City of Red Wing, MN, screws up.

Xcel Energy 1940s coal plant burning garbage from Ramsey and Washington counties in Red Wing (Goodhue County).  Permit expired since June, 2009

Xcel Energy 1940s coal plant burning garbage from Ramsey and Washington counties in Red Wing (Goodhue County). Permit expired since June, 2009

As a long-time opponent of nuclear power and garbage incineration, and advocate for environmental concerns, it’s ironic to find myself living in a city of 16,000 people containing two nuclear reactors, two garbage incinerator smokestacks, a nuclear waste parking lot, and various garbage and ash dumps both open and closed.  Still, there are many nice things about Red Wing including it’s picturesque location on the Mississippi River and a generally friendly, low-crime atmosphere.

Still, it is hard to understand how the city government can be screwing up so many things related to the environment and public health.

Lobbying and litigating against clean water

Here is a letter I submitted to two area newspapers a few days ago:

On the Red Wing City Council meeting agenda for December 14th is an appropriation of $6000 for the “Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities” to lobby and litigate against enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The claim is that the regulations are “not based on sound science” are too expensive, and so on. These are the same arguments made by “big ag” interests and big industrial water polluters. In fact, enforcement of the Clean Water Act in Minnesota is so weak that few surface waters meet water quality standards.

It is shameful and hypocritical for a city claiming to be “green,” to be a “river city,” and marketing itself as a tourism destination, to spend residents’ money fighting environmental law enforcement. Logically, Red Wing should be pushing for cleaner water, not trying to obstruct progress.

I have reluctantly concluded that big changes are needed in the city government.

Emails of the Council members and Mayor (Bender):

[Supporting documents here: ]

Both papers ran it (thanks!), and the story was picked up by the respected blog Bluestem Prairie (The topic is by no means new to Bluestem, this is just the latest episode):

Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities asks for dirty water tithe to fund ‘bull hockey’ litigation

Previous letter to the editor in March.

More garbage incinerator pollution

In addition to this, the City of Red Wing is running a scam, with the MPCA and Xcel Energy, to force all the garbage generated in Goodhue County to be incinerated in Red Wing.  This would mean more incinerator pollution for residents to breathe, but the City expects to make money by grinding the garbage.  See:  The burner is very dirty, for the most recent years I could find data on line, the burner belched out a million pounds of “NOx” and 67 pounds of lead.  That’s enough lead to dumb down many kids, and give lots of people asthma attacks.  If this were not bad enough, another incineration scam would bring perhaps 30 thousand tons per year of Ramsey County and Washington County garbage to be burned in Red Wing, adding even more pollution, plus toxic ash to be dumped.

If this were not bad enough, the city is pursuing another scheme to mine an old ash dump for metal.  About this I have also objected in another letter to the Red Wing Republican-Eagle:

To the Editor:

The Republican Eagle reports that Red Wing is considering a scheme to mine its incinerator ash dump for metals (RE, Nov. 11). This is a bad idea for various reasons that are fairly obvious:

•Dump mining has been tried before in Red Wing and the amounts of metal recovered did not cover the costs. If recycling of metals has increased, one would expect to find even less metal in the ash these days.

•Garbage incinerator ash is nasty stuff. It contains dioxins, toxic heavy metal compounds, and other harmful materials. It’s much worse from that point of view than frac sand. Neither workers nor residents should be unnecessarily exposed. The test used to claim that incinerator ash is “non-hazardous” is a leaching test supposed to tell us something about the potential for contamination of groundwater. It tells us nothing about what is actually in the ash, or about the hazards of breathing it.  [Do Red Wing residents want to breathe incinerator ash?]

•Metal recycling facilities, and their workers, would not benefit from receiving scrap dug out of an ash dump and contaminated with toxic crap.

•If there is concern about possible future liability from landfill leaks, as has been stated, the very last thing we should want is to have machines digging around in our dumps, increasing water entry and potentially breaking the liner.

This idea should be a non-starter. The thing to do about incinerator ash is to stop making it by not burning garbage.

Alan Muller

Red Wing

Now, lets talk about Xcel Energy and “Partners in Energy.”

Xcel Energy (formerly NSP, Northern States Power Company) has a long history in Minnesota and in Red Wing.  That history includes providing reliable electricity and gas at reasonable rates, while killing a lot of people with air pollution.

But Xcel’s traditional business model has collapsed, and Xcel’s response is to rapidly increase retail electricity rates, even though the wholesale cost of electricity from all sources is decreasing.  Since the combination of declining wholesale costs and increasing retail rates is unjustified and illogical, Xcel has been ramping up its already formidable ability to impose its will on Minnesota governments, NGOs, and media.  “Partners in Energy” is part of that.  Like most Xcel Energy schemes in Minnesota, it’s presented with great skill.  Great professionalism.

When this scheme was presented to the Red Wing City Council I expressed some concerns (see letter here), predicting that it would not involve any substantial energy savings, that it would prove to be a “parent-child relationship” rather than a partnership, and that part of the deal was pre-written propaganda to be sent out by City officials as if it originated with them.  Need I say the council disregarded these concerns and the program went ahead, with me reluctantly serving on the “team.”  Overall, it’s played out as I predicted, only worse.  A few selections from my emails to the group:

“There do not seem to be any goals identified for savings in energy (or capacity) either in percentage or absolute terms. If the objective is to “save energy” then numerical goals, in KWh and therms should be established against which progress can be measured.”

Jenny and Emma [Xcel] are extremely competent, but a presentation to the Sustainability Commission and to the City Council should be made by representatives of the City of Red Wing who were appointed to the committee for the project, AFTER a proposal has been agreed upon, or at least after the committee has met and voted.  I think it would probably be a good idea for the City representatives to meet together without Xcel’s personnel present (I regard CEE as part of Xcel for all practical purposes) to facilitate some candid discussion of what has and has not been accomplished.”

“In previous emails I’ve noted that the draft plan did not contain any measurable energy savings objectives.  At the last meeting I distributed a rough memo indicating that the electricity savings implied by the draft plan seemed to be less than one percent of present usage.  I do not know whether that is acceptable to the committee as I haven’t seen feedback from other members on this point.  But I would be opposed to seeing the City of Red Wing promote an “energy partnership” without substantial and measurable energy savings objectives.”

“The essence of all this, of course, is that Xcel Energy does a superbly effective job of representing its interests. The City of Red Wing needs to at least TRY to represent its own interests effectively.”

Xcel’s reps are unfailingly polite and professional, even when challenged frontally.  On the other hand, here is a response from the vice-chair of the Red Wing Sustainability Commission: “I took the liberty to go through your email below and highlight/bold the descriptive wording that I have objections to with the style and tone. It is degrading and does not reflect effective leadership skills. Show me that you can do better.”  Yeppers.

So tonight, at the same council meeting at which $6000 is to be dedicated to dirty water, the City staff proposes to “designate up to $ 10, 000 to support promotion of the plan within the Red Wing business community.”  It’s all for businesses.  Not a penny for residents.  There is no danger of any independent judgement being exercised because the “IMPLEMENTATION MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING” includes “Providing Xcel Energy an opportunity to review all communications that include Partners in Energy, Xcel Energy, the Xcel Energy logo or Xcel Energy products, programs or services to ensure accuracy.”  Yeppers.

So how should one understand this?  As far as I can see the city staff and council are not noticeably stupid, or corrupt.  Is is just the “company town” mentality that comes with  decades of Xcel dominance and paternalism?  Is it the low level of awareness and lack of independent advocacy?   Is it the wrong-headedness of the MPCA?  I don’t know, but it stinks.






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