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Environment

Houston County frac sand ban may be stumbling

by Dan Burns on February 26, 2015 · 0 comments

frackingIt’s unfortunate that this is not surprising.
 

Last week, Houston County commissioners voted unanimously to send a bill banning frac sand mining to the county attorney. However, at their meeting on Tuesday, a few commissioners appeared to rethink their position on the issue.
 
The county attorney discussed his findings on the ban on Tuesday with the board and said the ban could be passed and defended in court. However, some commissioners wanted to tone down the proposed ban, despite voting for the ban in the last meeting.
(KTTC)

I’m not going to openly speculate on what kinds of pressures are perhaps being brought to bear. The following has all the background.
 

Grassroots organizing by ordinary citizens in a southeastern Minnesota county has resulted in a stunning vote by the Houston County Board of Commissioners to essentially ban silica sand mining for purposes other than local construction and agriculture.
 
It’s a stunning counterpoint to the “informational hearing” that the Minnesota House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Committee held in St. Paul earlier this year in which only mining interests were first invited to speak.
(Bluestem Prairie)

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Keystone XL – Done and Dusted! Obama vetoes!

by Dog Gone on February 24, 2015 · 0 comments

He did it, Obama has vetoed the evil Keystone XL pipeline!
 
Well done, Mr. President! A long awaited victory over big, bad oil, with all the corruption and destruction that accompany it.
 

 

oil pipeline explosion


 

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Bench PolyMet at the high school tournaments

by Dan Burns on February 18, 2015 · 0 comments

is-polymet-a-good-deal-300x300I have to pass this along right now, from Newspeak Review. Everything’s explained, precisely and concisely, when you click on the link.

 

When we see ads again at our public tournaments, whether the boys’ hockey tournament, girls’ hockey tournament, or other (I noticed them at football this year too), I say it’s time for a response. Let’s #BenchPolyMet!
 
I invite you to join me in:
 
– Tweeting and posting on social media using the hash tag #BenchPolyMet. Tag @MSHSL and @KSTC45 for maximum effect. Tag @newspeakreview for retweets.
– Make a #BenchPolyMet sign. Display it at the tourney; mega bonus points if you can get it on TV!
 
Most of us who care about the integrity of our democracy and public decision making processes in Minnesota don’t have the big bucks that PolyMet uses to spread our message, but we have our Minnesota voices. Let’s use ‘em. Attention to PolyMet’s corporate propaganda at the hockey tourneys is growing, and several organizations have already indicated interest in the #BenchPolyMet social media campaign. It’s time to #BenchPolyMet, @MSHSL @KSTC45.

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More bad GOP bills in the Minnesota lege

by Dan Burns on February 12, 2015 · 0 comments

amd_300I implied some time ago that I thought it not very likely that the 2015 Minnesota legislature would get really involved in the sulfide mining controversy. Wrong again. Some Range DFL names are on this, too.
 

Essentially, HF 616 and 617 limit the power of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The agency couldn’t implement water standards without completing an economic impact study. Further, the PCA couldn’t base standards on data that hasn’t been verified from an independent source. In other words, conflicting research from industry scientists could be used to discredit current water standards.
 
That’s relevant, because the wild rice sulfate standard at the heart of many water quality debates in both nonferrous mining and taconite mining on the Iron Range is subject to such disagreement.
(Minnesota Brown)

Also:
 

So while some may propose increasing monies on infrastructure, education or expanding the state’s Child and Dependent Care Credit, Senator David H. Senjem (R-25) and Representative Greg Davids (R-28B), the chairman of the Minnesota House Taxes Committee, have proposed a simple bill … Minnesota should give a tax credit to businesses who have paid the federal Medical Device Excise Tax. And it’s not just a tax credit that can offset Minnesota taxes due, it is a refundable…
 
If Senator Senjem and Representative Davids get their way, thoughts about “surpluses” will be replaced by “deficits” … let the fight for “unallotment” begin. With a billion dollars directed to “assist” medical device companies, something has to give … so expect cuts to MDOT projects, education, local government aid, and other programs.
 
This is one of the most idiotic ideas ever proposed.
(MN Political Roundtable)

If you scan through all of the House bill introductions for this session (I don’t recommend it; it’s an ordeal, trust me on that), it looks like Reps. Greg Davids (R-Preston), Duane Quam (R-Byron) and Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) are the primary American Legislative Exchange Council water carriers, this time around.
 

I don’t know about you, but now and then I try to step back and consider, as objectively as I can, whether maybe I myself am just being a ridiculous idiot. Rigid ideologues make no effort to try to self-correct like that, and that’s one of many reasons why when they get into power, they often do a lot of damage.
 

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This guy wants to be president 3

by Eric Ferguson on February 10, 2015 · 0 comments

clowncarRemember back when even some Republicans wanted to be known as environmentalists? Granted, remembering Ronald “trees pollute” Reagan, it looks like George Bush Sr. was already an anomaly. In case there was any doubt though, there’s Scott Walker, pursuing a blatantly anti-environmental agenda. He seems to be covering the gamut, from stripping citizen boards of decision making authority, to selling public lands, to firing the scientists.
 
Oh yes, those Wisconsin tourism ads are full of lakes and trees. Just look and don’t get wet I guess, or you might get too sick to hear when Walker starts selling himself to swing voters as some sort of moderate.
 
Remember when Mike Huckabee was the nice conservative? I remember his line in one of the 2008 debates, “I’m conservative, but I’m not angry about it.” He was this amusing guy who made repeat appearances on such lefty media as Colbert Nation and The Thom Hartmann Program. He could disagree with liberals yet be civil about it. For 2016, he decided that crazy sells better than polite. Feeling left out of the conservative angerfest after President Obama’s bit of historical accuracy at the national prayer breakfast (on a tangent, why does Obama show up at that thing anyway?), Huckabee said Obama doesn’t like anyone but Muslims. “This President has a high horse himself. It’s his TelePrompTer,” Huckabee said, apparently still thinking teleprompter references are hilarious. Even on his now defunct Fox News program, at least early one when I watched it once in a while, Huckabee used to come across with a sort of “I don’t dislike you, but I just don’t agree with you” attitude. I also recall some Arkansans saying in 2008 that we shouldn’t be fooled, because we weren’t seeing Huckabee’s other side. I think I see it now.

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You don’t get handwashing by restaurant staff from the magical waving of the ‘invisible hand’.

Remember when, in K-12 (closer to the 12) and perhaps in college, you learned about Laissez-faire capitalism, and Adam Smith’s 18th century concept of ‘an (not ‘the’) invisible hand of the market’ where unintentionally even the worst, most selfish tendencies of human beings would magically benefit society BETTER?

 

From Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (vol. 1):
 

The rich … consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements.

 

Yes, Adam Smith gave us BOTH the failed Trickle down Economics AND the even more epic failed INVISIBLE HAND OF THE MARKET PLACE, not one but two failed concepts embraced by conservatives regardless of extremely poor outcomes and bad results.  It’s sometimes called laissez-faire capitalism.  Laissez-faire translates loosely as let you do what you want.

 

That was an idea back in the mid 18th century. Adam Smith also posited one of the first appearances of trickle down economics, specifically that the gluttony of the rich man would cause the leftovers to ‘trickle down’ to those who were the workers, and that those leftovers would be very small, but magically should be enough. Or at least, the less wealthy should just shut up and be content with less, and then we’d all somehow MAGICALLY be better off.
 

“By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

Since then, for some reason completely devoid from any observation or even casual connection to reality, conservatives have decided to expand on the very limited concept of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ to the notion that some form of magic or stupidity will regulate EVERY aspect of the economy, both macro and micro.

 
…READ MORE

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Minnesota as a crude oil superhighway

by Dan Burns on February 3, 2015 · 0 comments

arctic8This is from a must-read article, full of important information about Enbridge’s record and corporate culture:
 

“Northern Minnesota is becoming the superhighway for oil,” says Paul Blackburn, an attorney for Minnesota’s branch of the national climate justice group 350.org.
 
Enbridge’s 50,000 miles of pipelines span the continent, but the corporation is planning a massive expansion in the Great Lakes basin. This scheme could prove devastating to public and environmental health, as well as the rights of the Anishinaabeg people, who are entitled by federal treaties to use Minnesota’s natural resources to maintain their livelihoods.
 
The Enbridge Pipeline System, some portions of which date back to 1950, transports crude oil from production facilities in the Athabasca oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States and Ontario, Canada. Approximately 2 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) are carried through a stretch of the pipeline network that extends from Gretna, Manitoba, where it crosses the border, to a major junction in Clearbrook, Minnesota. From there, a smaller number of pipelines continue on to the seaport of Superior, Wisconsin, where the oil is finally shipped to refineries throughout the Midwest and Eastern Canada.
(In These Times)

The northern long-eared bat may soon be declared an endangered species, because of a brutal fungus disease that has been virtually wiping out bat populations in much of the country. That would raise big issues for Enbridge’s Sandpiper pipeline proposal.

 
Rep. Duane Quam (R-Byron) and Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) introduced a bill, HF 21, to hassle state agencies that don’t rubber-stamp pipeline plans with suitable alacrity. Considering the sources, among other things, this one shouldn’t get far.
 

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Checking up on Minnesota sulfide mining

by Dan Burns on February 2, 2015 · 0 comments

is-polymet-a-good-deal-300x300First, this:
 

Ongaro’s suggestion that those who use metals (live in society) are disqualified from asserting viewpoints about how we manage public resources is reductive and insulting. We don’t need more “we use metals for stuff” puff pieces. What does “copper is useful” really tell us? Minnesotans understand that we use metals. Commenting on the production, sale, use, and re-use of those resources is not environmental hypocrisy, it’s responsible citizenship…
 
When pro-Minnesota advocates talk about sustainability, we are not, as Ongaro argues, advocating for a “utopian” vision. We are advocating for the best and healthiest possible future for our communities. And we simply don’t believe that future includes PolyMet and Twin Metals as currently conceived.
(Newspeak Review)

Schedule-wise:
 

“The commissioners’ stated goals give us optimism the EIS can be finalized by early spring and we can have permits in place during the 2015 construction season in northern Minnesota,” (PolyMet president and CEO Jon) Cherry said.
(PolyMet website)

 
Duluth Metals is the parent company of Twin Metals Minnesota, which wants to mine right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Duluth Metals’s stock had dwindled to virtual penny status. From January 14:
 

Under the Arrangement, Antofagasta will, subject to the provisions of the arrangement agreement dated November 21, 2014 between Duluth and Antofagasta (the “Arrangement Agreement”), acquire all of the outstanding common shares of Duluth (“Duluth Shares”) (other than Duluth Shares held by Antofagasta and its affiliates) at a price of CDN$0.45 per Duluth Share in cash (the “Cash Consideration”).
(CNN Money)

So the dream of befouling the BWCA itself, from right next door, stays alive. The important thing about the buyout, politically, is no more crap about how this whole sulfide mining thing is really just born-and-bred, true-blue Iron Rangers trying to do the ol’ homeland a good turn. It’s entirely in the open now that this is all about the multinationals, and anyone who still buys any denials of that is just being a purblind, if perhaps well-intentioned, fool.
 
Whether the Minnesota legislature, which has plenty of mining diehards, will indulge in any direct involvement this session to try to override the permitting process or anything like that, seems unlikely. It wouldn’t be a gimme that it would help. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), who is indeed on fire for sulfides, got some things he really wanted last session (like the Senate Office Building), but was foiled on others. (He would have preferred that the minimum wage increase be held to a nominal pittance.) In any case, any obvious legislative involvement/spotlight may well not be what PolyMet/Glencore or Antofagasta want, at this point. I will note that there is an effort to gut wetlands mitigation law, which would presumably make the mining forces happy.
 

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Dayton proposes buffer zone regulation

by Dan Burns on January 29, 2015 · 0 comments

BACKPACKING5-251006-162122From a fairly recent column:
 

Then quite to everyone’s surprise, (Minnesota Governor Mark) Dayton said this:
 
“I will propose that a 50 foot [grass or similar] buffer be placed around all state waters,’’ a requirement that will be “enforced by the DNR through aerial and other inspections.’’
 
Acknowledging that some farmers and other landowners, and some farm groups, will oppose the plan in the Legislature, Dayton added:
 
“The land may be yours. But the water belongs to all of us, and to all who will follow all of us.’’
 
…For now, Dayton’s initiative is reason enough to celebrate, because in the never-ending battle to sustain wild places and wild critters, leadership is everything, as Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated more than a century ago.
 
And among state conservationists, Dayton has earned that title.
 
Leader.
(Star Tribune)

OK, maybe a little over-the-top at the end, there, but to have a governor who is committed to a relatively strong environmental agenda is not a privilege that most states currently have. And though we’re better off than many, Minnesota is in fact far from pristine. And there are all those big plans for more mines and pipelines…
 
I’ve seen some talk lately about a purported pending coalition of rural GOPers and Iron Range DFLers who will form a bloc powerful enough to weaken environmental protections. I’m waiting on reports that are more specific. Mildly intriguing, how seemingly out of nowhere, like The Thing, the “rural/urban divide” has suddenly become far and away the most important socio-political phenomenon in the history of the state. Or so corporate media would have it, and it would be impolite, I suppose, to suggest that that has much more to do with pandering to its older, conservative-leaning base, than to fact-based analysis. Reality check: Minnesotans everywhere care about conservation and the environment.
 

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The reason we have cheap oil is because the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia, continues pumping it. The estimated extraction price of Saudi oil is $1-$2, with a break even price around $4 a barrel.

 

NO U.S. producer can compete with that. No  other world producers can compete with that. Even the other adjoining countries like the United Emirates have a break even price of around $15.

 

It’s stupid to keep pumping oil, it is stupid to keep using petroleum energy (or even coal energy) with those basic economic facts. There is no effective competition possible.

 

Instead we should be using the period of low energy costs to make a more rapid transition to cheap renewables, like solar and wind. This notion of ‘all of the above’ energy sources makes no sense whatsoever. While we make such a change, we should be upgrading our energy grid, which is of poor quality and vulnerable, not to mention that we lose a tremendous amount of energy loss in distribution as pure waste, averaging 6% of generated electricity, for example.

 

Citypages ran a recent article on the expected loss of 20,000 jobs, by June, in the North Dakota oil fields, aka the Bakken oil fields. It’s really more like two relatively adjacent fields, the Parshal field and the Bakken field, which are part of the Bakken formation. Then there is the layer of oil below that, the Three Forks formation. There are other layers above and below the US layers, which overlap into Montana and into Saskatchewan, Canada.

 

For purposes of this post, we’re talking about the top layer, the Bakken layer, which is regular surface drilling, where other layers like the Three Forks are shale fields of oil. This matters because of the difference in the cost of extraction. The top layer, the Bakken, is the easiest to extract and therefore the cheapest. That production is still profitable to the Saudis, while it hurts other producers, notably here in the U.S., but also in their enemy rivals like Iran (that pesky Sunni-Shia conflict).

 

The break even cost of Bakken field oil is around $40 a barrel, give or take per this from Reuters, with overall U.S. break even costs running closer to $60. That’s on par with deep oil extraction off the coast of Africa. The UK remaining North Sea oil is also relatively difficult to extract, running around $50 a barrel.

 

Shale oil costs more than extracting oil closer to the surface; tar sands costs more than that — and has higher transportation and refining costs as well.

 

The North Sea oil producers are cutting an expected 300 jobs, largely due to low oil prices. And that’s for more desirable, more easily refined oil, not tar sands garbage oil.

 

We’re not going to see a rise in prices this year, and we’re unlikely to see prices anywhere near what it takes to make tar sands oil — with a break even price in the $70 – $80 range or higher — any time soon, if EVER.  That is in part the intention of the Saudi oil producers, along with a little targeted economic war on oil speculators.

 

The XL is a pipeline that will do one thing, and one thing only, privatize profits (if any) and shift to the public, aka socialize liabilities, costs and losses. Only the seriously ill-informed, the chronic teabagging ignorati, and those easily deceived and exploited support this activity. This is a great opportunity as well to break the choke hold of this special interest on our politics, and get this corruption OUT NOW.

 

It’s not going to produce jobs; not so long as Saudi oil is coming out of the ground at $1 a barrel. Rather it is only going to perpetuate us being over that Saudi barrel if we continue this fossil fuel insanity and stupidity.

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