The worst energy bill ever sabotages solar. And that’s not all.

Rep. Pat Garofalo has introduced his draft Omnibus Energy Bill.   Since he is Chair of the House Jobs Creation and Energy Affordability Committee, his bill is the Republican bill.

The Garofalo bill incorporates the energy-related ideas and bills that had been heard in his committee. Rep. Garofalo then found more bad ideas to include. This post would be much too long if it did more than scratch the surface. So it just covers the worst of the worst. Two of the worst of the worst were presented earlier in committee so there are earlier and more detailed posts about them. The earlier posts are noted below.

In summary, Rep. Garofalo’s bill would dismantle most of Minnesota’s efforts to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by repealing the laws that support these efforts. He totally sabotages solar.

In 62 pages he does a lot more, like proposing to make gifts to coal, the Koch brothers, and people wealthy enough to buy electric cars.

Before the worst of the worst, the back story needs to be told. The fight brewing in Minnesota is just one of many happening across the U.S. In an article entitled “Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar,” The Washington Post reported on the campaign by utitlites and its fossil-fuel supporters to stop residential solar. The Post says that legislation to make net metering illegal or more expensive has been introduced in legislatures in nearly two dozen states. The Los Angeles Times article, “Koch brothers, big utilities attack solar, green energy policies” links the effort against net metering to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers.

The worst of the worst:

One, the bill would repeal the quantitative state goals for reducing green house gas emissions and says the state should reduce green house gas emisssions “in an affordable manner.” Whatever that means.

Two, the bill would allow either the Minnesota House or Senate to veto the plan that is now in the process of being developed by the Dayton administration to significantly reduce carbon emissions in our energy sector by 2020 and 2030. The plan is being developed in response to the EPA’s proposed rule on carbon. Since the bill would allow the House or Senate to veto any other carbon reduction plan that might be developed, the bill is not a negotiating tactic, rather it’s designed for gridlock. (The post, “Coal: the Republican answer to global warming,” has details.)

This new strategy of trying to give the legislative branch veto power over an action taken by the executive branch is a product of ALEC, which gets a lot of its financial support from the fossil fuel industry. (The post, “New Republican Strategy: redesign government for the benefit of polluters”, has details.)

Three, the bill would repeal current law prohibiting (1) importing electricity from new coal fired plants in other states, and  (2) long-term agreements to purchase power from sources that would increase statewide carbon dioxide emissions. These  prohibitions were part of the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 and were designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Left in the law is a prohibition of construction of new coal-fired plants in Minnesota. The upshot is that electricity from new coal-fired plants would be imported from other states where Minnesota has no control over emissions. (The post, “Vote repeals a critical part of landmark 2007 Next Generation Energy Act”, has details.)

Four, the bill would repeal the energy improvement program that has successfully reduced inefficiencies by electric users.  We do not know how much inefficiency is embedded in all of the things we do that require energy. It does seem that our utilities are dependent on a lot of inefficiency for their revenue.

Five, the bill would repeal the moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction.

Six, the last thing to highlight is by no means the least. The bill comes down hard on all things solar. It would allow the solar energy standard to be met  “through the use of solar energy or any other more affordable eligible energy technology” which, of course, is intended to gut the solar standard. The bill would also end the solar energy incentive program and change net metering.

The argument used by utilities and its fossil fuel friends against net metering is that it shifts costs to other rate payers. The anti-solar folks brought a witness from Boston to Rep. Garofalo’s committee who made that argument. However, he was very selective in the data he used and excluded the solar benefits of reducing air pollution and greenhouse gasses. Our Pollution Controal Agency estimates that air pollution costs Minnesota $30 billion a year. The “b” is not a typo.

A welcome story on an unwelcome problem, contaminated drinking water wells

Tony Kennedy of the StarTribune uses Governor Dayton’s visit to Worthington to raise the issue of drinking water contamination from farm chemicals citing the problem in a town just west of Worthington. Governor Dayton’s trip to Worthington centered on buffer strips to protect surface waters. Minnesotans are well aware of surface water problems. The media has covered the story well. But the same can’t be said about the wide spread contamination of both municipal and private wells by those same farm chemicals. The issue is just barely coming to light. I am hoping for more media coverage. We need a public discussion before we can get to problem solving.

MPR’s timely report, “Minnesota farm lobbyist flex new political muscle”

In the last blog post, “Pollinators: under attack by lobbyists and legislators alike,” one of the examples I cited was the adoption of a Senator Dahms amendment to delete key language supporting pollinators. According to MPR, Senator Dahms’ amendment to remove the definition of a “pollinatory lethal insecticide” from state statute “has the backing of the pesticide industry.” It seemed like the attacks on pollinator friendly legislation were coordinated. The MPR report adds weight to that observation.

The quote from Rep. Rick Hansen is further telling, “(t)he money is the pollution in the system here in the Minnesota Legislature and it’s getting worse.”

Pollinators: under attack by lobbyists and legislators alike

Just a year ago the loss of pollinators was big news. The legislature responded with a bucket full of different strategies ml2013-14_pollinatorleg-final-3.pdf designed to begin the process of reversing the trend. One of the strategies that received more attention than the others was consumer friendly legislation that allowed nurseries to advertise plants as bee friendly if the plants were not treated with insecticides lethal to bees. Minnesota consumers now have a choice to select plants that are pollinator or bee friendly.

But now, the new House Agriculture Policy Committee has adopted language that will mislead consumers into thinking that their plant purchases are pollinator friendly even when systemic pesticides have been added.

Unfortunately, that is not all the bad news.  In the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Economic Development Committee Senator Dahms moved to delete key language that was adopted in 2014, the definition of “pollinator lethal insecticide.”  (MnStat 18.H02 Subd. 28a )The deletion was adopted without audible dissent. The action was done by an amendment that was not posted in advance and not written so the Minnesota public had no idea about what was to take place.   Senator Dahms said the language was vague. To the contrary, the language is clear. Sen Dahms also made reference to the possible use  by the committees that spend Legacy dollars or lottery trust fund dollars, something he clearly did not want to happen.

There is still more bad news for pollinators. The effort to require the use of pollinator friendly seeds and plants on lands purchased with Legacy dollars was stricken by Rep Denny McNamara.

The good news is Governor Dayton. He signed all of the current legislation. Let him know that the moves to backtrack on polinators are unacceptable.

Gov. Dayton to agriculture–do your part to protect our waters

In a move to protect our water resources from erosion and runoff and to provide wildlife and aquatic habitat, Governor Dayton is proposing legislation requiring a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation around public waters. In the words of Dave Frederickson, Commissioner of Agriculture, buffers are needed to “help prevent the continued degradation of our waterways.”

Dave Orrick reporting for AGWEEK captured the Governor’s strong words as he challenged farmers to support his buffer plan.

Under the Governor’s proposal about 125,000 acres of land currently in farm production would be converted to permanent vegetation. Minnesota has approximately 27 million acres of farmland so the buffers would amount to about .4% of current farmland.

This proposal is, by far, the most significant action taken by a Governor to protect our waters since Governor Perpich signed the Groundwater Act in 1989. Other administrations–Carlson, Ventura and Pawlenty– have generally adhered to the message promoted by Big Chemical that farmers are great stewards and there are no significant water problems.

A recent report from PCA clearly showed that streams in heavily agricultural area in southwest Minnesota could not support aquatic life. An earlier PCA report on nitrogen showed that 72% of the nitrogen pollution in this state was from agriculture (February 20th post: Mn Drinking Water–under stress again) But in response to the Governor’s plan, House Speaker Kurt Daudt continued to deny any problem when he said that farmers “have employed practices in their farming to really respect our environment.”

On the other side there are a wide variety of statements of support from groups ranging from Conservation Minnesota to Pheasants Forever.

There is no easy compromise here. Expect this to be one of the last issues settled this session.

Coal: The Republican answer to global warming

Rep. Newberger’s latest bill supporting coal has now passed out of the Job Creation and Affordable Energy Committee and is in Ways and Means, the last committee stop before a vote on the House floor. With 34 authors ( including 8 DFLers) it appears to be a priority for House Republicans.

Last June the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed rule requiring each state to submit a plan detailing how the state will significantly reduce carbon emissions in its energy sector by 2020 and 2030. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota’s designated agency for developing the plan, has convened a large (137 member) group of interested people from very diverse baackgrounds to develop a plan. By all accounts the process is public and transparent. An Xcel representative testified that Minnesota is farther along in its planning than most states.

Members of the group agree that EPA’s proposed target for Minnesota does not give Minnesota the proper credit for the huge reductions in carbon that we made between 2005 and 2012. PCA and others have asked the EPA to reevaluate Minnesota’s fair share and I expect EPA will. In any event we will still need to do significantly more to achieve our fair share. Since we don’t have coal or gas resources in this state we can also continue to be a leader in reducing carbon with efficiency and renewable energy.

Rep. Newberger’s HF 333 allows either the House or Senate to veto the plan that is now in the process of being developed or to veto any other plan that might be developed. Neither Rep. Newberger nor the Republican caucus have an alternative plan for reducing carbon so the veto bill is not a negotiating tactic, rather the bill is designed for gridlock.

Speaking for his bill, Rep. Newberger said that the federal requirement to reduce carbon dioxide from the energy sector will negatively affect every American. He expressed no concern that global warming will affect every American.

At this point it is fair to say that the Republicans are pretending that global warming isn’t real. If one pretends that global warming isn’t real, then it is not necessary to do any problem solving and that is what is happening in the energy committee.

In addition to pretending that global warming isn’t real, the Republican caucus is touting coal as a prefered energy source even though Minnesota does not have a coal resource.

By all measures, efficiency is a cost effective way to reduce carbon pollution. Wind, too, is cost effective. Xcel has testified that it is using wind to produce electricity as a hedge against fossil fuel cost increases. Now solar is quickly becoming cost effective.To the extent that efficiency, wind and solar will be our strategies for reducing global warming gases, coal and oil will be worth less and those industries are fiercely fighting back.

More on solar later. It is what is frightening big oil and big gas the most, not just in Minnesota, but nationally.

New Republican strategy: redesign government for the benefit of polluters

Two bills that would allow either the Minnesota House or the Senate to have veto power over new rules relating to water standards have passed the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and, according to Chair Denny McNamara, will pass the full House.  I believe him.

Another bill that would give the same veto power, but this time over all rules—from banking to drinking water, passed the Government Operations Committee and appears to be on track for passage by the full House.

Minnesota has a well-established system for making the complex data/science based standards for how much of a pollutant can be in our waters. The legislature has set the general policy, the executive branch implements it with ample public input and a full hearing before an administrative law judge if necessary. The courts are there to settle disputes if disputes remain. Three equal branches of government all doing the job they are supposed to do. Testifying in opposition to the proposed legislation, the League of  Women Voter’s  Gretchen Sabel praised the current system and called it orderly and transparent.

Now House Republicans want final approval –and veto power–over any standard.  For some the reaction is, why not, legislators can understand science. Consider that 97% of scientists have come to a consensus that global warming is real and that the impact will be enormous. Republicans in the Minnesota House are pretending that global warming is not an issue as they work to dismantle the Renewable Energy Act of 2007 and otherwise undermine solar energy.

During the hearing on HF 616 and 617, the argument focused on two issues: (1) the cost burden to small cities to implement phosphorus rules pertaining to their waste water treatment systems and (2) Moorhead’s not wanting to upgrade its system until North Dakota upgrades theirs.

In the short amount of time given to him, Trevor Russell of Friends of the Mississippi did a nice job testifying in support of the current system. He pointed out that there is good state financial support for small cities and if it is not good enough, that would be relative easy to fix. In other words, he argued the solution does not fit the problem.  You can hear his testimony here.

There is no legislator who is more fun to hear than Rep. John Persell. You can hear him say that Bemidji upgraded it wastewater treatment system 30 years ago and that it is just Bull Hockey that Moorhead can’t do the same. His remarks are preceded by strong comments from Rep. Cornish.

Rebecca Flood, Assistant Commissioner for Water at the PCA, pointed out that the water standards that would be governed by the proposed legislation and the permits for wastewater treatment systems are two different things. We didn’t hear her full explanation because Chair Denny McNamara cut her off. A standard is the water quality goal for a particular water body. A permit is granted to a specific facility and can include flexible timelines, financial assistance and variances. You can hear Rep. McNamara here.

Inquiring minds will want to know, if the problem and solution don’t fit, why this solution.

In an article entitled “ALEC’s Latest Trojan Horse: The Attack on Standards and Safeguards Moves to the States,” the Center for Effective Government looks at so-called reforms designed to weaken environmental, food, consumer and worker safety policies. It says the two policy changes that the anti-regulatory interests support are “1) increasing the power of a politicized centralized review body with the authority to second-guess the standards proposed by scientists and substantive experts; and 2) requiring new, more extensive economic analyses of the cost of the new standards.” There could not be a better description of HF 616 and 617.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business backed group that promotes free-market, limited-government policies. A New York Times article, April 21, 2012, titled “Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist,” gives a good description.

When Tony Kwilis from the Chamber of Commerce testified in support of HF  1216, the bill giving house or Senate veto over any rule, the only specific issues he cited were the three water quality standards—sulfates, nitrates, and phosphorous—that he said would have a big economic impact on the business community.  It is telling that the HF 1216 that he was promoting only wants significant costs considered like those that might have to be paid by a business. Benefits to the water and those who use it are not considered in the bill. Neither are small costs like those for a new well or an alternative source of water for a private well owner whose water is contaminated with nitrates through no fault of his or her own. They are not considered costs under HF 1216.

Wild rice–protect it now or wait…

With the introduction of HF 1000, Rep. Carly Melin, a DFLer from Hibbing, surfaced the long simmering tension between mining groups and waste water treatment plant operators on one side and environmental groups and tribal communities on the other side. Basically HF 1000 says that the Pollution Control Agency cannot apply its sulfate standard designed to protect wild rice until it adopts rules that establish criteria for designating waters subject to a wild rice water quality standard. Adopting these rules would be a lengthy process, two years would be a minimum.

The buzz in the halls after the hearing was all about the powerful testimony of Winona LaDuke. The buzz was about the respect or lack of respect shown to LaDuke. For those open to thinking in new ways, she offered a lot. You can hear her testimony here.  It is about 7 minutes.

The bill has been temporarily set aside. PCA will release a study on wild rice and a list of waters in late March. Expect a lot more public conversation then and know that much more will likely be going on out of public view up until the March release. Marshall Helmberger, publisher of the Timberjay newspapers in Tower, Minnesota, offers a perspective in a StarTribune commentary: “Iron Range: Why profits over people? Northern Minnesota legislators are doing the bidding of Mining companies now.”

Bluestem Prairie has been digging again and found the dirt on coal in Minnesota

Bluestem Prairie continues to follow the money and has been digging deeply. This time Bluestem links a new group, The Coalition for a Secure Energy Future, to its North Dakota roots and money.

Specifically, Bluestem reports that during a July 1, 2014 meeting of the North Dakota Development Commission it accepted “the Lignite Research Council recommendation to fund the grant application ‘Regional Lignite Public Affairs Plan (Coalition for a Secure Energy Future)’” and agreed to fund of up to $1,200,000. Governor Dalrymple and Attorney General Stenehjem voted aye for a motion that carried unanimously.

The Coalition for a Secure Energy Future advertises itself as an organization that has been “officially established” to get the message out that “retaining an all-of-the-above energy mix that includes coal as a regional energy resource will help keep electric rates low, jobs plentiful, and the economy robust.”

The group is co-chaired by former Senator Roger Moe and former Representative Mike Beard. Bluestem quotes a column that Moe and Beard wrote in the St. Cloud Times: “(w)e will not have a lobbying presence at the Legislature. We simply want to preserve this vital energy source that’s served our communities for decades.” That quote surprised this legislator no end. Just this last week legislators got an invitation in our work mailboxes to a reception on March 4 hosted by the Coalition for a Secure Energy Future.

Legislators will not be the only ones hearing from the Coalition. Bluestem reports they have started TV ads.

At stake are dollars and jobs that could be in either Minnesota or North Dakota. Right now Minnesota spends between $400 and $600 million per year on electricity imported from other states. This figure does not include international imports like hydro-power from Manitoba.

More to come later.

Minnesota’s drinking water: under stress, again

Drinking water has been under stress in parts of Minnesota for decades. Discussing it in the legislature has met with fierce resistance. The mere raising of the issue of nitrogen in ground water, the drinking water source for about 75% of Minnesotans, could be enough to label the speaker as “anti-agriculture.” Common wisdom held that, since federal law exempted agriculture from the Clean Water Act, nothing could be done anyway so it was not worth the trouble of bringing up the drinking water issue.

In the last several years things have started to change. In June 2013 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency published “Nitrogen in Minnesota Surface Waters, Conditions, trends, sources, and reductions.” The report is long and full of data including the estimated yearly sources of nitrogen to surface waters (page 9). Not surprisingly, 72% comes from cropland. What was very surprising is that 30% is from cropland groundwater. Of the remainder, 37% is from cropland tile drainage and 5% from cropland runoff. To the extent that had been discussions about nitrogen, they were centered mainly around the harm to fish and other aquatic life or the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico. With the new report, the discussion about farm chemicals contaminating a neighbor’s drinking water well became harder to avoid. Add to that is the fact that nitrogen levels in our waters are increasing.

At the request of our Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee last year, the DNR listed the “Hydrogeologic Areas of Concern.” The list which included the areas where the water supply is limited, is longer than anybody had expected.

One of the biggest changes in the last two years was the realization that, while federal law does exempt agriculture from the federal Clean Water Act, Minnesota’s groundwater protection act of 1989 is strong. Under the Minnesota act, our Pollution Control Agency and Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Natural Resources each have specific responsibilities to protect drinking water sources.

Just as White Bear Lake became the “poster child” for low lake levels because of overuse of ground water, the Des Moines Water Works appears to be on track to be the “poster child” for how to deal with contaminated drinking water sources; the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers are severely contaminated with nitrogen. The StarTribune’s Maya Rao reports that Iowa’s largest water works is threatening to sue three rural counties for allowing drinking water to be contaminated by farm chemicals. Rao quotes Des Moines Water Works officials who say they spend as much as $7,000 a day on a special treatment to remove nitrates from drinking water and their ratepayers are ”tired of paying for other people’s pollution.” Moreover, if the problem continues, the Water Works will need to invest at least $85 million in additional equipment. Annie Snider of E & E News provides additional detail about the basis for the legal argument that the Des Moines Water Works is using; the levels of nitrates leaving the farm tile drainage networks; and the politics of challenging the agriculture industry.

Concerns about drinking water have been rising but there is a counter movement to roll back some of the protections that we do have. Elizabeth Dunbar, MPR, reports on two of the roll back bills that will be heard in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee next Thursday, February 26. Both bills, HF 616 and 617, would have water quality standards set by the legislature as part of the political process rather than by rule making, an executive branch process that must be based on science and have ample opportunity for citizen engagement and critique.

Some municipalities are objecting to implementing the new phosphorus rules for wastewater treatment systems that were designed to prevent excessive algae growth in rivers and streams. They do not want to pay the costs. But the bills go far beyond phosphorous and cover, among many other things, total suspended solids, chloride, sulfate and nitrate. Both bills fail to even acknowledge that wastewater is some other downstream municipality’s drinking water source and the bills only look at the cost to upgrade wastewater systems, not drinking water systems.

I will report again after the hearing.