Minnesota is rich in blogs, and alternative media such as The Uptake . Is another blog really needed? Good question! My main reason for setting it up is to have a place to archive and link to various emails and posts. Continue Reading →
Almost as published in Rivertowns.net (Red Wing Republican Eagle) on june 1, 2020.
Journalism is a dangerous profession. (Warning, very graphic image!) It is the duty of reporters to go where authorities do not want them to be, and where there is danger and disorder. It is their duty to ask questions and report facts that powerful people would prefer not to answer, or have reported. (Sometimes their management backs them up, sometimes not.)
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 1370 journalists were killed between 1992 and 2020. Many hundreds more were beaten or imprisoned.
Many of us probably want to believe that this doesn’t happen in the U.S. But nationwide protests beginning with police murder of a citizen in Minneapolis have revealed a widespread pattern of attacks on reporters and support staff. (Just do a search on “attacks on reporters.”) Many of these appear to be targeted attacks reflecting “law enforcement” hostility towards the media. Niemanlab.org reports: “As of Monday morning, there had been at least 90 police attacks against U.S. journalists covering the protests.”
On May 29, a CNN reporter in Minneapolis was arrested on camera although his behavior and professionalism appeared impeccable. Later, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized repeatedly and with seeming sincerity. However, attacks on reporters have continued in Minnesota and elsewhere. Has Walz issued any directives to the various police and National Guard forces under his control to respect the constitutional rights of reporters to report? Is he insincere in his statements? Or are the police forces out of effective control of civil authority?
It is of course no secret that one Donald Trump repeatedly attacks journalists individually and the profession of journalism as a whole. Reporting he doesn’t like is “fake news.” The media are the “enemy of the people.” At his press conferences, he shouts and rants in response to embarrassing questions. He incites hate and violence among his followers. And, shamefully, Trump seems to have a significant following among law enforcement personnel. Certainly the head of the Minneapolis police union is a big Trumper. (https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2020/05/minneapolis-police-union-president-kroll-george-floyd-racism/) So part of the problem is Trump’s incitement, but this can’t be the whole story.
Reporters, if they do their work well, hold up mirrors for us to see ourselves as we really are. The racism, injustice, and inhumanity prevailing in the U.S. is not pleasant to see. It feels as if the forces of darkness are trying to break the mirrors.
I’m attaching to this letter an image of a bleeding reporter, Linda Tirado, shot in the eye with a rubber bullet in Minneapolis. It’s horrifying but we need to look at it and think.
Red Wing, Minnesota
I’ve not added anything to this blog for quite a while. I got caught up in facebook. I’m going to have another shot at it, starting with this “Earth Week” piece that ran in the Red Wing Republican Eagle (Subheads and a few edits were done by the paper.)
“The basic equation of environmental politics is simple: Special interests — developers, chemical manufacturers, oil, and gas interests, auto makers, utilities — seek to weaken environmental laws. Informed citizens tend to want them strengthened. It’s obvious which is the strongest voice most of the time.”
Written By: Alan Muller, Red Wing, MN | Published May 9th 2020 in the Red Wing Republican-Eagle https://www.rivertowns.net/opinion/letters/6485342-Viewpoint-Bring-back-Minnesota%E2%80%99s-environmental-conscience?fbclid=IwAR3OSVnYbiVusDPgQVgr6gtIacXtFX9JmuZy2gh8LLMk7Z-Gly5rS3VWhi4
The first Earth Day was in 1970. One of the key national voices for the environment was Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Subsequently, Minnesota passed bedrock legislation such as the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (1970) and the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (1971).
During the 13 years I’ve been in Minnesota, every session of the Legislature seems to leave our environmental laws weakened, moving us backwards from a high point in the 1970s. As just one shameful example, in 2015 the “Citizens’ Board” of the Pollution Control Agency called for environmental review of a big feedlot project. The Legislature responded by abolishing the Citizens Board.
How has this happened? Minnesota once had two responsible political parties willing to work together in the public interest. Since then, the Republicans have largely devolved into a party of injustice, pollution, and disease. The DFL, for lack of credible competition, has become passive and drifted to the political right.
The Legislature itself has ceased to be a performing asset; most legislators’ primary political relationships seem to be with staffers and lobbyists rather than constituents. Contrary to the Constitution of Minnesota, the Legislature does much of its lawmaking in huge “omnibus bills” ginned up in closed proceedings, denying citizens real participation. Citizens showing up to testify at the Capitol are likely to be treated disrespectfully.
The basic equation of environmental politics is simple: Special interests — developers, chemical manufacturers, oil, and gas interests, auto makers, utilities — seek to weaken environmental laws. Informed citizens tend to want them strengthened. It’s obvious which is the strongest voice most of the time
The previous low point was during Ronald Reaganï¿½s presidency (1981-1989), the real predecessor of Donald Trump. Reagan appointed agency heads who did not believe in the mission of the agencies. He allowed industry lobbyists to run the government. Needy people were denied benefits and services. Taxes on the rich and on corporations were cut and deficits zoomed. Multiple scandals resulted in the investigation, indictment, or conviction of over 138 administration officials.
After Reagan, the political pendulum oscillated, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies never really recovered from the damage done to them. The U.S., once a global leader in environmental protection, became a backwater. Many “big green” environmental groups slid into the pockets of those they were supposed to oppose.
In spite of all this, much has been accomplished by the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and other basic laws. Stinking rivers and visibly belching smokestacks and burning dumps are largely gone — though less obvious forms of harmful pollution remain. Nothing has come easily: thousands of citizen activists, often aided by motivated regulators, have fought to overcome the foot-dragging of industrial and municipal polluters.
Now we are in the nightmare of Trump. He’s Reagan multiplied. Laws and regulations are being gutted — everything from smokestack pollution limits to auto fuel economy standards are going down.
So let’s take a look at Minnesota, and then at local government.
When I first came to Red Wing, Tim “fiscal gimmicks” Pawlenty was governor. He did allow the release of a useful report on Minnesota’s climate changing emissions, but the report has not been followed up. Pawlenty turned the Pollution Control Agency over to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Now, he’s a Washington lobbyist for financial services.
Next came Mark Dayton. A rich guy, Dayton wasn’t ill-disposed toward the problems of ordinary Minnesotans, but he had little interest in environmental problems. His trademark proposal was for buffers between agricultural fields and waterways. A sound idea that had already been enacted, but not enforced. It still isn’t.
Dayton showed little awareness of the need to protect the independence and integrity of agencies like the MPCA and the Department of Natural Resources. He seemed to see them solely in political terms. Thus, “sham” permits for mining projects were issued, and the Citizens’ Board was shut down. Minnesota courts, to their credit, have been rejecting these permits.
Dayton was OK with turning a billion dollars over to a New Jersey family owning a football team, and he was OK with turning half a billion dollars over to Mayo Clinic to attract rich foreign patients. He did a lot to demonstrate a lack of integrity in Minnesota’s political culture.
Now we have Gov. Tim Walz. He’s a seasoned politician used to representing a conservative congressional district. He’s earning respect for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, if anything, he seems to have less interest in environmental problems than Dayton had. Walz seems determined to defend the sham mining permits, regardless of the impact on the DNR and the PCA, and on our air and water. His appointments to the Public Utilities Commission have been weak at best, leaving the utilities in control. His “clean energy” rollout was much like Dayton’s “buffers” plan: It sounded good, but in fact was little more than a dose of greenwashing for Xcel Energy.
A company town
Red Wing is a city with two (formerly three) belching garbage incinerator smokestacks, two nuclear reactors, multiple garbage/incinerator ash dumps, a nuclear waste cask parking lot, and a history of seeking to bring more garbage to be burned — with the residues deposited in residents’ lungs. There is a history of spending residents’ money to lobby against enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
It is likely that many Red Wing residents suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular ailments connected to breathing polluted air, but public health officials are not interested in finding out. Is this compatible with marketing Red Wing as a tourist destination? The City Council responds contemptuously to objections.
All this comes from a “company town” mentality, with city and county officials happy to do as they are told by Xcel Energy and other big polluters. There is little or no independent environmental advocacy, and local orgs aren’t noticeably supportive of independent voices.
Can this be changed? Of course, but it calls for residents to assert themselves, to take control and accept responsibility, to develop a more confident, self-respecting relationship with government. The organized opposition a few years ago (“Save the Bluffs”) to frack sand mining, shows it is possible.
Minnesota is wealthy in dollars and educated people. We can do a lot better, if we decide to expect it of ourselves. The effective opposition to copper mining on the Iron Range shows what can be done when people focus effectively.
Alan Muller was formerly consultant to a big chemical company and then Executive Director of Green Delaware.
Note that this dates from 2012. I”m posting it here because of the ongoing controversy…..
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2012 23:37:02 -0500
From: Alan Muller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [Mpls] Northern Metals festivities …..
Permit issues will be discussed at some length,
but in the normal course of events we don’t learn
much about the legal tactics used by dischargers
like Northern Metals to influence the regulatory
and environmental review processes in their favor.
Here is a partial summary. It illustrates how
much harder regulators get hammered by special
interests than by the health/enviro side.
Northern Metals started up a shredder in June 18,
2009 with an air permit issued on December 8,
1998, with no expiration date. No special
effort was made to ensure than an
over-ten-year-old permit was still appropriate for the facility.
Immediately, it became clear that the facility
failed, by wide margins, to comply with the
emission limits in the air permit. The causes of
the mismatch between the permit and the facility
are unclear to me at this time.
Enforcement actions eventually ensued but compliance did not.
On November 10, 1011, the PCA public noticed a
draft air permit and draft EAW, having
successfully requested Northern Metals to begin
the environmental review process. The draft
permit allowed large increases in emissions, as
detailed in my December 16, 2011
letter, and allowed Northern Metals an expanded
range of activities, including the shredding of whole car hulks.
Approximately 65 public comments were received
and nearly all objected to the proposed
actions. (These are posted
and many are very eloquent and convincing.) Exceptions:
o Northern Metals itself says it does not
want to do the mercury testing required in the draft permit;
o The United Electrical, Radio and Machine
Workers, Amalgamated Local 1139, want the permit modifications granted;
o The Met Council staff say no EIS is
necessary, “The Council staff finds … [the EAW]
… to be complete and accurate.”
As far as I have seen only one mainstream
Minnesota “enviro” org, Clean Water Action, commented.
Attempting to respond to public concerns, the PCA
first extended, then cancelled, further public
comment periods, indicating an intention to
rework the draft air permit and EAW.
Northern Metals then sought a Peremptory Writ of
Mandamus from the 2nd District Court, Ramsey
County, ordering the MPCA to act-to decide
whether an Environmental Impact Statement is
required–at a regularly scheduled Citizens
Board meeting on March 27, 2012. The Court
granted the requested writ, without hearing from the MPCA.
Northern Metals also claimed it was suffering
losses of two million dollars per month because
of unjustified delays by the MPCA. The Court
indicated an intent to award damages.
Several aspects of this judicial proceeding are unusual and disturbing:
The Writ was issued with no notice to the PCA and
thus, no opportunity to present the other side of the story (Peremptory Writ).
The District Court website biography of the judge
in the matter, Elena L. Ostby, indicates she
formerly worked at the same firm, Briggs &
Morgan, as presently does Mr. Jack Perry, who represents Northern Metals.
at page 2: “MR. PERRY: Your honor, Jack Perry,
from the Briggs & Morgan law firm. Good to see
you again after a few years. The Court: It’s been a while.”
At page 4: “MR. PERRY: . our old partner Rick
Mark was involved in litigation involving the
predecessors in permitting years and years ago.”
I am no lawyer, but on it’s face, the statute
allowing Peremptory Writ of Mandamus does not seem to apply to this situation.
“586.04 PEREMPTORY WRIT.
When the right to require the performance of the
act is clear, and it is apparent that no valid
excuse for nonperformance can be given, a
peremptory writ may be allowed in the first
instance. In all other cases the alternative writ shall first issue.”
How could the Court know what responses might be
made by the MPCA? Whether a “valid excuse for nonperformance can be given?”
Common sense indicates that courts should not act
without opportunity for response from the other
side except in unusual circumstances.
It also appears that the Court was mislead
regarding the issue of particulate emissions. Transcript at page 10:
“MR PERRY: What they have done is they have
said we’re going to change the emissions levels
from 4.3 pounds per hour [of particulate matter]
to 1.83 pounds per hour. If they do that, that is
effectively a denial because it’s not what we’ve applied for.
But Ms. Winters, Assistant Attorney General
representing the MPCA, responds in her March 7,
” …on August 3, 2010, Petitioner signed a
settlement with MPCA enforcement staff for
violations of its existing permit by which it
committed to a Plan with a 1.83 lb/hr limit.
Petitioner had submitted a permit application
with the 1.83 lb/hr limit in March, 2010. On
August 26, 2010, after it signed the settlement,
Petitioner changed its application to 4.2 lb/hr
without revealing to permitting staff that the
1.83 lb/hr was a condition of the settlement Plan.”
But Judge Ostby did not know this because she
acted before hearing from the MPCA. (This is not,
of course, to excuse the apparent lack of
communication between the permitting and enforcement staffs of the MPCA.)
Northern Metals uses inflammatory language in its
pleadings. Some examples from Northern Metals’
for Peremptory Writ of Mandamus:
“There is no end in sight to MPCA’s dilatory
tactics. MPCA has gone to press once again to
hijack the proceedings.” (page 11)
“MPCA’s most recent gamesmanship also highlights
the unlawful steps it is willing to take .” (page 12)
“MPCA’s manipulation of the process has gone on long enough.” (page 16)
“Northern Metals has and will continue to lose
over $2,000,000 in revenues per month due to these delays.” (page 16)
In her letter to Judge Ostby, Winters writes:
“Petitioner mislead this Court, the MPCA, and the
public. Through failing to disclose important,
relevant facts, Petitioner has abused the
judicial, the environmental review, and the permitting processes.”
From my point of view Judge Ostby clearly made
bad decisions, and made them in a manner that
raises concerns about bias. Hopefully the MPCA
and the Attorney General will be able to get
these decisions changed or overturned. If this
Peremptory Writ stands, no regulatory program is safe.
However, assuming the decisions stand for the
moment, the March 27th deadline for action has
effectively eliminated the normal opportunities
for a “public information meeting,” for members
of the public to petition for a “Contested Case,”
to review the files in this long-drawn-out matter, etc.
The PCA has
an MPCA CITIZEN’S BOARD SPECIAL MEETING on
March 26th/27th with the sole agenda item being
Northern Metals Request for Decision on the Need
for an Environmental Impact Statement.
Along with this goes a “board packet” of 190
pages including the public comments and 132
proposed Findings of Fact. These include a
recommendation to the Board that an Environmental
Impact Statement be required. Of the face of
things this looks like progress, but a closer reading shows problems:
The MPCA says that the ONLY problem is that the
permit limit for particulate matter (dust) should
be 1.83 pounds per hour rather than the 4.2
pounds per hour Northern Metals wants.
Everything else is OK. No problems with
increased emissions of all sorts of other
pollutants. No problems with noise. And so on.
If Northern Metals is willing to go along with
the 1.83 pounds per hour, the PCA is willing to
roll and withdraw the recommendation for an EIS.
So where did the 1.83 come from? “At 1.83 lb/hr,
the modeled ambient concentration is 34.3 …
[micrograms per cubic meter]
, which is slightly
below the [federal standard] of 35 ….” In
other words, the 1.83 looks to have been “back
calculated” from the federal maximum. “How high
can we legally make the permit limits?” There
are lots of problems with this approach, including:
o The federal standard is known to be too
high and not truly protective of human health;
o no safety margin is included, or leeway
for increased emissions from other sources;
o the emission rate actually measured
during “performance testing” in 2009 was 1.32 lb/hr.;
o the present permit limit is apparently
0.43 lb/hr (but there are some confounding technicalities).
Why does the PCA now say 1.83 is the right
number, when it was proposing 4.2 until
recently? PCA technical staff on this have not
been talking to Alan Muller. There appear to be two things going on:
o The PCA woke up to the fact that Northern
Metals had already agreed to 1.83 in the Settlement of its violations; and
o “updated ambient air concentration data,
a critical input in the modeling, has now become
available.” In other words, background
concentrations of particulates are much higher
than previously thought. (Does this also apply
to other airborne pollutants in the area?)
An EIS is needed for many reasons, to sort out many issues.
N/A, Red Wing, MN/Port Penn, DE
About Alan Muller: http://forums.e-democracy.org/p/alanmuller
Alan Muller is an environmental consultant. He has been executive director of Green Delaware, an environmental and public advocacy organization in Delaware, since 1995, and before that was a contract consultant DuPont Co.’s engineering department. Muller focuses on environmental and health issues including energy; waste; incinerators; air, water and land quality and pollution; and climate change.
To ignore the human impacts of the nuclear industry is a moral failure
Forty years ago, on March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear power reactor in central Pennsylvania partially melted down and experienced at least one explosion.Continue Reading →
[Note: A version of this distributed by email had the wrong title. Apologies!]
40 years ago, on March 28, 1979, Three Mile Island (TMI) Unit 2 nuclear power plant melted down and experienced a hydrogen explosion. (Unit 1 has continued to run all these years but likely will be shut down soon as it loses a lot of money for the owners.)
Days afterwards: “Governor Thornburgh advised pregnant women and pre-school age children to leave the area within a five-mile radius of the Three Mile Island facility until further notice. This led to the panic the governor had hoped to avoid; within days, more than 100,000 people had fled surrounding towns.”
The cause was a combination of equipment failures, design defects, and operator errors.
With the election of a new DFL governor and the DFL takeover of the House, possibilities open for useful policy changes. No guarantees, but at least possibilities.
The chief idea floating around seems to be to increase the “renewable” quota for electricity generation. The problem with this is that “renewable” as defined in Minnesota includes not only wind and solar but the dirtiest sources we have, such as poultry poop power, garbage incineration power, wood burner power (“biomass”), and landfill gas power. It would be foolish to increase the “renewable” power quotas (sometimes called a “Renewable Portfolio Standard”) without cleaning up (literally!) the definition so additional incentives aren’t created for dirty power sources. Continue Reading →
“Viewpoint: Truth re-evaluation of incineration long overdue”
By Alan Muller, Red Wing
[Note: This appeared in the Red Wing Republican-Eagle on Feb 6, 2019]
I came to Red Wing in 2007 with a background in incineration: Marketing incinerators, as a consultant to the engineering department of a large chemical company, and later opposing them, on health and economic grounds. It felt strange to live in a city that was itself in the garbage incineration business and seemed to care little about the impacts on the health and pocketbooks of residents.Continue Reading →
This ran in the Red Wing Republican-Eagle on September 23rd:
By Alan Muller, Red Wing
For decades, Red Wing has worked to increase the amounts of garbage burned in the city, subjecting residents to increased air pollution and millions in costs, without an offsetting benefit. As part of this, the city is now smelling victory in a scheme to force all the garbage generated in Goodhue County to be “processed” (ground up) by the city, with most then burned in Xcel’s old converted 1940s coal plant on Fifth Street. This dirty burner, with a permit expired since 2009, belches out about 1.5 million pounds per year of health-damaging air pollutants, including over 40 pounds per year, on average, of lead, and over a million pounds per year of “NOx.”
City of Red Wing unloaded dump liabilities onto Goodhue County ….now demands county-wide garbage monopoly
Goodhue County and the City of Red Wing, MN, have been dancing around garbage issues for many years. It’s not clear that the public interest has been front-and-center with either jurisdiction at any point.
In 1990 the County bought the City of Red Wing dump for one dollar. The county also bought liability for any future cleanup costs for that dollar.
“… Buyer shall be responsible for the operation of the landfill facility … and shall be responsible for any costs associated with operating said landfill, including, but not limited to closure costs, post closure costs, and any corrective action costs incurred after closing.” (page 2)
“… Buyer shall be responsible for financial assurance in accordance with Minnesota Rules, and Seller shall no longer be responsible for said financial assurance.” (page 2)
“…Buyer agrees to indemnify and save Seller harmless from and against any and all claims, demands, causes of actions, liability, costs and expenses for damages, losses, injuries or death ….” (page 2)
So it looks like the City of Red Wing unloaded all it’s potential future liabilities onto the County for ONE DOLLAR. How could this have been a responsible action on the part of the County? Is there more to this? We are asking.
Meanwhile, though, it looks like the City is screwing over the County again with an agreement that all garbage from anywhere in Goodhue County has to be delivered to the City of Red Wing Garbage Empire at inflated tipping fees.
Note: The City of Red Wing is about 3 7 percent of the total county population.
WHEREAS: The proposal by Management & Training Corporation and its partners is for a state-of-the-art detention facility with an aesthetically pleasing design that will integrate with and not adversely impact nearby properties; and
Mayor and Council Members
Council Members (4-year term)
And here, thanks to Carol Overland, is info on the proposer, this “Management and Training Corporation.”
- City of Red Wing kisses Xcel Energy butt…..works to raise your electric bills April 23, 2018
- This city WANTS a trump concentration camp: June 26, 2018
- Minnesota: A wholly owned subsidiary of Xcel Energy? #1 in a series. February 17, 2016
- Garbage prospers in the Minnesota Legislature March 12, 2015
- [Wash Post] “Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar” March 9, 2015
- Letter: Support the work of journalists, society’s mirrors June 2, 2020
- Viewpoint: Bring back Minnesota’s environmental conscience May 27, 2020
- Northern Metals Festivities….. July 31, 2019
- Viewpoint: Lessons from Three Mile Island aren’t over April 8, 2019
- 40 years on, have we learned the lessons of Three Mile Island? March 28, 2019
- Viewpoint: Lessons from Three Mile Island aren’t over | alanmuller.com: […] Note: This was published in the Red Wing...
- 40 years on, have we learned the lessons of Three Mile Island? | alanmuller.com: […] is timely to think about TMI as Xcel Ene...
- T.W. Day: I have spent a lot of time traveling around a lot ...
- alan: Tom, I see Xcel Energy as having a sophisticated m...
- T.W. Day: I do, but I'm not sure our pseudo-conservative pu...
- "Environmental Legacy"
- "Streamlining" and "Improvement"
- air pollution
- air pollution alert
- Attorney General
- Childrens' Health
- City of Red Wing
- City of Red Wing (Minnesota)
- climate change
- coal ash
- Community Solar Gardens
- Covanta/Hennepin County "Environmental Services"
- Environmental Justice
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Environmental Quality Board
- Environmental Regulation–Protecting Minnesota
- Frac sand mining
- Garbage Incineration
- General Mills
- Goodhue County
- Gov. Dayton's Executive Orders
- Liquified Natural Gas
- Lori Swanson
- Metallic Mining
- Minnesota energy policy
- Minnesota Legislature
- Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
- Minnesota Power
- MN Public Utilities Commission
- MPCA Citizens' Board
- Nuclear Power
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- plants and animals
- St. Paul
- Union Pacific
- water pollution
- Xcel Energy