So unMinnesotan…

May 16th, 2016

The White Earth Nation of Ojibwe proposes to preserve 2034 acres of wildlife habitat with 6,500 feet along the Wild Rice River using some of the Legacy money. Members of the Outdoor Heritage Council who make recommendations for spending Legacy money, recommended this proposal, a good choice. The habitat potential is outstanding.

But the House environment committee, headed up by Rep. Denny McNamara, decided that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources should be the grant recipient even though DNR did not ask to be the recipient, the White Earth Nation has the purchase agreement for the land, and the land is within the White Earth Reservation.

For the record, The White Earth Nation is experience in restoring and managing lands with wild rice beds and will open it up for public hunting and fishing. In accordance with White Earth Nation hunting regulations there will not be wolf hunting on the property.

When the Legacy bill came to the House floor for a vote, Rep. Persell offered an amendment that would have the White Earth Nation purchase the land and restore the proposal as originally recommended. Rep. Flanagan spoke in support. Hear what they had to say:

Rep. McNamera spoke in opposition saying that having DNR own the land, “solved the problem.” The only problem Rep. McNamera mentioned was that the seasons for DNR and the tribes are not the same.

Projects recommended by the Outdoor Heritage Council don’t usually face opposition. The StarTribune editorial board said “(o)pposition to the project has not been based on its merits, but on the tribe’s involvement. That’s wrong.” The StarTribune has it right.

It is time to get the lead out. For children, that should be all of it. Not just some of it.

May 10th, 2016

The Minnesota Department of Health declares ( burdenreport.pdf page 8 ) “(t)here is no safe level of exposure to lead.” So far so good. The Department also says “(e)levated blood lead levels in young children are associated with adverse health effects, including learning impairment, behavioral problems and even death at very high levels” and “(t)esting for lead poisoning is important as it often occurs with no identifiable symptoms.” There is scientific consensus supporting these statements.

But then the Department tells us that their standard for investigation and remediation of lead sources is 5 ug/dL. How can this be?

Many years ago several colleagues and I tried to get the Department of Health to reduce the threshold for an elevated blood level which was then at 10 ug/dL. We were unsuccessful. The reason given by the Department was cost. The Department was unwilling to ask for the necessary appropriation.

In “The Costs of Childhood Blood Lead Poisoning” section of its “Economic Burden of the Environment on Childhood Disease in Minnesota 2014,” the Department of Health points out that the economic burden of childhood lead poisoning in Minnesota is enormous. It does not do a similar calculation of the cost of prevention.

However, the report does point out that children in poverty are at greater risk for lead poisoning. The report does not say that these children are disproportionately children of color, but that is likely the case.

Flint is the billboard that states the obvious. Elevated lead levels would not have been tolerated if the children involved were all middle class, all white.

The Minnesota Department of Health does not need additional legislative authority to do what needs to be done and that is set the lead level for children at zero. After all, it already knows the science: “(t)here is no safe level of exposure to lead.”

Republican roadblocks for renewable energy designed to please the fossil fuel industry

April 24th, 2016

It is not too early to predict that this will be the least productive legislative session ever. And since that probably means none of the Republican energy proposals will become law, that is all to the good.

Rep. Garofalo chairs the energy committee so we can safely say that the proposals in his bill are the Republican proposals. He also co-chairs Minnesota ALEC so we can also safely say that he wants to please the fossil fuel industry. He does not disappoint. Let us count the ways:

1. The bill prohibits state agencies from spending any money to produce a state plan for reduced carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants as required by the Federal Clean Power Plan. The coal industry must be particularly pleased with this provision.

2. The bill says the municipal utilities and electric cooperatives can have a zero goal of annual energy savings. Most of their electricity is generated from coal so the coal industry would be pleased with this, too.

3. The bill puts a cap on the amount that Xcel is required to put in the Renewable Development Fund. This means that there will be less money available for supporting renewable energy projects including the Made in MN Solar rebate program.

4. The bill exempts sales of natural gas and electricity to pipelines as a way to reduce the conservation spending requirements for a utility and prohibits a pipeline facility from participating in a utility conservation program.

5. The bill prohibits a site permit from being granted to a solar project if the developer will cut down at least 75% of the trees in a 3 acre area. The author of the amendment, Rep. O’Neill was asked if she would also want to put this restriction on a commercial development or an agriculture development. She declined.

These provisions are included in an omnibus bill, HF 3931, that is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, April 27. More later.

Cheaper, more efficient solar. Rep. Pat Garofalo says no. Chalk up another gift to fossil fuel folks.

April 12th, 2016

It is well known that the Koch brothers and their fellow fossil fuel barons continue to undermine renewable energy. Los Angles Times

Roof top solar, in particular, terrifies them.The Washington Post Their worry, of course, is that solar will become as cheap or cheaper than wind energy which is already out competing their fossil fuel assets.

Legislation targeting solar is being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, a non profit supported by the Kochs. Our own Rep. Pat Garofalo, chair of the House energy committee, is Minnesota State Co-chair of ALEC. So when the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources unamiously recommended a University of Minnesota proposal for a grant from lottery proceeds to develop more efficient and cheaper solar cells, Rep. Garofalo said no.

The proposal from a professor in the U’s Department of Mechanical Engineering is particularly innovative and useful. It is also cutting edge, using a material that is lighter, cheaper and more efficient than silica. The money from lottery proceeds will be used to develop the techniques needed and field test the new photovoltaic material. This is the very basic research that the U does well and our industries depend on.

The proposal was taken out of the LCCMR bill in the House environment committee but is still in the Senate’s LCCMR bill.

Denying science is not just for climate change. Bluestem Prairie nails it.

March 20th, 2016

Rep. Hansen offered an amendment to the Outdoor Heritage Bill that said that new lands acquired with Outdoor Heritage money should not be planted or otherwise treated with a product that contains a pollinator lethal insecticide. Since Outdoor Heritage money can only be used to protect, restore or enhance habitat, the amendment should not have been been considered even remotely controversial.

But Rep. Torkelson objected saying that there was no scientific proof that pollinators would benefit from being protected from a pollinator lethal insecticide. Read about it here.

Are you surprised about what happened next?

Senators Klobushar and Franken voted “no”

March 16th, 2016

The U. S. Senate, on a 48-49 vote today, March 16, 2016, fell short of the number of votes needed to advance legislation that would have barred states from mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Senators Klobusher and Franken voted “no.”

What was Senator Klobuchar thinking?

March 16th, 2016

March 14, 2016 email to Senator Klobuchar:

Dear Senator Klobuchar,

I was astonished to read about your GMO vote.

Minnesotans don’t like to be patronized. They do not want food businesses to tell them that food businesses know what is best for them.

Minnesotans understand that GMO crops were developed so that pesticides can be applied without killing the crop.

Concerns about pesticide use have grown exponentially in the last few years. That is not surprising. Minnesotans have read story after story about monarchs. They have read story after story about bee kills. And fish kills. And now we are hearing about the near extinction of two iconic prairie butterflies. The working assumption is, if we are losing Minnesota butterflies, it is very likely we are also losing native bees, moths and other pollinators.

Minnesotans are starting to take action. A rapidly expanding number of jurisdictions have adopted pollinator friendly resolutions for their communities. Legislators are holding pollinator forums and the attendance has been outstanding. Minnesotans are asking their elected official to do more to protect pollinators. Your GMO vote is going in the exact opposite direction.

Pesticides are getting in our drinking water. Just before Governor Dayton’s water summit, PCA issued a statement saying in part:

“(n)itrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater and comes from sources like agricultural fertilizer and animal manure. Up to 60 percent of the groundwater samples from monitoring wells in central Minnesota are contaminated with nitrate well beyond the safe drinking water standard.”

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s own data show that where there is nitrogen in groundwater, there very likely will be pesticides. And, if there is a lot of nitrogen, then it is very likely that there will be a lot of pesticides. Nitrogen is not a perfect marker for pesticides; pesticides have been found in groundwater even when there is no nitrogen present.

The Department of Health may be able to tell us what might be a safe level of one pesticide, but where there are multiple pesticides, current science can’t tell us about the cumulative or compounding effect of pesticides even when individually some or all may be at very low levels.

This linked article provides a good summary of the known impacts and likely human risks of glyphosate.

The bigger problem, especially for children, is not nitrogen, it is pesticides. It must be solved. It won’t be solved by ignoring the reason that industry developed GMOs.

Jean Wagenius

Solving our waters problems requires dealing with the pesticide issue

March 3rd, 2016

Remarks at Environmental Initiative forum, March 3, 2016

When we are at our best, Minnesotans are problem solvers. However, we can’t do our best work unless we define the problem correctly.

Right now, when we define our water problem, we say there is too much nitrogen in both our groundwater and in our lakes, rivers and streams. Just before the water summit, PCA stated:

“(n)itrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater and comes from sources like agricultural fertilizer and animal manure. Up to 60 percent of the groundwater samples from monitoring wells in central Minnesota are contaminated with nitrate well beyond the safe drinking water standard. Drinking water contaminated with nitrate can lead to illnesses such as Blue Baby Syndrome, a fatal blood disorder in infants.”

In those sentences, PCA give us three messages: we care about children, there is an unsafe level of nitrogen in drinking water in some parts of Minnesota, and since there are no reports of Blue Baby Syndrome, nitrogen is an issue but not a worry yet. No urgency here.

However, the Department of Agriculture’s own data shows that where there is nitrogen in groundwater, there very likely will be pesticides. And, if there is a lot of nitrogen, then it is very likely that there will be a lot of pesticides. The problem for children is not nitrogen, it is pesticides. Now we have the very definition of urgency.

The Department of Health may be able to tell us what might be a safe level of one pesticide, but where there are multiple pesticides, current science can’t tell us about the cumulative or compounding effect of pesticides even when individually some or all may be at very low levels. So what do we tell well owners, especially well owners with children?

Just as White Bear Lake became the poster child for water quantity, Hastings is well on its way to becoming the poster child for water quality. In its 2014 Drinking Water report, the Minnesota Department of Health put the estimated cost of cleaning up contaminated water in Hastings at a staggering $9 million. That is for cleaning up municipal well water from nitrogen. The Department of Health has not yet wrapped its arms around the pesticide issue.

But not everyone in Dakota County drinks municipal well water. The Department of Agriculture has been testing private drinking water wells in Dakota County and has found nitrogen in hundreds of private wells. That’s bad enough, but what is even more problematic, many of the most contaminated wells were in the area designated as the source water protection area for the Hastings municipal wells. Clearly our source water protection plans need to be reevaluated. They are not protecting source water –mainly, I expect, because the areas have been identified but little or nothing has actually been done.

So what do we tell well owners. Hopefully we tell them the truth: where there is nitrogen, there very likely will be pesticides and, if there is a lot of nitrogen, then it is very likely that there will be a lot of pesticides. And even at low levels, we simply don’t know how they may interact or cumulate.

One additional problem; nitrogen is not a perfect indicator of pesticides. The Department of Agriculture’s data show that there can be pesticides even when there is no nitrogen present.

So now what?

Some well owners will want an alternative drinking water source. It is unfair, to say the very least, that well owners are put in the position of needing to clean up water that they did not contaminate or to otherwise find an alternative source. Providing help, especially to families with children, should be a shared top priority.

So are pesticides a problem just because they show up in groundwater; of course not.

The six and a half mile Whitewater fish kill last summer was described as an acute toxic event even though the likely pesticide culprits were not named. It wasn’t just the fish that were killed but every aquatic creature in the six and a half miles.

Pheasants eat the corn seed that is coated with neonics. Their young don’t have the insects needed to grow. Ask how pheasants are doing.

The most troubling indicator of all in the wild is the almost demise of two butterflies that once covered our prairies. Good observers say that they started to disappear with aerial spraying for soy aphids. What about the fate of the other pollinators in the same area—the native bees, moths, etc.? We don’t know.

Back to problem solving. It’s time to name the biggest threat to our waters and our pollinators. Now we have reason to move with speed.

February 16th, 2016


The Department of Ag’s Pollinator Summit didn’t reach very high

February 15th, 2016

The Department of Agriculture’s Pollinator Summit was held on February 12. Its intended outcome was clear: plant more flowers, especially along highways, and not much more. Planting flowers is super but, at the scale proposed, will do little to stop pollinator decline.

DNR estimates that a living roadside habitat program would cover only 0.8% of the acreage of the state. And establishing native habitat to replace current plantings would take many years. The legislature has already amended our statues to require upgrading habitat on the rest of state lands.

Dr. Eric Runquist from the Minnesota Zoo talked about two native butterflies that are endanger of extinction and in the course of his presentation said that he found lethal levels of pesticide drift from arial spraying a half mile from the intended site.

We have no idea how many native pollinators we have lost or what the rate of loss is. Many want to concentrate on honey bees but our House staff estimates that honey bees pollinate only about 3-6 percent of the acres in Minnesota. The rest of the work is done by native species.

On the morning of the 12th, the Star Tribune published a commentary piece by Rep. Rick Hansen. After describing the problem Hansen said:

  • At a minimum, these recommendations should emerge from the Pollinator Summit if we’re to see progress and not just small steps that will appease big agricultural-chemical companies:

    •  Stop using neonics on state lands. There is no reason neonic-treated seeds or plants should be planted on state lands, especially if those public lands are meant to protect, restore, and enhance water and wildlife.

    •  Farmers deserve a choice. When registering pesticides, the state Agriculture Department must insist that these large, multinational agricultural/chemical companies offer farmers an untreated seed option.

    •  Create pollinator-safe zones. To protect pollinating bees, bugs and butterflies from lethal drift, the Agriculture Department should follow the lead of other states and use its authority to place protective limits on where pollinator-lethal pesticides can be sprayed.

    •  Start looking to determine full effects and impacts of the new chemistry. Testing and analyzing food and water for neonics is important, because we need to better understand the risk neonics pose to people and the environment. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also should begin testing wildlife for neonics so we know about any unintended consequences.

    •  Create protected habitat and corridors. Honeybees are one of many pollinators. If native pollinators are to make a comeback and thrive, then we need protected habitat and corridors that are both free of pollinator-lethal pesticides and have ample flowers from spring through fall.

    At the end of the Friday session, participants were asked to put dots on the recommended ideas from working groups. Rick’s five point plan received the most dots. I eagerly await Ag’s report on the forum!