent interpretation, to me.
 

Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner Myron Frans held a state Capitol news conference Wednesday to say the budget proposal Dayton released in January and updated last month is fiscally responsible, while the House and Senate GOP plans are not.
 
“The Legislature’s math just does not add up,” Frans said.
 
Frans accused Republican leaders of using “fuzzy math,” as well as “phony savings” and delayed payments to pay for a large tax cut bill. He suggested many of the bills could be headed for vetoes if not altered.
 
Frans highlighted several examples in the finance bills for Health and Human Services and State Government.
 
“The legislative budget bills we have seen are not serious attempts to govern Minnesota,” Frans said. The bills are designed to be talking points to start negotiations with the governor from an imaginary position, a made up starting point if you will.”
(MPR)

And here’s an example of that “starting point.” Legislators in the Party of Trump actually have the gall to call it the “Minnesota Way.” They should be saying the “ALEC Way.”
 

The Minnesota budget blueprint produced (March 20) by majority House Republicans seeks hefty tax cuts and aims to pare down expected costs in publicly subsidized health and welfare programs.
 
GOP leaders said their framework would deliver long-overdue tax relief given a sizable state budget surplus. The plan would make $1.35 billion in tax cuts the next two years with the details to come later.
(MPR)

 
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smokestacksThere will be a rally at the Minnesota Capitol today, scheduled to start at 11AM, opposing pro-oil pipeline policies included in the Omnibus Jobs and Energy Bill.
 

When: (Today), Thursday April 6th at 11:00am
Where: MN State Capitol (basement level) Room B971
 
What’s happening: The proposed Jobs and Energy Omnibus Bill has a lot of terrible things in it, including 2 changes to state law that would fast track pipelines (including Enbridge’s Line 3) and eliminate some of our most important tools for environmental and social protection. The bill has been approved by the Senate and the relevant committee in the House and is now moving to the House floor for review.
 
The bill would:
1) Exempt oil and gas pipelines from the “Certificate of Need” part of the permit process. This means Enbridge would no longer have to prove that Line 3 (or other proposed pipelines) are actually needed. The CON process is the state’s only mechanism for rejecting a project.
2) Prevent regulators from considering alternative routes that don’t start and end where Enbridge wants them to. This means that Enbridge would get to define the project based on what’s best for their profits, and the State of MN would no longer be able to consider other routes that could get oil to market with less impact on our land, water, health, and human rights.

 
The Omnibus Legacy Bill is similarly odious. And potentially disastrous.
 

Minnesota’s Party of Trump in the legislature is full-on on removing public protections through any means possible. That has little to do with what Minnesota’s residents want (more here), but they don’t care about that.
 

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Buffers and mowing in Minnesota farm country

by Dan Burns on March 31, 2017 · 0 comments

Farming_near_Klingerstown,_PennsylvaniaA couple of items. You might call them examples of the (fairly) good and the bad.
 

With eight months before the first buffer deadline for public waters, the Department of Natural Resources has released its final maps. These maps were finalized after reviewing more than 4,200 public comments and making 2,800 changes. Your collaboration in this process resulted in more accurate maps ready for use.
 
Most notably, 74 percent of Minnesota’s counties are 60-100 percent in compliance with the buffer law. While this might surprise some, it doesn’t surprise us, as we know Minnesota farmers and landowners are great stewards of our lands. In fact, many farmers and landowners already had buffers in place when the requirement became law. And others have responded to the governor’s call asking them to be part of the solution to clean up our valuable water resources.
(AgWeek)

A friend’s observation about farmers over-mowing conservation plantings along Highway 169 in Blue Earth County had us looking again at the issue of farmers’ demands to mow state-owned right of ways on state highways. Are some landowners not only making hay off public land–but damaging plantings on state highways for which the public dime has paid?
 
Our source noted that the forbs (flowering plants) and prairie grasses planted after some work on 169 had been mowed early and often until other grasses took over…
 
When landowners alongside state-owned road ditches mow early and swipe the bales on land that’s been planted with native seeding, they’re not just taking hay they’re not paying for. They’re also damaging an investment made at public expense.
(Bluestem Prairie)

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sulfideFrom this week.
 

The Campaign to Defend Lake Superior, represented by Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), joined the Center for Biological Diversity and the W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League in a lawsuit filed in federal court today. The suit asks the court to overturn the U.S. Forest Service decision to approve the largest land exchange in its history, planned with PolyMet Mining. The land exchange would give PolyMet thousands of acres of critically important wetlands in Superior National Forest, where mining operations would forever destroy the wetlands that form the headwaters of the St. Louis River…
 
Federal law requires appraisals to reflect the “highest and best use” of public land when determining fair market value. The failure to do so has caused the public to receive less land in exchange and will result in taxpayers being forced to pay PolyMet $425,000 in cash unless the decision is overturned.
(Campaign to Defend Lake Superior)

From early February. The two actions may be consolidated as they make their way through the courts.
 

WaterLegacy, a Minnesota nonprofit founded to protect the state’s wetlands and wildlife from sulfide mining, filed a complaint (in late January) claiming that the Forest Service violated federal land management laws by selling parts of the forest for way less than what they’re worth.
 
The Forest Service’s final agreement with PolyMet valued the federal lands at $550 an acre. That is based on a consultant’s study of five Wisconsin and Michigan properties that were sold for timber — not copper-nickel mining.
(City Pages)

I of course wish the plaintiffs very, very well, in every way. Actually, that goes for all of us, since we all have a stake in not seeing northern Minnesota’s land and water poisoned.
 

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Enbridge is quite a corporate citizen

by Dan Burns on March 28, 2017 · 0 comments

oilspillFor some background, here.
 

Enbridge Energy’s massive property tax challenge may end up costing several northern Minnesota counties millions of dollars. In fact, two counties — Clearwater and Red Lake — could end up refunding more money to Enbridge than they raise annually from all of their property tax payers.
 
Enbridge has appealed five years of taxes, claiming the Minnesota Department of Revenue unfairly valued its vast pipeline network, resulting in significantly higher payments. The company says a November Minnesota Supreme Court decision in a separate pipeline tax case buttresses its own appeals.
 
“It’s scary for us,” said Allen Paulson, Clearwater County’s auditor. “If Enbridge wins its appeal, the [tab for the county] will be $7.2 million, and our levy is $6.8 million.”
(Star Tribune)

The article goes on to note that Enbridge had $524 million in net operating profits in Minnesota in 2015. Paying its property taxes here poses a real existential threat to the company, all right.
 
A stunt like this is actually a symptom. The cause is a generation of corporate execs and lawyers brought up on jejune drivel from the likes of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand.
 
The vermin at Enbridge who made this call, and their ilk everywhere, need to be crushed. I don’t know of a fast, effective way of accomplishing that. But more people with progressive opinions actually troubling to vote would be a very good start.
 

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trumpA pretty inept, sorry way of fighting on behalf of American workers.
 

President Trump’s budget slashes investment in clean energy — the biggest new source of sustainable high-wage employment in the world.
 
In contrast, China’s latest five-year energy budget invests $360 billion in renewable generation alone by 2020. Beijing calculates the resulting “employment will be more than 13 million people.”
 
Trump’s self-proclaimed “America First” budget released (March 16) zeroes out key Department of Energy (DOE) clean-tech programs:
 
– the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which invests in innovative clean technology
– a program to improve manufacturing for clean cars, and
– the loan guarantee program, which jump-started large-scale U.S. solar deployment, the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, and companies like Tesla.
(Think Progress)

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Gov. Dayton vetoes GOP assault on renewables

by Dan Burns on March 21, 2017 · 0 comments

solar2The Minnesota Party of Trump in the legislature has been pressing ahead with a radical-right agenda, despite what’s going down with their hero in the White House. Thankfully, in this state there is a remaining check and balance. From yesterday:
 

Since late January, Bluestem has chronicled the problems with HF234 in posts like “Are King Coal’s foxes to guard the co-op? HF234 would leave rural utility customers on defense” and “From our friends at CURE: tell Governor Mark Dayton: veto bill, protect solar in Minnesota.”
 
We are pleased as are so many friends that the governor chose to veto the bill today.
(Bluestem Prairie)

I’m adding some items that I’ve had sitting in my “environment” file for a while.
 

A five kilowatt rooftop solar installation now costs just $12,500 on average after tax credits, and pretty soon, installing one might soon be a matter of re-tiling your roof. Whether it’s right for you, however, depends in large part on how much sun your house gets. That’s where Google’s Project Sunroof comes in — launched just two years ago, it has now surveyed over 60 million US buildings in 50 states. That means there’s a good chance you can see the electricity production potential in your city, neighborhood and even specific house.
 
Google calculates the amount of sunlight on your roof based on “3D modeling of your roof and nearby trees,” weather patterns, the position of the sun in the sky during the year and shade from buildings, trees and other obstructions. That info is then converted to energy production “using industry standard models for solar installation performance,” Google says.
 
The results are surprising: 79 percent of all US rooftops are solar viable, meaning they have enough unshaded area for solar panels. Obviously, some regions are better than others — over 90 percent of homes in Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico are technically viable, but even northern states like Pennsylvania, Maine and Minnesota are over 60 percent. Houston, Texas has the most solar potential of any US city, with 18.9 gigawatt-hours of total power generation capability if all roofs had solar panels.
(engadget)

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ottertaillakeriverinletDespite the reality of what’s happening to Minnesota’s waters, many people just will not face the crying need for things like buffers. And now the Minnesota Party of Trump wants to revert entirely, by whatever means.
 

– H.F. 167 (Green): Eliminates buffer rule.
– S.F. 465 (Draheim)/H.F. 1859 (Miller): Delays the buffer rule for two more years.
– H.F. 684 (Backer): Prevents enforcement of the buffer law until/unless local governments approve of buffer maps first.
– H.F. 776 (Backer): Formally exempts all public water wetlands and most smaller streams from buffer rule.
– S.F. 938 (Westrom)/H.F. 683 (Backer): Two-year buffer delay, and prevents enforcement unless taxpayers pay 100% of buffer installation.
– S.F. 835 (Draheim)/H.F. 1858 (Miller): Buffers are not required unless/until local seed is available for planting the buffers.
– S.F. 1693 (Westrom)/H.F. 1994 (Torkelson): Similar to H.F. 1466 DE2; bars local enforcement, redefines public waters needing a buffer, delays the deadline for remaining buffers by one year, prohibits any enforcement of the buffer law unless public funding covers 100% of the cost of establishing and maintaining all buffers.
(Friends of the Mississippi River) (Follow that and then click on an action link to see the list.)

And this is from an email I got from Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.
 

SENATE
 
SF141: Creates barriers for solar by increasing the power of co-op utilities and stripping the Public Utilities Commission of regulatory authority.
SF214: Eliminates a pro-solar program that has been an important driver of jobs and innovation in renewable energy.
 
HOUSE
 
HF1291: Eliminates the state’s Environmental Quality Board — at a time when the board’s oversight should be strengthened.
HF1377: Restricts the options available to homeowners for financing energy improvement projects.

I’m sure there are plenty more, but you get the point. I suspect that a significant part of how many strokes Minnesota’s Republican legislators get from ALEC is based on the sheer number of bulls*it bills that they introduce.
 

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Enbridge pipeline draws protesters

by Dan Burns on March 9, 2017 · 1 comment

oilspillThis was very righteous and needs to be noted.
 

As Native Americans opposed to President Trump’s restarting of oil pipeline projects gather in Washington, D.C., opponents of other pipeline projects found a target in Bemidji. U.S. State Department officials were met by hundreds of protesters at a Tuesday question-and-answer session on the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline.
 
Calgary-based Enbridge Energy hopes to substantially increase the volume of crude oil flowing across the Canadian border in the Alberta Clipper pipeline. Bringing more oil across international borders requires a presidential permit.
(MPR)

A related item.
 

Consumers have seen flat or declining energy costs as renewable energy becomes a greater part of the energy mix of Minnesota and the nation…
 
The national movement toward clean energy continues, she said, and Minnesota’s leadership in that area remains, especially in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
 
The investments in clean energy made by utilities does not seem to have an impact on energy prices, contradicting dire predictions made by some opponents of clean energy policy in the past.
 
“What we can say looking at data is that we’ve been making significant investments nationally, and so has Minnesota, and it has been beneficial to consumers and businesses,” Jacobson said.
(Midwest Energy News)

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