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.