Going backwards: the Clean Water Legacy provisions that are now law.

In my April 20th post, “Why did House Republicans take Clean Water Legacy money from rural MN communities that don’t have protection plans for their drinking water wells?” I sounded a hopeful note. Rep. Gunther said he wanted to restore Clean Water Legacy money that would be used to protect drinking water.

But that is not what happened.

The dollars for drinking water in the Legacy bill don’t come close to helping the communities that need money to protect their drinking water wells. Mainly these are outstate Minnesota communities that Republicans promised to help. There was no money to help protect the Mississippi, the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans. In fact, protections for the Mississippi were weakened.

The Department of Health was given enough money to help 20 communities figure out how to protect their drinking water wells.

But there are 380 communities that don’t yet have source water protection plans. (170 vulnerable, 210 non-vulnerable). At the rate of providing funding for 20 per biennium, the number that is in the Legacy bill, community protection plans won’t get done until 2056.

Once a community figures it out what it needs to do to protect its drinking water then there is the challenge of actually protecting drinking water.

There are 960 community public drinking water systems in Minnesota: about 500 have source water protection plans. Those communities and the Department of Health have figured out that 407,000 acres surrounding community wells are highly vulnerable to contamination. But at this point, only 9,900 acres are protected by easements. 5,000 acres could be protect with new CREP money so that means 392,100 acres still need to be protected–and remember these are only the highly vulnerable acres in communities that currently have plans.

If you add up all the money provided for drinking water in the Legacy bill and Health doesn’t spend anything on other essentials, 1,100 additional acres could be protected in the next biennium.

At this rate it would take 708 years to protect the rest of the highly vulnerable acres in communities that currently have plans.

Minnesota is approaching spending a billion dollars of clean water money.

And this is where we are with drinking water. 708 years to go. And that isn’t counting protecting the Mississippi or dealing with thousands of private drinking water wells that have been contaminated through no fault of the owner.

Message to House Republicans–don’t leave MN unprepared for climate change because it is easier to ignore it than to problem solve

The money earned from investing lottery profits has funded, among other things, science projects that will protect Minnesota’s natural resources. The House Republicans cut many of the science projects from the recommendations made by the Minnesota Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources. Eight of the projects that were cut made advances in solar or otherwise acknowledged climate change.

I was part of a press conference today that highlighted the projects that the Republicans cut that would help Minnesota prepare for climate change:

A University of MN proposal to develop less expensive, more efficient solar cells using a new material, and putting it on a medium that can be rolled.

Another U proposal takes satellite data through the U’s super computer to produce high resolution climate model projections for each 3 mile by 3 mile area for the entire state enabling Minnesota to prepare for anticipated local changes in climate.

Another U proposal would develop a technology that will absorb and store thermal energy so it can be used during cloudy days or at night.

The Center For Energy and Environment proposes to analyze how distributed clean energy could replace the need for, or defer, expensive transmission lines.

Two proposals from the University of MN at Morris: one would evaluate solar for the dairy industry; the other would develop robotic weed control systems that can be manufactured by Minnesota companies.

Another U proposal would create an energy storage guide for renewable energy that would be easy for community-scale generators to use.

Finally a proposal by the Will Stegner group would continue their statewide work to educate youth about Minnesota’s climate and its impact on our natural resources.

The message of our press conference was this: don’t leave Minnesota unprepared for the future and falling behind others states because it is easier to ignore climate change than to problem solve.

The swamp creatures from Dow Chemical are thriving in the swamp Trump promised to drain

An AP Exclusive revealed that Dow Chemical and two other manufacturers asked the Trump administration to “set aside” government studies that found even tiny levels of exposure to Dow’s chlorpyrifos could hinder the development of a child’s brain.

The industry request follows the announcement by EPA head Scott Pruitt that he was was reversing an Obama-era effort to bar the use of chlorpyrifos on food.

AP further reported that “when Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.

“Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,” Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir.”

Why is there more opportunity for solar in the metro than in outstate Minnesota?

In her story, “Solar energy disparity emerges among Minnesota schools,” MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar contrasts the investments in solar by school districts in the Xcel service area with the lack of investments in those schools districts served by coops in outstate Minnesota.

Basically all of us in the Xcel service area have opportunities that aren’t available to those who live in outstate Minnesota. Dunbar does a good job describing the problem, a prerequisite to finding the solution.

In the last election, House Republicans said that they would be the ones who would provide more opportunities for outstate Minnesotans. Outstate Minnesotans are waiting.

Why did House Republicans take Clean Water Legacy money from rural MN communities that don’t have protection plans for their drinking water wells?

The legislature can change, and does change, recommendations from stakeholder groups and citizen groups. What is surprising is that the Republican-controlled House Legacy Committee took $6,492,000 away from projects recommended by the Clean Water Council, a stakeholder group, that would have protected drinking water when most of the money would have been spent in rural Minnesota. After all, Republicans did promise that they would be the ones who would take care of rural Minnesota.

Understanding how contaminants might reach a municipal drinking water well is fundamental to protecting public health. Some of this money could have paid for experts who could work with local communities to develop source water protection plans for their municipal drinking water wells.

There are 852 community public drinking water wells in Minnesota. Right now only 355 wells have protection plans; 117 are in process. That means 380 don’t have plans at all.

So, do Republicans not care about drinking water?
Or, do Republicans not care about rural Minnesota?
Or, do Republicans not care about drinking water in rural Minnesota?

Those seem to be the choices.

April 20, an update: Rep Gunther is looking a remedy. All Minnesotans should wish him success.

Republican energy bill sabotages Mn solar– keeping us dependent on fossil fuels produced outside of MN–a big gift to Koch brothers and their fossil fuel friends

The Republican energy bill that passed the House sabotages our new Minnesota solar energy industry–and more.

It is well known that the Koch brothers and their fellow fossil fuel friends continue to undermine renewable energy. Roof top solar, in particular, terrifies them. Their worry, of course, is that solar will become as cheap as or cheaper than wind energy which is already out-competing their fossil fuel assets. If wind and solar out-compete fossil fuels, then the Koch brothers assets –and the assets of their fellow fossil fuel friends– are no longer as valuable. So there is a lot of motivation for the fossil fuel industry, and attacks on solar are happening in many states besides ours.

Minnesotans spend billions (with a b) of dollars each year on electricity imported from other states. These billions do not include international imports like hydro-power from Manitoba. So at stake are dollars and jobs that could be created in Minnesota OR dollars that we will continue to send to other states and jobs that we continue to support in other states.

Obviously, there are no fossil fuel resources in Minnesota. So to the extent Minnesotans can create electric energy from the sun and wind, more dollars stay in Minnesota and circulate in Minnesota. That would be good for Minnesota and jobs in Minnesota, but not good for the Koch brothers and their fellow fossil fuel friends who are dependent on Minnesota dollars leaving Minnesota.

The House Republican energy bill gets rid of the Made in Minnesota program that kickstarted the Minnesota solar industry and created 495 solar industry jobs.

The bill gets rid of the Renewable Energy Fund that was created, as part of the Prairie Island settlement, to promote renewable energy and that is exactly what it has done. Along with Made in Minnesota, it jump started the solar industry in Minnesota. But there is more; the bill tells Xcel, here you keep some of the money that you were paying into the Renewable Energy Fund– even though the nuclear waste casks are still where they always were–and then take the rest of the money and put it in a fund with rules that make sure the money can’t be spent on solar.

So the bill turns the Prairie Island settlement that was created to promote renewable energy on its head.

Wind energy was very expensive when the Renewable Energy Fund was created. But Minnesota continued to promote it and the price of wind energy dropped like a rock. Xcel has testified that it now builds windmills as a hedge against fossil fuel costs.

Solar is expected to do the same. And for Minnesota that would be a super good deal. MN dollars would stay in MN creating MN jobs.

Minnesota solar installers have made a compelling case that if we get rid of Made in Minnesota solar and stop the support from the Renewable Energy Fund, their businesses here will cease. But in as few as three – four years when solar is even cheaper, large businesses will move into Minnesota to provide solar for Minnesotans. They asked, wouldn’t it be better to nurture Minnesota grown businesses.

There are other provisions that pull the legs out from under solar, but there is no need to go over those provisions to understand what is happening in this bill.

But sabotaging solar is not all that is wrong with this bill.

There are legislative power grabs. Taking the money from the Renewable Energy Fund and putting it in legislative hands was one power grab. There are others. The bill takes away the Governor’s power to appoint all the Public Utilities Commissioners. And the bill asserts legislative control over money that will be allocated by the trust that was created by the US District Court in Northern California as part of the Volkswagen settlement. The problem as we have discussed before is that, if the legislature did assert control, Minnesota would lose its share of the money. The trust specifically requires the Governor to certify that his delegated agency has binding legal authority to allocate the dollars. The provision in the bill makes sure that the Governor can’t do that. It’s totally self defeating.

And then there are the provisions that take away rights and opportunities for Minnesotans. Taking away certificates of need for large energy projects is taking away the rights of the neighbors of the project to be notified and their right to question what is going on. Totally unfair.

The bill also takes away the opportunities for customers of small munis and coops to save money on electricity by adopting efficiency measures supported by the utility. Again, taking away the opportunities of some Minnesotans is unfair.

Then there is the gift to the oil pipeline giant Enbridge–allowing it to avoid all regulatory authority before constructing a new pipeline. Again taking away the rights of Minnesotans to give a gift to the fossil fuel industry.

So the House Republican energy bill takes us back to before 1986 when President Reagan gutted renewable energy research and removed solar panels from the White House roof. It would be hard to be more backward.

A bad, VERY BAD, environment bill has passed the House

The House environment bill will now go to conference committee where a bad bill made worse would be sent to the Governor for a very likely veto. Or, as some have speculated, the Senate would accept the House’s bill and it would go straight to the Governor for signature or veto.

Besides giving environment agencies $94 million less to spend in the next two years than they have to spend in the current two years, the bill contains a host of bad changes to current law. It would simply take too long to list them all so here are just some of the highlights or, more accurately, lowlights.

Right now Minnesotans have the ability to weigh in on permits to pollute and on environmental impact statements that evaluate a project that will affect them. In the name of efficiency the Chamber of Commerce wants to take away rights that citizens now have. It certainly is efficient. But it is not fair. There are 7 different provisions in the Chamber bill that take away citizen rights and all were included in the House bill.

Irrigators also wanted added rights and they were included in the bill. Irrigators seem to think we are governed by western water law which gives a priority for water to certain early users. Under Minnesota water law all get a fair share so giving additional rights to some takes away current rights of the irrigator’s neighbors.

Some cities that need to build or refurbish their wastewater treatment system asked for and got a provision that says they don’t have to do any upgrades for 16 years. There are over 200 wastewater treatment systems that put their effluent into the upper Mississippi basin, the drinking water source for a million Minnesotans including those of us in Minneapolis. Moreover, the PCA’s new study of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants shows that the Crow River which enters the Mississippi just upstream from our drinking water intakes is a hot spot for those contaminants. One would hope that before the next 16 years are up, PCA will want to require waste water systems to do a better job eliminating these contaminants. Given the science that is exploding on this issue, I would expect moms and dads to be way ahead of PCA. No one wants their kids drinking someone else’s drugs. 

There are 109 old landfills that volunteered to get into the State’s landfill cleanup program that protects groundwater from the toxic leakage from these old landfills. One landfill, Freeway in Burnsville, was still making money at a transfer station on the landfill site, so it refused to volunteer the program and is now a Federal Superfund site. The bill indemnifies everybody–including haulers and those who put hazardous waste into the landfill. That is, state taxpayers will pay all costs of clean up–no matter what the federal government chooses to charge–and the state will pay all legal fees and any other costs — forever. In the Freeway landfill case the PCA estimates the cost to clean up will be $67 million. Legal fees and other costs could bring this total to an estimated $134million. Basically the bill creates a legal morass that opens the state’s checkbook and says to lawyers, have at it, with absolutely no guarantee that the landfill will actually be cleaned up.

There were numerous lawsuits against Volkswagen because it cheated and their cars emitted much more air pollution than allowed. The bill requires legislative approval before any of the $47 million that Minnesota is getting from a large Volkswagen settlement can be spent. The trust agreement created by the settlement requires Governor Dayton to certify that the allocations of the dollars made by the Pollution Control Agency will be legally binding. The Governor can’t make that certification if the legislature has the ability to override PCA.

And then there are the numerous changes to the buffer law. The Governor has repeatedly said, no more changes.

There’s more but isn’t that enough for you, someone with Minnesota values, to know that this is a bad, VERY BAD, environment bill?

ALEC MN Chair, Rep. Pat Garofalo takes credit for killing cheaper, more efficient solar

For those who may not know, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by the Koch brothers and their big fossil fuel friends. ALEC has been particularly interested in undermining solar energy. The fossil fuel industry worries that solar energy will become as cheap as wind energy which is already outcompeting fossil fuels. If renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels then the assets held by the fossil fuel industry will become less and less valuable.

The project that Rep. Garofalo takes credit for killing was designed to develop inexpensive, high-efficiency solar energy by using a new photovoltaic material and roll-to-roll manufacturing technology.

This project was one of six relating to solar energy that was recommended for funding by the Legislative Citizens Commission for Natural Resources, the group that recommends grants from lottery proceeds. Each of these six projects was deleted from the LCCMR package by the Republican controlled Environment and Natural Resources Committee in the House.

Here is what the five other projects that were deleted would have accomplished:

Create a research-based energy storage guide for small renewable energy generators;

Develop a new clean technology system to absorb and store solar energy during the daytime so the solar energy can be used at a later time;

Evaluate the use of solar for both generating farm electricity and for using the
shade from the system to promote animal welfare and increased milk production;

Determine whether targeted distribution of clean energy generation can replace or defer the need for transmission upgrades;

Develop and test the potential for robots to manage weeds in pastures as a way to reduce herbicide use.

You can see what Rep. Garofalo did last year in the April 12, 2016 post titled “Cheaper, more efficient solar. Rep. Pat Garofalo says no. Chalk up another gift to fossil fuel folks.”

If that isn’t enough, there’s more. The Republican lead Environment and Natural Resources Committee also eliminated LCCMR recommended grants that mentioned climate change.