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Great news from Green Bay, WI — garbage burner permit revoked

[People in Green Bay have put up a great fight against this burner scheme.  One should not assume the fight is over, as it sounds like there could be a veto, but this is still really good news.  Note that the reporter uses misleading terminology such as “trash-recycling energy plant.”  /am] Continue Reading →

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Subscribe to my Minnesota Energy and Environment (Etc.) mailing list.

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 →

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Reminder: TODAY – Greenhouse gas hearing Thursday, August 30th, 2:00, at the MPCA


At least 43 people asked for this hearing; the requests, from around the state, make very clear that Minnesotans know what’s at stake and what needs to be done. One of my favorites is one of the shortest, from David Luce: “People, I add my voice to the request for a hearing. We are already way late on this and the longer we delay the worse it will surely get. Forget the difficulties, think of the kids. Thank you.”

An irony of all this is that many people in the Pollution Control Agency also know what needs to be done. The MPCA has a climate change page with a lot of information. Last year the PCA had a good global warming exhibit at the State Fair. (I heard that some Republican pols complained about it.) This year, I am told, “we didn’t back off at all” and the info is beefed up. (Haven’t yet been to the Fair myself this year.)

Minnesota has a Next Generation Energy Act, passed in 2007 with strong bipartisan support: “Effective Aug. 1, 2007, the law calls for cutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 2005 base levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. (Art. 5, Sec. 2)”

So if the people know what needs to be done, and the MPCA knows what needs to be done, and state law calls for it to be done, why is the MPCA proposing a regulation so weak as to throw out a key opportunity to regulate greenhouse gases?

For one thing, many of the activities officially promoted by the Legislature and the PCA as climate change solutions really accelerate climate change. These include garbage incineration, “biomass” burning, turkey poop burning, and corn ethanol distilling. These are high-carbon-emitting processes that can’t stand up to examination either in environmental review or permitting. (Wind power is probably the only politically-favored industry that does tend to reduce carbon emissions,but anyone following this industry in Minnesota knows it has plenty of issues of its own.)

The other approach that has proven politically possible involves various sorts of “offset” and emissions trading schemes. Some of these, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of some Northeastern states, may have a small beneficial effect. In general, though, years of experience clearly shows that these schemes mostly serve to enrich speculators and manipulators while creating a false illusion of progress.

The budgets of the MPCA and other regulatory agencies have been slashed, and they attempt to operate without sufficient staff or resources. Increasingly, MPCA staff are being expected to function less as regulators and more as skid-greasers for politically favored industries….

Minnesota politics, like US national politics, have largely descended into idiocy, with the likes of the Koch Brothers and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce calling the tunes for both parties.

In any case, there is little hope of reducing climate changing emissions if we don’t use existing laws such as the Clean Air Act and related state laws and take action. These laws and programs are hard to understand in detail–the lingo is obscure, there are numerous interlinked Federal and Minnesota statutes, rules and regulations, policies and procedures….citizens are at a great disadvantage in disputing the fine details. But the bigger picture is clear enough, and that’s what we should focus on.

A little background:

The Clean Air Act wasn’t written with greenhouse emissions in mind, but rather to control the traditional, health-damaging pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and ozone. The common breakpoint for being considered a single “major source” of such pollutants, and requiring “permitting” of same, is 100 tons per year. (This, by the way, is why so many Minnesota air permits have limits of 95 tons or so!) The conventional argument goes that this number is too low for carbon dioxide, or carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) which tries to factor in emissions of some other climate-changing gases such as methane. That CO2 is emitted in much larger amounts than other air pollutants (true enough) and a 100 ton limit would include heating systems for small commercial buildings, large homes, etc. The US EPA swallowed this argument whole and went for a limit one thousand times higher: 100,000 tons. Minnesota already adopted this number for environmental review, largely taking the Minnesota Environmental Policy out of play as a tool for controlling global warming. Now, the Dayton administration wants to adopt this same number for air permitting, taking the Clean Air Act out of play.

So the challenge for those of us wanting a future is to figure out what numbers we favor at this time, and how to advocate for them successfully.

EPA requires some reporting of greenhouse emissions. “Facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHGs are required to submit annual reports to EPA.”

Data for Minnesota are here, but presented such that it is hard to analyze. It appears that 132 facilities reported 2010 data. Of those, 18 reported emissions below 25,000 tons, leaving a total of 114 facilities reporting emission above 25,000 tons. Of these, 46 reported emissions above 100,000 tons. (These, of course, include only large “stationary” sources. “Mobile” and “area” sources, such as cars and trucks, are a big part of the picture but not included here.)

“Permitting,” or “environmental review” for that matter, in no way ensures that CO2 emissions would have to be reduced. That depends on how the rules are written. In some cases, like an existing coal powered generating station, there are no practical ways to substantially reduce CO2 emissions other than to shut it down or run it less. It only implies that some consideration will be given to CO2-e emissions.

My own thinking, at the moment, is that the 100 ton limit ought to remain for CO2-e as for other pollutants, but permitting attention should be phased in, starting with the higher emitters. Facilities emitting 25,000 tons should receive immediate attention by means of reopening their air permits. Other existing permitted facilities could get attention as their permits come up for renewal, in a timely manner. (This is a crucial point because the MPCA air permitting program is generally ignoring expired permits.) New facilities likely to emit 100 tons per year would be next in line. Existing facilities emitting 100 tons per year, but not now permitted, would come after then. But these are only Muller’s thoughts and discussion is needed.

Additional resources would be needed to carry this out, but, again, as Mr. Luce said: “We are already way late on this and the longer we delay the worse it will surely get. Forget the difficulties, think of the kids. Thank you.”

The hearing this afternoon will not be an end point, but it could be a beginning. The Minnesota Administrative Rules for rulemaking hearings allow good opportunities for the public to participate, to ask questions, to get more information…. If the Administrative Law Judge follows these rules, if the PCA answers questions in good faith, if citizens show up and participate–these are all big IFs!–we may have a beginning of something very important.

Thanks again to Ken Pentel for his prodding about this.

Alan Muller


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A new position in the MPCA: Lobbyist for mining interests

State of Minnesota Job Posting:

Working Title:   Mining Coordinator
Hiring Agency:   Pollution Control Agency


$ 30.13-$ 43.35 hourly, $ 62,911-$ 90,515 annually

Job Description:   The incumbent will be the mining subcabinet point person who will maintain relationships with state/federal agencies on mining regulatory matters, and will help coordinate among state agencies; Economic Development Mining Coordinator and mining companies to ensure mining regulatory issues and processes are addressed in a timely and complete manner.  [Need I say, no mention of “coordinating” with health or environmental interests?  After all, this is the “pollution control” agency!]

See more here:  https://statejobs.doer.state.mn.us/JobPosting/1ff54ad55ac88e57a2b840b9ceb979ca/View

Relevant contacts:

o       Paul Aasen, Commissioner of the MPCA, 651-757-2016, Paul.Aasen@state.mn.us

o       Governor Dayton, 651-201-3400, mark.dayton@state.mn.us

o       your state senator and representative.  Who represents me?  How do I let a Representative or Senator know how I feel about an issue?


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ACTION ALERT: MPCA betrays air quality in the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park

“It’s not the ‘Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,’ its the ‘Minnesota Pollution Protection Agency’.”

–Mark Dayton, while running for Governor of Minnesota

“Minnesota’s actions, combined with EPA’s simultaneous consideration, plainly deprive the

public of a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on this significant decision.”

–Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice

“This is nothing but a shameful rollover to Minnesota’s most politically empowered polluters.”



This is a long and complicated story we try to summarize very briefly. Continue Reading →

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Rep. John Kline blocking diesel/cancer report on behalf of mining interests

Note:  This originally published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet on Feb 6, 2012

Rep. John Kline represents the 2nd Minnesota congressional district.  Well, he’s supposed to, but he actually represents the interests of those exploiting the 650 thousand humans he’s supposed to be representing.  He believes, quite sincerely I suspect, that government should protect special interests, while human citizens should sink-or-swim.  To some this might seem like partisan political rhetoric.  I just ask you to withhold judgement for the few minutes needed to read what follows.

Most people already know diesel engine exhaust is highly dangerous to health.  Much of it is made up of tiny particles coated with heavy metals and organic toxins.  The particles carry these through the lungs into the bloodstream and into the brain.  Strokes, heart attacks, and cancer, among other health problems, result.

If it’s unhealthy to live hear a road or to operate a diesel truck, just imagine how unhealthy it must be to work in an underground mine alongside diesel-powered machinery.  In the confined spaces the pollutant concentrations are much higher.  The Center for Public Integrity reports:

“In arguing for a diesel exposure limit in 2001, the mine safety administration said that diesel particles spewed by front-end loaders, generators, air compressors, and other underground equipment could carry with them up to 1,800 other organic chemicals, including carcinogens. Median diesel concentrations in mines, it said, were up to 180 times higher than the average exposure in heavily polluted urban areas and eight times higher than in other workplaces.

‘When there is uncontrolled diesel equipment in an underground mine, it is like working in the tailpipe of a city bus,’ said Mike Wright, health and safety director for the United Steelworkers, which represents 15,000 miners.”

A regulation finally went into effect in 2008 but is only a partial solution.  New diesel engines are much cleaner than old ones but this only happened after years of foot-dragging and corrupt practices by engine makers.

Underground mining was very extensive in Minnesota up until 1961.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources–in a project incomplete for lack of funding–has mapped over 200 underground mines on the Iron Range.  Of course, not all of these would have used diesel engines, but on the other hand, many other digging/tunnelling operations all over the state have resulted in similar exposures.  Proposed sulfide mining projects could bring underground mining back to Minnesota.

So one might expect a Minnesota congressman like Mr. Kline to strongly favor full understanding of diesel health hazards so past and future miners can be protected and compensated.

But no, Kline is acting to block release of a report on diesel/mining health hazards in the making since 1992.  The scenario seems similar to actions by the chemical and incinerators industries, etc, to block an EPA report on dioxin.  Without the reports documenting the hazards, regulations won’t be tightened and people will continue to be harmed.  Again, from the Center for Public Integrity:

“The epidemiological study of workers at so-named metal and nonmetal mines was launched in 1995 by the National Cancer Institute and NIOSH to build on studies that suggested a link between diesel and lung cancer in truck drivers and other workers exposed to diesel particulate matter. The study’s results will offer a ‘state-of-the-art evaluation of diesel,’ said Kyle Steenland, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and a former NIOSH epidemiologist. ‘It should provide a very important piece of information about whether diesel is a lung carcinogen. Unfortunately, it has been delayed and delayed for years. It’s high time that the public and the scientific community get to see the results of this study.'”

The tactics of the mining and diesel engine interests has been to use the highest-powered lobbyists and lawyers to obstruct at every point.  In this fight they’ve been repeatedly aided by the rulings of Bush-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Richard Haik of Lafayette, La. And Kline.

The mining interests demanded that the draft report and underlying data be given to THEM to review, and to the House Education and Labor Committee–now the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and chaired by Rep Kline–but withheld from the public.  Haik agreed and has found the US Department of Health and Human Services in contempt.

“‘We are troubled by the continued failure of NIOSH to produce the draft publications, data underlying the research reported in those draft publications, and other documents the Committee should be receiving based on instructions from the court,’ Kline and [Republican Rep. Tim] Walberg wrote on July 8.” (direct links not accessible)

Of course, when industrial interests and their legislative stooges like Kline are allowed to interfere in scientific publication this way, nothing good happens.  Nothing good for the public or for science, anyway.

“Rep. Miller, the Democrat, sent his own letter to Howard on Aug. 16. ‘The requirement for a pre-publication review by an interested party ­ and the insinuation of a congressional committee in such review ­ appears to deviate from the normal scientific process and threatens to undermine the integrity of these studies,’ Miller wrote.”

For more details see these stories:

Landmark diesel exhaust study stalled amid industry and congressional objections

Diesel dangers: Mining companies get first look at government cancer study

Diesel report’s publication delayed as industry demands to see documents first


No one from Rep. Kline’s offices or the staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce has so far returned my calls, so if there is an interpretation of these events less unfavorable to Kline, we weren’t given it.

The Center for Public Integrity does great work, but is hard to work with.  Many of the links in the two stories go to a document source not available to the public, and contact information for reporters is hard to come by.

ACTION:  Call Kline and tell him to stop fronting for mining interests with cancer-causing pollution to hide:

Washington, DC office:  202.225.2271

Burnsville , MN office: 952.808.1213

Alan Muller


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“Governor Dayton Moves to Simplify Minnesota’s Environmental Review Process”

This is a press release from Gov. Mark Dayton.  The wording of it, and the reasoning behind it, is so appalling one hardly knows what to say.

Does the Governor really think Minnesota will benefit by giving out environmental approvals like airline peanuts, without regard for the consequences? During the campaign I heard Dayton refer to the MPCA as the “Minnesota Pollution PROTECTION Agency.” There was sarcasm in his voice and most of the people in the green-oriented audience probably assumed he was referring to a problem needing a fix. I sat there wondering if he perhaps meant something different and more menacing. This question now seems answered.

Could this be a bribe offered legislative leaders to promote approval of a football stadium scam Gov. Dayton seems very anxious to impose on the state?

Note also that the EQB no longer has an independent staff. The senior staffers have retired and the small remainder merged into the MPCA’s environmental review shop. Continue Reading →

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“Art” in the service of evil.

Is art supposed to be about truth, or only about ways of manipulating our emotions?  This question has been discussed for thousands of years and has no simple answer.

The “Northern Spark” event in Minneapolis, Minnesota this coming Friday and Saturday–June 4 th and 5th is “a free, all-night festival of public art and performances ….”  The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul have issued a joint proclamation saying:

“WHEREAS, more than 60 public art projects will turn= Minneapolis and Saint Paul into all night cities of light; an d WHEREAS, Northern Spark expands the boundaries of contemporary a rt by transforming the urban environment into a city-wide art gallery; ….”

Northern Spark is sponsored by Covanta, the evil garbage incinerator company, and the HERC garbage burner itself, listed separately, and the Minnesota State Arts Board, a state agency dispensing tax revenues.  Plus the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Uptake (shame) and others.

“Presentation of Waste Not at Northern Spark is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.”  (Board members here.)

At the core of this event is “greenwashing” the HERC garbage incinerator in downtown Minneapolis.  The owner, Hennepin County, and the operator, Covanta, are trying to expand garbage burning at the HERC.  Community-based organizations–those not bought off–are, of course, opposed, and want the burner shut down.  The HERC is listed as a “partner ” as well,  giving the burner people three bites out of this corrupted apple.

In a May 13, 2011 press release, Hennepin County boasts:

“The Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center (HERC) in downtown Minneapolis will become a giant projected light display as part of the Northern Spark Art Festival. … Artist Christopher Baker will use video projectors to cast light and images reflecting his project “Waste Not”  giving spectators a glimpse into the otherwise hidden energy production processes at HERC and creating awareness about energy consumption and waste generation.”

See, at this link, a video filled with lies and misrepresentations, many spouted directly by Carl Michaud, Director of Hennepin County Environmental Services.  As just one example, the video repeatedly refers to the smokestack emissions of the incinerator as “air.”  Of course, it isn’t air, it’s many hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of health-damaging pollutants.  Need we say there is not one word about the ongoing community struggle to prevent the expansion of, and ultimately close, this burner?

The “artist” behind this is Christopher Baker. The title, “Waste Not” is a perverted misappropriation of a term usually associated with recycling programs and suchlike.

“Christopher Baker is an artist whose work engages the rich collection of social, technological and ideological networks present in the urban landscape. He creates artifacts and situations that reveal and generate relationships within and between these networks. Baker recently completed his Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Media Arts at the University of Minnesota. He is now the senior artist in residence at the Kitchen Budapest, an experimental media arts lab in Hungary. In his previous life as a scientist, Christopher worked to develop brain computer interfaces at the University of Minnesota and UCLA.”

Baker has not responded to our efforts to find out what if anything he actually knows about the garbage burner.  We don’t have any reason to think he made the propaganda video referenced above.  But the themes of his own “Waste Not” project sound very similar.  “Director” Steve Dietz didn’t respond either.  (Requests were passed through Elle Krause-Lyons, a press type who would not give us direct contact info.)

Some people wrote to the Arts Board objecting to its funding of incinerator propaganda.  For instance, Jan Greenfield of Neighbors Against the Burner, wrote, on March 4, 2011:

“Art is being used to “pretty up” a very toxic operation; using art to “greenwash” is an immoral act & a disservice to the public interest.  Please do not use your resources to support this so-called “art” — in reality P.R. spin for HERC — at the upcoming Northern Sparks Festival.”

The Arts Board didn’t respond to Greenfield.  Executive Director Sue Gens told us the Board funds projects based on “artistic merit” without regard to “point of view.”  The Arts Board will probably have to provide copies of the grant paperwork and it may be interesting.

What’s the truth about the HERC garbage burner?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently reported to Rep. Frank Hornstein that the HERC belched out 1.3 million pounds a year of health damaging “criteria” air pollutants in 2009.  The is about 20 percent of all the smokestack air emissions in Minneapolis.  In 2005–toxics are only reported every three years–the HERC belched out 112 thousand pounds of “toxic” air pollutants, including 87 thousand pounds of hydrochloric acid.  These pollutants go into the air of neighborhoods already suffering from more than their share of pollutants and resulting health problems.  Neighbors Against the BurnerMore on the HERCIncinerators: Myths vs. Facts.

But our real point here is not that garbage incineration is bad.  That’s easy to show.

One can have a lot of fun setting up, or attending, an event like Northern Spark. Does it matter that the core of it is a big, flagrant, toxic lie?

Apparently that doesn’t matter to the Arts Board, or Mayor Rybak, or Mayor Coleman, or many, many others.  Did anyone check this out and have the integrity NOT to participate?  If so, we’d like to hear from them.

Blogger Erik Hare just did a post on “different kinds of lies that surround us.” It’s worth a look.

How much does it matter that we are swimming in a sea of lies so pervasive that the very concept of truth sometimes seems elusive? That so many of our “artists” seem to get their truth directly from the clients’ checkbook?

The elected officials most responsible for the overall HERC scam are the Commissioners of Hennepin County:  (And the most guilty of these, it seems to me, is Peter McLaughlin:  A fanatic, even a crank, on the subject of incineration, and inclined to bully those who disagree.


Alan Muller

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Letter from Alan Muller to Governor Dayton

[This letter pretty much summarizes my views on what’s going in in Minnesota./am]

Alan Muller

113 W. 8th Street

Red Wing, Minnesota, 55066



 January 24, 2010

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

via email

Dear Governor Dayton:

I write to express my disappointment with Executive Order 11-04, Establishing Goals and Procedures to Ensure that Certain Environmental Permits are Issued More Efficiently.1 This order is contrary to the best interests of the people and natural resources of Minnesota. Continue Reading →

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Send another round of public comment

[Note:  This was originally published as an email on October 30, 2009]

This is a follow-up note to the October 14 Action Alert (included below for reference) about “streamlining” of the Minnesota environmental review process.

Quite a few comments were sent–read them here–and staff at the MPCA seem a bid defensive at this point.  This–slightly edited for clarity–is part of a note we received:

–       We hear you! We know people are upset at the process and ideas in the meeting slides
–       Ideas accepted until October 30th, after that we will simply attach them to the report
–       MPCA report will be presented to EQB at Board meeting Nov 19th or in February.  Will keep distribution list informed.
–       Encourage people to sign up online for EQB Monitor
–       This is a report to the legislature.  If they have hearings on environmental review matters there are opportunities for input   there   and if the legislature requires EQB to make changes there will be opportunity for input. Continue Reading →

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