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Anti-smokestack resolutions “disappeared” by Goodhue County DFL operatives

At the DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for the edification of my non-Minnesotan readers) precinct caucuses on March 1, in Red Wing, Minnesota, various resolutions were presented, as is customary.  These are supposed to make their way up the organizational hierarchy of the party, and help determine the state “platform.”  It’s supposed to be democracy in action.

(The good news  from my point of view is that the precinct, in a generally conservative area, was overrun with Bernie Sanders supporters, and the state as a whole went for Sanders over Clinton.) Continue Reading →

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Action Alert: Minnesota Public Utilities Commission: Withdraw funding for increased garbage incineration!

If you want, skip the gory details and go directly to the action items lower down!

As someone with a longstanding interest in energy and environmental issues, Minnesota can be a little strange.  The state, or at least the central part of it, often seems like a wholly owned subsidiary of Xcel Energy (Northern States Power Company).  I’m appalled by the ease with which Xcel seems able to impose its will, and the lack of dignity and self-respect with which officials and self-proclaimed energy/environmental advocates kowtow, grin and shuffle, for Xcel.  Worse, I’m living in Red Wing, blessed with two Xcel nuclear reactors, Prairie Island 1 and 2, two Xcel garbage incinerators ( an old convertedcoal plant) and an Xcel nuclear waste parking lot, all within the city limits.  As far as what Xcel has to offer, Red Wing has it all!

There are so many interlocking scams going on, involving so many entities and so many moral and intellectual failures, that it can look and feel overwhelming.  I’m going to focus on one here and ask for your help: Continue Reading →

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Why the Minnesota Legislature does not care (much) what you think

Devil[1]This is NOT a photo of Senator Tom Bakk

The title is from press coverage of a paper by Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University.  It’s written in dense political science lingo but the bottom line from the abstract is clear:

“…economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Is the picture different in Minnesota and other states and localities?  Doubtful.

The current session of the MN Legislature is supposed to wind up Monday, May 18th, at midnight.  At least from an environmental perspective, this has been one of the most miserable sessions one can imagine.  Environmental protections are being rolled back left and right, with relatively little public awareness.  Do Minnesotans *want* more pollution in their air and water, and the resulting death and disease?  Do they *want* accelerating climate change?  Not likely, but nobody is asking the people, and only a few are informing the people.

Still, negotiations continue, and will continue at least up to midnight on Monday.  The time is now to call Governor Dayton (651-201-3400), your Senator, and your Representative.  Find their contact info here.   It could be that the best way to reach the Governor is his Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/GovMarkDayton?fref=ts .   Also, contact one of his policy advisors at molly.pederson@state.mn.us, or call, (651-201-3400), or use this email contact form.

Corporate media minimizing public awareness

Example from this weekend:  It is announced that mining interests on the Iron Range are getting one of their key objectives — legislative blocking of enforcement of the Clean Water Act.  Both sides have reason to cover their tracks by calling it a “compromise.”  But it’s not a compromise.  It is a rollover.  Minnesota Public Radio reports it this way “Iron Range legislators, Dayton reach compromise over sulfate standards for wild rice.”  But this is a lie.  An honest lead would say something like “Iron Range legislators prevail, Dayton rolls, Clean Water Act not to be enforced….”  How much does this matter?  By itself, maybe not so much.  The Clean Water Act is rarely enforced in Minnesota.  But considering that MPR misrepresents events as a matter of course, and many people likely regard MPR as a reliable source, the cumulative damage has got to be substantial.   Why?  Darkside interests have worked for a long time to reduce public funding for “public” broadcasting, to make it more dependent on industrial funding.  There are probably few bad actors interests who don’t throw a little money at the “public” broadcasting system in order to buy favorable coverage.

For another take on this, see “Establishment Journalists Pride Themselves on Staying on the Official Rails.”

Now, what about reporting on the Legislature?  People and orgs who lobby, and reporters who depend on sources being cooperative, tend to be economical with truth that might piss people off.  If one lobbies legislators–and I’ve done my share of that–naturally one doesn’t want to annoy them, or to give the impression, however true it might be, that the Legislature is a pay-to-play setup where citizens voices mean little much of the time.   People, likely starting out with the best of intentions, get drawn into the system.  (This is not to say that lobbying isn’t useful.  It is.  But not usually for informing the public.)

Bad examples close to home

“My” two legislators, Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Matt Schmit, get dishonorable mention here, because they treat me with disregard and contempt anyway, so what-do-I-have-to-lose?  Neither, to my recollection, have ever responded to an email, a letter, or a phone call.  Kelly got into office, defeating an incumbent, by bombarding the district with “independent” mailings saying different versions of “She voted to raise your taxes!!!!”  That was bullshit, but he got in with it, and incumbents have so many advantages they are hard to get rid of.  Matt Schmit, Senator, moved into the district to run and got in by defeating another incumbent, John Howe.  Howe was likely one of the few reasonable Republicans left in office.  Neither Schmit nor Kelly are the worst members.

In this session, Kelly, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, has distinguished himself by blocking action to protect Minnesotans from the dangers posed by unit crude oil trains (“bomb trains”) that run through Red Wing, through his district.  Schmidt has been one of the few DFL senators to vote for “dirty water” bills and amendments.  Both have been involved in promoting the City of Red Wing’s garbage incineration scams.  Schmit, in his emails, has been promoting SF 2101, a bill intended to promote more ethanol production and more forest incineration.  It’s the single worst bill I’ve ever seen in Minnesota.  Pathetically, mainstream “enviro” interests are also supporting it. Why?  Do they really think Minnesota needs more ethanol plants?  More polluting “biomass” burners.  Are they insane?

But the most telling thing was to see Kelly and Schmidt appearing side by side at a Town Hall Meeting a few weeks ago.  Dodging, weaving, and bullshitting, Schmidt gabbing and Kelly mostly silent, they didn’t tell the audience anything accurate or useful, and gave observers the impression that the Republicans and the DFL present a united front against the people.  These two, like so many, are political operatives, not representatives.  Of course, not all members of the Legislature are like this, many of both parties do try to represent the best interests of their constituents, and are responsive to communications.

Did you vote for higher utility bills? Most of “your” legislators did.

There are bills to gut regulation of electric utilities–SF 1735 (Marty) and HF 843 (Garofolo).  Attorney General Lori Swanson writes (read the whole letter here):

I am a proponent of strong regulatory oversight for public utilities.  This Office has testified against this bill (as well as telephone deregulation initiatives) in multiple committee hearings in both the state Senate and the House this year. … While my Office can testify in opposition to legislation–as we have repeatedly done here–I do not get to vote on such initiatives….I strongly encourage you to share your views with members of the state legislature.”

I heard three people testify against this: Utility regulatory attorney Carol A. Overland (Legalectric), James Canaday from the AG’s office, and myself.  Most of the funded, lobbying, “environmental” and “energy advocacy” orgs were present, and they were silent.  SILENT!

Only four senators voted against this obscenity:  Bruce D. Anderson, David M. Brown, Julianne E. Ortman, and Dave Thompson.

In the House, HF 843 passed 73 to 56.  The vote is here.

Closing with this action alert from Land Stewardship Project (lightly edited):

We need Governor Mark Dayton to ready his veto pen to stop backroom deals adopted late Saturday night.

The Minnesota Legislature decided that instead of weakening the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board, it will outright ELIMINATE it. This outrageous idea, which was not introduced as a bill or heard previously in any legislative committee, was unveiled late Saturday night and promptly adopted in conference committee in a backroom deal. The Citizens’ Board was established in 1967 with the creation of the MPCA, to ensure the agency serves the public interest and to establish an open and transparent decision making process. It has worked well and is a model the state should be proud of. [Not so.  The Citizens’ Board is 90 percent rubber stamp, but that doesn’t justify getting rid of it.  That ten percent is worth something.]

This effort to eliminate the Citizens’ Board is driven by corporate interests who want to make it more difficult for citizens to have their voices heard. This language is included in the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill, along with many other bad provisions, including a sham buffer strip proposal that puts off addressing the serious issue of agricultural runoff polluting our water. […]

Calls are needed to Governor Dayton at 651-201-3400 or 800-657-3717. The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at midnight on Monday, May 18, so calls must be made immediately. Negotiations are ongoing and around the clock, so make this call after you read this e-mail.

SUGGESTED MESSAGE: “The Agriculture and Environment Budget bill ELIMINATES the MPCA Citizens’ Board. […] This entirely new outrageous proposal was adopted late at night in conference committee. I know officials from the MPCA have made it clear to the Legislature that they oppose this provision, yet the Legislature persisted. The Legislature was fairly warned, and for the good of Minnesota you should veto this bill.”

OK, so it’s noon on Monday and the Legislature has 12 hours to go.  Time to get on the horn…..especially to the Governor.  With the Leg gone to Hell, Dayton’s veto powers are the main hope.  Bills especially needing veto:  SF 2101 (“bioeconomy”), and SF 1735/HF 843 (electric deregulation).

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Garbage prospers in the Minnesota Legislature

Photo of Senator Scalze

Sen. Bev Scalze

 

[This was my testimony on March 10, 2015, to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on S.F. 1132.  My statement was not prepared in advance and may have varied a little from this after-the-fact writeup. The authors of S.F. 1132 are listed as Senators Scalze, Ingebrigtsen, Saxhaug, Benson, and Schmit.  Scalze appeared to be the manager of the bill. She said repeatedly that “it came from the counties.”  She also said repeatedly that “the hauler community” (garbage haulers) had input.  During the meeting Scalze seemed to consult closely with one Trudy Richter, who she also presented as a witness on behalf of the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board, a joint powers board closely associated with the incineration industry. Ms. Richter is Executive Director of the state garbage incineration lobby group.  Audio recordings are available here.  Consideration of S.F. 1132 began in the morning session and continued in the afternoon.] Continue Reading →

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Renuking Minnesota?

monti1[1]Above: The Monticello reactor.  Note the tall stack used to vent cancer-causing radioactive gases.

(Please forgive the personal notes in this post.  So often we debate the technical merits of nuke power, without sufficiently considering the human side, the human impacts, of the decisions getting made.)

I’ve had more of a relationship with the nuclear industry than seems ideal.  In Delaware, I can look out a window and see the domes of three reactors.  In 2000, I wrote in an alert:

“Parts of New Castle County (DE) are in the “ingestion zones” (= within fifty miles) of 7 nuclear reactors (Limerick 1 and 2, Peach Bottom 2 & 3, Salem 1 and 2, and Hope Creek). While the nuclear industry has always claimed that it’s radiation output is too small to cause health problems, more and more reports are linking proximity to nuclear facilities to breast cancer, leukemia, childhood cancer and birth defects, and other health problems.”

Continue Reading →

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City of Red Wing seeks garbage monopoly at expense of rural and small town residents

Recycling ignored

Minnesota law ignored

Recently, after years of campaigning by residents, Hennepin County abandoned it’s plan to burn more garbage in downtown Minneapolis and called upon the city to collect more materials for recycling.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which had always opposed the residents’ campaign, reacted with displeasure, broadcastingan email saying: “The HERC incinerator will remain an important component of how the metro area manages garbage disposal.”

It should be no secret that a key cause of Minnesota’s failure for many years to make real progress on recycling is the MPCA itself.  The MPCA makes waste policy, issues permits for waste facilities, does environmental review of many of them,  and also makes grants for building/expanding these same facilities.  There are huge conflicts of interest in these multiple roles.  How can anybody believe the PCA is objective about a facility that it is funding?  Worse, the PCA’s waste policy people act as a branch of the garbage incineration industry.  Rather than focus on the top of the Minnesota “waste hierarchy”–source reduction and recycling–the PCA inverts the intent of the law and focuses on the bottom of the hierarchy–dumping and burning.

The Minnesota Legislative Auditor has said:

Minnesota law says that counties should manage municipal solid
waste according to a hierarchy that makes waste reduction, reuse, and
recycling the preferred methods and landfill disposal the least
preferred. In 1989, the Legislature adopted comprehensive waste
reduction and recycling legislation, commonly referred to as SCORE,
to support the waste management hierarchy. Among other things, the
legislation authorized state block grants to counties that could be used
for recycling and waste reduction activities, education, developing
markets for recycled material, and management of household
hazardous waste. The legislation also established goals for recycling
and waste reduction.

But the PCA puts constant pressure on counties and municipalities to burn more, at great expense and harm to air quality, while doing very little if anything to increase recycling.  Shameful examples of this can be found all over Minnesota, but here I will focus on Red Wing and Goodhue County.  The MPCA’s chief incineration agent is Sig Schurle, who prowls the state promoting the big burn.  (Schurle doesn’t return calls from this writer.  As a matter of fact, nobody at the MPCA seems to be returning my calls right now.)

The City of Red Wing has been into garbage incineration for a long time, with the usual toxic effects not only on the air but on policy.  For instance, Red Wing has lobbied the MPCA for years to get it to force more garbage from the Cities to be sent to Red Wing.  Why, because Red Wing’s burner has been losing the City lots of money for years and city officials’ idea of how to fix that is to get more garbage to burn.  Red Wing public works director Rick Moskwa said “since I took over that facility ten years ago, all I’ve done is look for waste [to burn].” The City has curtailed library hours, stopped distributing a newsletter, and curtailed other useful services while wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars per year keeping the burner going.

Now, Red Wing has shut down its municipal burner–old, dirty, obsolete, with a bad record of permit violations–and is working various alternative burner scams with Xcel Energy and the MPCA.  Why?  Xcel Energy also burns garbage in Red Wing in two converted 1940’s coal burners.  Xcel also wants to burn more garbage.  So the Red Wing legislative agenda for 2014 includes opposing a container deposit bill, more Cities garbage burned in Red Wing, and diversion of money from the Xcel “Renewable Development Fund” to buy Red Wing a garbage grinder–to increase burning at the Xcel incinerators.  Is all this shameful enough?  Read on:

For years Red Wing has also tried to force municipalities and waste haulers in and around Goodhue County to send their garbage for burning in Red Wing.  So far, these efforts have failed.  Now, Xcel, Red Wing, and the MPCA are trying again, beating on Goodhue County with carrots and sticks:

(1)     The MPCA is withholding approval of the Goodhue County solid waste plan;
(2)     he MPCA has withheld the last three “SCORE” payments–totaling about $70,000–to Goodhue County, and
(3)     is offering to transfer responsibility for an old closed landfill to the state.  This would require special legislation which Rep. Tim Kelly is reportedly prepared to introduce.

The conditions:  Goodhue County to pass a “flow control” ordinance forcing all county garbage to be taken to Red Wing for grinding up and burning.  Red Wing projects this monopoly would bring the city garbage operation an additional 8,000 tons/year of waste.  The motivation is financial:  it would bring the money-losing operation closer to break-even.

In effect:  Red Wing’s money-losing garbage operation, and the Xcel garbage burners, would be subsidized by rural Goodhue County residents.

At a March 3rd “workshop” on the scheme, attended by Red Wing city council members, Sig The Burner Man, and Greg Isakson, Goodhue County Public Works Director and County Engineer.  All said they liked the idea.  No public comment was allowed.  No mention was made of the health effects of more garbage incinerator pollution.   No mention was made of recycling except as a possible future issue.  (Red Wing’s Deputy Director of Solid Waste, Jeff Schneider, used to be “State Recycling Coordinator” at the MPCA.)

Data provided by Goodhue County indicates county recycling rates peaked at in 43% in 2007 but had dropped to 37 by 2012.

What are the implications of this scheme?

Higher disposal costs for everybody in Goodhue County, especially rural and small-town residents.
More health-damaging incinerator pollution.
Even less recycling.
Possible serious damage to private businesses such as the P.I.G. landfill in Hager City, Wisconsin (across the Mississippi River from Red Wing) that now takes a lot of waste from Goodhue County.

Benefits?

Well, some of the costs of Red Wing’s misguided waste operations could be shifted onto other County residents, and possible landfill cleanup costs could be shifted onto the entire state.  But are these real benefits?

Alternatives:

Communities all over the world are getting serious about source reduction and recycling (“zero waste.”)  There’s no reason the City of Red Wing, and Goodhue County, couldn’t do the same (Except for the perverted guidance they get from the “Pollution Control Agency .”)  With time and commitment, we could work up to a recycling rate of 80%, leaving a relatively small amount of stuff to be landfilled, and have solid waste management we could be proud of.

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NRC Nuclear nonsense hearing in Minnetonka December 4th

Nuclear Regulatory Commission “Waste Confidence” public meeting December 4.

Minnetonka, Minnesota
Minneapolis Marriott Southwest
5801 Opus Parkway
Minnetonka, MN 55343

Open House
6:00-7:00 p.m. CST
Meeting
7:00-10:00 p.m. CST

This meeting (apparently it is not a formal public hearing) was originally scheduled for October 17th but postponed due to the federal government “shutdown.”  Previous meetings have had a three-minute time limit for speakers.  “NRC staff will not be available to answer questions related to the proposed rule or DGEIS during the formal meeting.”   (But they will at the Open House.) Continue Reading →

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Comments I sent in on the current funding cycle of the Xcel “Renewable Development Account”

I’ve been looking a the Xcel Renewable Development Account (commonly called the Renewable Development Fund“) and it has a pretty sad history.   Very little good has come of it and much money has been wasted that could productively have been invested in conservation/efficiency projects.

Examples: Ten million or so went to the promoters of a new coal burner on the Range–because of the machinations of the politically connected Tom Micheletti.  Not only was this money totally wasted, but people had  to devote lots of time and energy to fighting permits for the scheme (Excelsior Energy/Mesaba Project.  Carol Overland is the expert on this.  I seem to recall a hearing in Hoyt Lakes, in an unheated hockey rink in January, and not being allowed to finish my questioning of the technical witnesses…..) Continue Reading →

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Minnesota Energy bills not ready for prime time

Two “omnibus” energy bills, SF 901 and HF 956 are wending their way through the Minnesota Legislature.  These bills are being heavily promoted by a coalition of industrial and environmental groups calling itself the “Clean Energy & Jobs” campaign.  A description of the bills from the point of view of the Clean Energy and Jobs folks is here, on the site of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.  Lots of people are being urged to contact their legislators in support of these bills.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?   And it many ways it is, but there are enough problems in these bills as they presently stand to potentially do more harm than good. Continue Reading →

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Red Wing mayor Dennis Egan finally signs a letter of resignation–sort of.

Here’s the letter.  Note he hasn’t actually resigned.  He’s saying he will resign on April Fools Day.

Egan stalled for a while after saying he’d resign.   Some people are concerned he might have a change of heart before April.

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