Comments on the “Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card”

The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) solicited comments on its Report Card, developed per Gov. Dayton’s Executive Order 11-32. I sent some in, which are below, and would encourage people to send something in.  The so-called “Environmental Congress” is happening on march 15th in Bloomington (public apparently not invited). Continue Reading →

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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 (

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 (, 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

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Personal letter objecting to wolf hunting and trapping

October 23, 2012


Mr. Tom Landwehr, Commissioner
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Dear Commissioner Landwehr:

I was outraged when the Minnesota DNR announced a hunting season on sandhill cranes. I am now equally outraged at the current wolf hunt. One wonders if the DNR is planning to make a habit of declaring “open season” on delisted, Federally-endangered species. Continue Reading →

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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:

Relevant contacts:

o       Paul Aasen, Commissioner of the MPCA, 651-757-2016,

o       Governor Dayton, 651-201-3400,

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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