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

HighTechToilet

“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 do Minnesotans put up with this?

On June 23rd, the MPCA “Citizens’ Board” held its last meeting, the board having been abolished by the Minnesota Legislature with the consent of Governor Mark Dayton.

Some very smart, well-informed people must have written the environmental laws of Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Citizens’ Board seems to have been designed to keep the MPCA from becoming overly bureaucratic, self-serving, and too closely tied to the interests it was supposed to regulate.  These, of course, are the normal evolutionary tendencies of a regulatory agency, kept down only by constant effort.  No wonder the Chamber and “big-ag,” etc, wanted the Citizens’ Board gone.

Back to the June 23rd meeting, in the basement boardroom of the MPCA, beginning at 9:00 am and ending about 6:30 pm. What I observed, having been there all day, seemed rather different from the media reports I have seen.  No need, however, to take my word for anything.  You can see many of the documents and watch video of the meeting here. 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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[Wash Post] “Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/utilities-sensing-threat-put-squeeze-on-booming-solar-roof-industry/2015/03/07/2d916f88-c1c9-11e4-ad5c-3b8ce89f1b89_story.html

This, folks, is what is REALLY going on.  The good news is that the cost of solar has dropped and it’s really happening.  The bad news is that it will happen slowly and expensively if the utilities keep a chokehold on it.  Utilities have long since mastered the art of pretending to promote what they are actually blocking.  Perhaps no utility in the world is cleverer at this than Xcel Energy (Northern States Power Company).  The breadth and depth of NPS’s current efforts to gut the utility regulatory process and impose its will on Minnesota energy policy is breathtaking.  Stand by for more details on this.  And: expect some really horrible legislation to sneaked through the Minnesota Legislature.

Alan Muller Continue Reading →

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The “Burner County” resource page–resources to better understand why Hennepin County owns, and Covanta operates, the “HERC” garbage incinerator in Downtown Minneapolis, MN

Here are links to various documents, some found on the official Hennepin County website, some found elsewhere, and some obtained by means of MN Data Practices Act (“Freedom of Information”) requests.  This is a work in progress and we will be adding to it.  If you have documents to contribute to the effort, please send them to Alan Muller, alan@greendel.org

(There are also many important HERC documents on the website of Minneapolis Neighbors for Clean Air.)

My letter to the Hennepin County board about HERC concerns.  Includes links to background documents…. This letter contains various important questions we hope the County will provide meaningful answers to.

Contract for hiring the Washington, DC law firm Morris, Manning & Martin for $50,000 in connection with HERC contract extension. Obtained from Hennepin County via Data Practices Act.

Agreement between Hennepin County and HDR Engineering for services related to negotiating a 20-year extension of the “service agreement” with Covanta for operating the HERC garbage burner. Cost: $139,408.   Obtained from Hennepin County via Data Practices Act.

The following two documents need to be looked at together.  One is the “Board Action Request,” giving a “TOTAL NET AMENDED NOT TO EXCEED $407,163,484.00”  The second is the text of the Amendment with an attached list of actual projects.

https://alanmuller.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Board-Action-Request-Amd-5-to-HC-service-agreement-with-Covanta.pdf

https://alanmuller.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/amendmentfivetoserviceagreement.pdf

This is a page extracted from the 342 page Hennepin County CBTF [Capital Budget Task Force] Recommended: 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Program. The full document is likely available on the Hennepin County website here: http://www.hennepin.us/your-government/budget-finance/budgets, but I am not attempting to link to the specific document as things seem to keep moving around.

https://alanmuller.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/page-from-2015-capital-budget.pdf

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Strange nonsense at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (and the MPCA)

Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB), and it’s Climate Change Subcommittee, held a meeting on June 18, 2014.

“The mission of the Environmental Quality Board is to lead Minnesota environmental policy by responding to key issues, providing appropriate review and coordination, serving as a public forum and developing long-range strategies to enhance Minnesota’s environmental quality. The Environmental Quality Board consists of a Governor’s representative (by law the board chair), nine state agency heads and five citizen members. Minnesota Statutes, Chapters 103A, 103B, 116C, 116D and 116G (Statutes and Rules of the EQB)”
Continue Reading →

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Contact Gov. Dayton today about frac sand mining

Frac sand mining coming to a head in Minnesota Legislature

Minnesotans are putting up a great fight against uncontrolled expansion of frac sand mining in Minnesota.  Methods being used range from inspiring acts of civil disobedience, to online petitions, to extensive and detailed testimony to the Environmental Quality Board, to the hiring of a capable mainstream lobbyist at the Legislature.  Busloads of people from Southeastern Minnesota have appeared in St. Paul several times.  A great deal of technical information has been collected.

The battles are being fought in cities, townships, counties, the state, and nationally.  So far, the results at local levels are mixed, but at the Minnesota Legislature mining interests are prevailing.  Why?  The mining people have the automatic support of essentially all Republican legislators, plus a strong segment of the DFL traditionally associated with mining interests.  They’ve been softening up the Legislature on this issue for years.  Governor Dayton is notoriously indifferent to environmental concerns and subservient to mining interests.

The surviving helpful measure before the Legislature would disallow frac sand mining within 5,000 feet of fragile springs, trout streams and groundwater tables.  It’s being promoted by Trout Unlimited and has the support of the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources and Governor Dayton.  (But Dayton met with mining representatives yesterday while reportedly refusing to meet with anti-sand representatives.)

Strib editorial:  “ Minnesota Legislature must protect trout streams

OpEd from Trout Unlimited:  “ Minnesota waters need clearer regulation

A key Senate vote on this is expected today, Friday.  Yet, Governor Dayton is considered the key person.  Without really strong support from him, success is unlikely.  It will likely require a substantial outpouring of public sentiment to get him to maintain a strong stand in favor of protecting waters.  He needs to insist on it, not just nominally support it.  Please contribute to that outpouring.

Lots of action alerts are circulating.  Here is one from Trout Unlimited:

Governor Dayton is being intensely lobbied by industry to retreat from his support for substantive setbacks and to instead settle for toothless studies and rubber stamp permits.  He needs to hear from you tonight and tomorrow morning, especially via his Facebook page.  Urge him to stand up for average folks and stand behind his quote in today�s paper “I strongly support that position [Schmit�s one-mile setback] and will do everything I can in conference committee to get it enacted.C
Contact Governor Dayton and encouragement him not to waiver
Thank him for supporting the one-mile setback, and the setback to 25 feet above the water table, proposed by Sen. Schmit.  Urge him not to waiver in his support and explain that environmental review is not equivalent to substantive setbacks, and should not be acceptable to him.  A permitting program without strong standards is similarly weak and unacceptable.
The best chance to actually reach him is to contact him is via his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GovMarkDayton
You can also try calling Governor Dayton at 651-201-3400, or toll free at 1-800-657-3717.
He also has an e mail form:  http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/

[He also has an email address:  mark.dayton@state.mn.us]

Something else:

“The critical vote in St. Paul on the amendment protecting trout streams and groundwater in SE Minnesota from the frac sand industry will likely come sometime between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm today. We’ve been losing by a single vote. Gov Dayton’s support is critical, but he’s hearing from industry how great frac-sand mining will be for MN’s economy.”

Thank you for acting.

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Bogus “Community Forum” on frac sand mining in Red Wing, Minnesota

Letter to the Editor
Red Wing Republican Eagle

On Nov. 15th “Red Wing 2020,” an advisory committee to Mayor Egan, is holding a “Community Forum” on Frac Sand mining (http://bit.ly/SAiT6O).

All of the presenters are state officials: no community representatives are on the panel.  It seem obvious that a “community forum” should include community representatives.

The oil and gas people have huge resources they are bringing to bear to try to impose their will on our city and county.  A basic question is whether an adequate regulatory framework is in place to ensure that frac sand mining, should it occur locally, would not harm community health, quality of life, or our economy.  Residents, many involved with Save-The-Bluffs (https://sites.google.com/site/savethebluffs/), have studied this concern and concluded that the answer is “no.”  These insights should be included in the “community” program.

On the other hand, state officials, no matter how technically competent–I know and respect many of the scheduled presenters–are probably not in a position to be candid and objective about the adequacy of state regulatory programs.

I hope Mayor Egan and his advisors will rethink their approach to this forum and add several community representatives to the panel.

Elected officials should treat their constituents as citizens to be empowered, not children to be instructed.

Alan Muller
1110 West Avenue
Red Wing
302.299.6783

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