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Environment

MN Auditor lawsuit gets to court

by Dan Burns on June 27, 2016 · 0 comments

ottoAnd I for one wish the plaintiff very well.
 

Ramsey County Judge Lezlie Marek will decide in the coming weeks whether Minnesota lawmakers overstepped their authority by allowing counties to bypass the state auditor and hire private accounting firms to conduct financial audits.
 
State Auditor Rebecca Otto filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the 2015 law. Lawyers for Otto and the three counties she’s suing presented arguments during a court hearing Wednesday in St. Paul.
 
Otto contends the law is unconstitutional and will undermine the core function of her office. Her lawyer, Joe Dixon, described it as an “attack by the Legislature” and a “serious affront to the balance of power.”
(MPR)

If you don’t know the sordid background, here’s a primer. Judge Marek is a Pawlenty appointee, though I saw no indication during my admittedly brief and casual research that she’s notorious for partisanship from the bench. In his analysis, Prof. David Schultz seems to think it fairly likely that Ms. Otto will prevail.
 

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Minnesota water projects in limbo at best

by Dan Burns on June 24, 2016 · 0 comments

bwcaFMR is a cool and righteous organization. Click the link for specifics.
 

Our top special session priority is to secure full funding for clean water bonding projects. When Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a bonding package prior to the 2016 legislative session, it included robust funding for a variety of high-priority clean water programs and projects across the state.
 
Funding for many of these items was included in the final bonding bill, though not necessarily at the full amounts requested by the governor. We urge legislators to fund these priorities at the Governor’s original recommended levels in a special session bonding package.
(Friends of the Mississippi River)

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton resumed their special session talks Tuesday after a week’s hiatus but somehow moved further from a deal to bring lawmakers back for a special session on transportation, taxes and construction borrowing.
 
But no one is ready to bail out of the negotiations or give in just yet, but at this point, it’s become a zombie session, neither dead nor alive.
 
“I don’t have a deadline. I’m not setting a deadline. But at some point we’ll have to see whether we’re making any progress or getting farther and farther apart, which is what the result is today,” Dayton said after about an hour of closed-door discussions. “We don’t need to get even still farther apart.”
(MPR)

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Big Polluters target state attorneys general

by Dan Burns on June 22, 2016 · 0 comments

desertAnd in some cases they’re using sorry red state AG’s to do it. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is part of a coalition looking to hold Big Filthy Fossil Fuels accountable on climate change. She is not among those being directly targeted in this petty, vindictive fashion, yet. But it’s presumably just a matter of time.
 

ExxonMobil has sued to derail a second attorney general’s investigation of the oil giant’s climate record.
 
The company filed a complaint in federal district court in Fort Worth on (June 15) against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Her office subpoenaed Exxon records going back 40 years in an investigation of whether the company committed consumer or securities fraud by misrepresenting its knowledge of climate change.
 
In the same court, Exxon has a similar suit pending against Claude Walker, the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, who has launched a similar probe. Healey and Walker are part of a coalition of Democratic attorneys general trying to hold fossil fuel companies legally accountable for their conduct on climate change. The group was organized by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office initiated an Exxon inquiry last year.
(Inside Climate News)

You could call it the battle of the attorneys general: one side representing the public interest, exactly what attorneys general are supposed to do; the other side representing the special interests, exactly what they are not supposed to do.
 
In late March, 17 attorneys general held a press conference to announce they will defend the new federal rule curbing power plant carbon emissions and investigate energy companies that may have misled investors and the public about climate risks. They call themselves AGs United for Clean Power, and so far attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, New York and the Virgin Islands have launched investigations of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, for fraud.
 
In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange decided to push back. On May 16, they intervened on behalf of ExxonMobil to quash one of the investigations of the Irving, Texas-based company, accusing AGs United for Clean Power of trying to stifle the “debate” over climate science.
(Huffington Post)

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sulfideThis is not the PolyMet project. It is the one proposed for right next to the BWCA. Governor Dayton, among many others, already publicly opposes it. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has proposed federal legislation to block it.
 

U.S. Forest Service officials on Monday said they are “deeply concerned” about potential impacts of the proposed Twin Metals copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and announced a public comment period before the agency’s decision on extending mining leases for the project.
(Duluth News Tribune)

More:
 

Antofagasta PLC holds two federal mineral leases that were issued in 1966 as part of their Twin Metals Minnesota proposal. One of these mineral leases includes land within a quarter mile of the wilderness boundary. The Forest Service has been asked by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management whether it “consents” to the extension of these leases for ten more years. If the Forest Service does not give consent to extend these leases, Twin Metals’ sulfide mine proposal on the edge of the Boundary Waters would be prevented from polluting the wilderness…
 
The Forest Service will start a thirty day public input period beginning on June 20th, one week from (Monday). They will also hold a public hearing on whether to deny the Twin Metals leases in Duluth on July 13th. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness will be there in force, and intends to gather tens of thousands of public comments supporting a decision that protects the BWCA from sulfide mining.
(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

As for PolyMet, it’s still in the process of getting more permits. The world markets for copper and nickel remain ugly. (Click on the link and look at, for example, the five-year copper chart.)
 

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nemnRep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) doesn’t often make headlines. I suspect that that is precisely as she wants. But she does work on some really good ideas, and in those instances deserves public notice and approbation.
 

Fifty years ago (May 31), two federal mineral leases were signed for rights to copper, nickel and precious metals, just south of what would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
 
Those leases for the area south of Ely, Minn., are now in the hands of a mining company called Twin Metals — but they expired two and a half years ago. Renewal of the leases has languished in Washington, becoming the latest point of contention in a debate over whether mining should be considered so close to the BWCA.
 
The leases were first obtained by the International Nickel Company, which proposed 1,000-foot-deep open pit copper mine on the edge of the BWCA. But after a state moratorium to study the issue, copper prices tanked, and the project fizzled.
 
The federal Bureau of Land Management renewed the leases twice since then, with little fanfare.
 
But not this time. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, introduced a bill to prevent copper-nickel mining near the BWCA. McCollum says those leases were granted before modern environmental laws were passed.
(MPR)

Governor Dayton has also come out against the Twin Metals plan. The political lines have long since been drawn on this, and despite what some DFL doom-and-gloomers have to say there is no common sense reason to believe that this will somehow turn MN-08 red, now.
 

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Tar Sands by Garth Lenz_0It’s one of those never-ending sagas.
 

After 22 public hearings, long proceedings before the state Public Utilities Commission and a Minnesota Court of Appeals case, two proposed pipelines that would together carry more than one million barrels of oil per day across the northern part of the state find themselves again at the beginning of a long regulatory process…
 
The hearings were prompted by a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision last September. The ruling overturned a June 2015 decision by the utilities commission to grant the proposed Sandpiper pipeline a so-called “certificate of need,” saying state regulators first needed to complete a full-blown environmental impact statement for the project.
 
Calgary-based Enbridge has proposed two pipelines that would each stretch about 300 miles across the state. Sandpiper would carry 225,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken region of North Dakota to the company’s hub in Clearbrook, Minn. From there it would carry 375,000 barrels per day to Superior, Wis.
 
The company also plans to replace its existing Line 3, which was built in the 1960s and transports crude from the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada. By replacing the aging pipe, the company plans to boost the line’s capacity back up to 760,000 barrels per day.
(MPR)

A couple of relevant additional items:
 
…READ MORE

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bwcaOne likely result of Minnesota legislative Republicans’ arrant foolishness, short-sightedness…all of the things that conservatives everywhere are primarily defined by, is that we will likely lose out on a big federal match for Reinvest in Minnesota/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program funding.

 

RIM/CREP $30 million bonding is critical because Minnesota would receive a $60 million (2:1) federal match for a total of $90 million. It also protects thousands of acres of the most environmentally sensitive land; the CREP initiative will impact 100,000 acres during the next five years. Finally, $90 million would create or maintain over 800 jobs (according to Assessing the Economic Impacts of WRP and RIM on the Minnesota Economy, USDA-NRCS).
(Audubon Minnesota)

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Business as usual for Minnesota lege GOP

by Dan Burns on May 4, 2016 · 0 comments

mn_capitolA couple of current examples.
 

The American Energy Alliance, a prominent conservative energy group, said (April 27) it is backing a push in state legislatures across the United States to bar funding for work on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
 
This effort has already proved successful in several states this spring, including Virginia, Wyoming and Colorado, where lawmakers passed budget bills restricting money for state agencies to plan for the federal climate change regulation. Similar budget language is currently being floated in at least four other states, including Minnesota and Missouri…
 
And in Minnesota, where Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said the Supreme Court stay “does nothing to diminish our resolve in Minnesota to keep moving forward on clean energy initiatives, including the development of our state’s Clean Power Plan,” the Legislature is also moving forward with a bill to bar funding for compliance work with the rule unless the stay is lifted.
(ClimateWire)

A proposal to boost spending for so-called “student support services” will get a look in final budget negotiations as the end of the legislative session nears.
 
Advocates say the need for more counselors, social workers and other support workers is critical in Minnesota. But heading into negotiations, the DFL-controlled Senate and GOP-controlled House are far apart on the issue.
 
The Senate wants to set aside $13.1 million for matching grants to help schools hire more counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses and drug addiction counselors. The House doesn’t want any money for the idea so far — its bill calls for studying the proposal and reporting back next year.
(MPR)

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Keeping filthy fossil fuels on the run

by Dan Burns on April 14, 2016 · 0 comments

solar2A few pleasing items. This first one is a bit wonky, but it does have considerable real-world importance.
 

In a stunning trend with broad implications, the U.S. economy has grown significantly since 2007, while electricity consumption has been flat, and total energy demand actually dropped…
 
Equally remarkable, this “decoupling” between energy consumption and GDP growth extends to the power sector: “Since 2007, electricity demand has been flat, compared to a compounded annual growth rate of 2.4% from 1990 to 2000.” As I discussed in my recent renewables series, this decoupling is an unprecedented achievement in modern U.S. history. It may seem especially remarkable for an economy underpinned by soaring usage of the internet and electronic equipment — but as I wrote in a 1999 report, a true Internet-based economy was always likely to be a more efficient economy.
(Think Progress)

“How Green Energy is already taking over the World”

 
– “Existing state laws collectively require a 50 percent increase in US renewable electricity

 
And a mega-coal company, Peabody Energy, just declared bankruptcy. If you do click, read the whole article, not just the happy face industry flacks try to put on this.
 

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desertAt this point, they’re talking investigations. Prosecutions will hopefully follow. Then, convictions, mega-fines, and maybe even terms of imprisonment. But all of that will likely take a while.
 

“ClimateTruth.org applauds the 17 state attorneys general who sent a clear message to ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies today: climate fraud will no longer be tolerated. For decades, ExxonMobil and its industry peers have spent billions intentionally misleading investors and general public about the dangers of climate change, resulting in an American public where only 64% accept climate science compared to over 97% of actual climate scientists. This fraud, perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry, has resulted in dangers like rising sea levels, superstorms, and droughts, all threatening the fabric of our global economy, security, and society,” said Emily Southard, Campaign Director of ClimateTruth.org.
(Climate Truth)

As one of the country’s best state AG’s, Lori Swanson’s record includes going after the likes of Globe University, Accretive Health, and the National Arbitration Forum. One could suggest that she doesn’t get enough press for that, but maybe that’s how she wants it.
 

Of course I too have seen her name repeatedly floated as a potential DFL gubernatorial candidate in 2018. I have no idea where she might personally be on that, right now.
 

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