36 Legislators call out flaws in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for Enbridge Line 3

36 Legislators formally commented on the draft EIS for Enbridge Line 3 and asked for a “vastly revised EIS.” Legislators identified and analyzed the deficiencies in four areas.

One. “The DEIS does not analyze the potential harm of a spill to the million plus Minnesotans who drink Mississippi River water” and fails to “address risk to warmwater streams.”

Two. The DEIS “fails to adequately address…key concerns of Indigenous communities.”

Three. The DEIS fails to directly address or incorporate Minnesota’s goals and policies regarding climate change.

Four. The DEIS does not comprehensively analyze a no-build alternative.

Read the comments here.

Going Backwards: Minnesota’s new environment laws.

Republicans made numerous proposals to take rights from citizens and give them to polluters. Some proposals failed, but of the ones that are now law, two stand out.

Until the law changed, Minnesotans had the right to raise questions about a Department of Natural Resources permit to mine decision by asking for a contested case hearing. There are obvious issues at stake like potential water pollution, plans to remediate the site, and financial assurance to protect taxpayers from cleaning up any mess left when the mines close.

Now only adjacent property owners will have the right to a contested case hearing. All other Minnesotans are now excluded even ones who could be directly harmed–for example, water pollution affecting someone’s property that was not adjacent to the mine or Minnesota taxpayers paying the bill for clean up. Who would have guessed that Minnesota would return to colonial times when only property owners had rights.

The other new law says that cities that upgrade their waste water treatment systems to comply with new or modified effluent limits do not have to upgrade again for another 16 years even if new health based standards are adopted.

There are 203 wastewater treatment systems in the upper Mississippi basin, the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans including those of us in Minneapolis.

In addition, the PCA’s new study of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants shows that the Crow River, which enters the Mississippi about 20 miles upstream from our drinking water intakes, is a hot spot for those contaminants. The Minnesota Department of Health’s testing of source water is very limited so there is no data to indicate concentrations of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants north of our drinking water intakes. One would hope that within the next 16 years PCA will want to require waste water systems to do a better job eliminating these contaminants.

It should go without saying that Minnesota law should not preclude wastewater treatment upgrades to meet health standards. It is simply unsafe and unfair to ask those who drink the water to ignore evolving drinking waster wastewater standards or clean up the contaminants that others create. Senators and House members who represent the communities that drink Mississippi River water wrote a letter to the Governor with that message but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decided to go along with the 16 year free pass that is now law.

Inquiring minds will be asking, just who is the Pollution Control Agency protecting?

Going backwards. Minnesota’s new energy laws.

This Republican energy bill that has been signed by the Governor and is now law harkens back to 1986 when President Reagan gutted renewable energy research and removed solar panels from White House roof. It would be hard to be more backward.

The bill sabotages our new Minnesota solar energy industry and with it good paying solar energy jobs. This bill does more than that but I will start with solar.

The Republican energy bill gets rid of the Made in Minnesota program that launched the Minnesota solar industry and 495 solar industry jobs. The bill also gets rid of the Renewable Development Fund that was created in the mid 1990s as part of the Prairie Island settlement between Xcel, the State, and the Prairie Island community. The settlement was designed to promote renewable energy and that is exactly what it has done.

Rather than spending the RDF dollars on promoting renewable energy, this Republican bill puts dollars in a newly created fund with different priorities.

Earmarks eat up much of the money. One earmark says that if Xcel terminates its contract with the poultry litter plant in Benson, or buys it out, then $20,000,000 of the former RDF dollars will be given to the city of Benson for economic development. Legislators have been told that Benson would use this money to help build a cheese factory. Similarly another earmark of $34,000,000 can be used for a gas plant in northern Minnesota.

Minnesotans spend billions (with a b) of dollars per year on electricity imported from other states and Canada. At stake in this Republican energy bill 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.To the extent Minnesotans can create electric energy from our abundant sun and wind, more dollars stay in Minnesota and circulate in Minnesota. That would be good for Minnesota’s economy, but not good for the fossil fuel industry that is dependent on Minnesota dollars leaving Minnesota.

It is well known that the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel industry friends continue to undermine renewable energy. Roof top solar, in particular, terrifies them. 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. If wind and solar out compete fossil fuels, then fossil fuel assets become less valuable so it is not surprising that attacks on solar are happening in many states besides ours

The Koch brothers and their friends were probably very disappointed when Governor Dayton vetoed HF 234. It allowed coops to settle complaints from customers and took away a customer’s ability to complain to the Public Utilities Commission. It did provide for mediation, but a coop has the final say.

Lo and behold, the bill reappeared in the final omnibus bill that was sent to the Governor. It is now law.

At issue for the coops were complaints to the PUC that the new fees that they were imposing for rooftop solar and small wind were too high and unreasonable. The PUC opened an investigation specifically asking the question: do the fees meet the requirements set in law or are the fees designed to capture lost revenues or are the fees deigned so that residential and small farm solar or wind no longer make economic sense?

Mediation is voluntary and if it doesn’t work, the customer who thought the coop was charging more than the law allowed wouldn’t be able to appeal to the PUC but only to the coop that set the fee in the first place.

A coop becomes a judge of itself. Worse, since the coop is now taking over the role of the PUC, it would be able to say that an appeal was made in bad faith or is frivolous and then the coop could collect the coop’s legal expenses. What customer would appeal under those circumstances? It would be risky.

While the investigation of the methodology used by coops to impose new fees will go forward at the PUC, that, by no means, insures that the coop will apply a new methodology correctly. So, coop customers have only two recourses: mediation with the coop as final decision maker or go to district court, a very expensive option.

Metro residents can choose to put solar on their roof without big and possibly changing fees. With HF 234, many in rural Minnesota will not have that same opportunity.

Sabotaging solar is not all that is wrong with this bill.

The bill takes away rights and opportunities for outstate citizens for cutting energy waste and saving money by eliminating CIP for small munis and coops. The conservation improvement program would no longer be required for smaller coops (12) and munis (38) and would eliminate efficient lighting, on-bill repayment and low-income programs for customers. Republicans promised more opportunities and here is another example of taking away opportunities for and estimated 40,000 to 62,000 customers.

Big oil and coal have just gotta love the Republican energy bill. They are dependent on dollars leaving this state and creating jobs and wealth in other states

But this bill, now new law, is not good for Minnesota or Minnesotans.

.

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.