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“Zero Waste” or more polluting, carbon-belching incineration??

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“Zero Waste” or more polluting, carbon-belching incineration??

Decisions have consequences.  Minneapolis people in the 1980s put up a strong fight against building the HERC garbage burner in Minneapolis.  They lost, and got decades of polluted air, inflated bills, and a recycling rate of 17 percent.  It was an expensive loss.  This is finally turning around, we think, but only because over the last few years people put up a strong fight against expanded burning at the HERC. 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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Promised updates on details of mega-horrible bills….

This is the promised further detail on the “mega-horrible” bills being heard in a Senate committee at 4:00 pm this afternoon (Thursday, March 19th.

For the utility “deregulation” bills

see Carol Overland’s Legalectric.org post, “the problems with SF 1735″ .  Overland has been practicing utility regulatory law for a long time and knows the history behind the present scams.  This is complicated stuff that just can’t be reduced to sound bites, but here are two anyway:  (1) Utilities, expecially Xcel Energy, can pretty much afford to buy off everybody, and (2) Nobody in Minnesota government or politics seems to be publicly standing up for ratepayers, the environment, or the public interest.

Attorney General Lori Swanson has the authority to act on behalf of the public.  Ask her to do so:  (651) 296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787, Attorney.General@ag.state.mn.us.

[Note:  There is a “delete-all” amendment to S. F. 1431 which we received at 10:30 pm.  This new version does not seem to correct any of the problems people are objecting to.  It has new sections, some of which seem to raise new concerns.]

[Update:  The AG’s office DID appear at the hearing and oppose both the original bill and the delete-all amendment.  Kudos to Lori Swanson.]

For the “Energy Omnibus Bill, S.F. 1431,” see below

Continue Reading →

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“What are we doing to our children’s brains?”

“Environmental chemicals are wreaking havoc to last a lifetime”

In November, election results put many anti-health, anti-environmental activists into public office.  Did this happen because millions of people said to themselves “I have too much money … we need more pollution and disease … corporations and banks are being oppressed by the people …?”  I doubt it, but the effect is the same. Continue Reading →

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Citizens’ Board does a good thing; Powers of Darkness push back; Action Alert

Feedlot Action Alert, and: Update: “Strange nonsense at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (and the MPCA)”

In June I did a post critical of the MN Environmental Quality Board and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, suggesting that the environment of Minnesota isn’t being protected very well.  The email of this post had a higher readership than any other I’ve written.  One friend called it “very depressing.”  It garnered me some disapproving looks from EQB and Citizens’ Board members.  What’s happened since?

(The rest of this post relates to the MPCA and it’s Citizens’ Board.  In my view the EQB is looking like a train wreck, but that’s for another post.) Continue Reading →

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Minnesota’s “Legislative Energy Commission” vs public participation

The Minnesota Legislature has a “Legislative Energy Commission” (LEC) made up of Senators and Representatives. The law establishing it says:  “The commission shall continuously evaluate the energy policies of this state and the degree to which they promote an environmentally and economically sustainable energy future.” Continue Reading →

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Minnesota agency comments on EPA Region 5 climate change draft report…..??

The US Environmental Protection has laid out a  Draft Region 5 Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan (draft dated September 18, 2013)  and is accepting public comments through January 3, 2014.

For whatever reason, I just found about this yesterday.  Apparently, no effort has been made to alert the public, although NOTHING is more important to our future than climate change.  (Of course, we are having a cold winter, but that’s weather, not climate.)

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been preparing comments.

I lack confidence in the PCA’s management to address this issue, mainly because of a disgraceful rulemaking in 2012, in which the breakpoint for regulating carbon dioxide was raised from 100 tons to 100 thousand tons.  More on that here.  More also from Carol Overland at Legalectric.org  Lots of people objected, but it seemed to be one of those “done deal” situations.  The Administrative Law Judge, Miguel Cervantes, seemed to be hearing the arguments, but–suspiciously, in my view–the order upholding the PCA’s indefensible position was signed by a different ALJ, Eric Lipman.  Neither the PCA or the Office of Administrative Hearings covered itself with glory….

Some rumors have circulated that MPCA staffers developed stronger, more substantial comments than the PCA’s management plans to submit.  There would be nothing surprising or unusual about this if true.  The PCA is a politically controlled bureaucracy and most politicians respond primarily to the short-term agendas of industrial interests.  Certainly Governor Dayton seems to.

But consider:  We are at a critical point in history and how we react, or if we react in advance, to climate change will have a big impact on our children and their children….  The only way to get real “value” from environmental regulatory staffers is to have technically and ethically competent, motived people and let them do real work, protected as much as possible from censorship and retribution.

With this in mind I sent in the following information requestto the head of the MPCA, and similar requests to MDH and DNR.

Dear Commissioner Stine:

It is my understanding that EPA Region 5 is accepting public comments on the Draft Region 5 Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan (draft dated September 18, 2013) through January 3, 2014.  It is also my understanding that the MPCA and perhaps other Minnesota agencies have been working on comments.

Pursuant to the MN Data Practices Act, I request copies of all comments and related correspondence, including all versions of all drafts of comments/proposed comments.

If this request raises any questions please contact me.

Yours very truly,

Alan Muller

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