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Environment

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)

Comment below fold.
 
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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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MN lege: When will the crazy end? Part 2

by Dan Burns on February 22, 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.
 

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