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Read Scott's thoughts on important environmental issues in Minnesota, the United States, and worldwide.


Clean Power Plan: floors turning into ceilings?

Here is a recent article in the Washington Post showing how little Kentucky will actually have to do to hit its goals under the Clean Power Plan. Similar articles have popped up around the country.

Despite all the apocalyptic yelling about how the Clean Power Plan will bring the US economy to its needs, the real problem is that the goals are not ambitious enough.  Here in Minnesota, the risk is that agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Commerce will tell the governor that we can hit our goals largely by staying the current course and without forcing any major changes, and the temptation will be great to declare victory.

Hitting the Clean Power Plan goals would not be "victory" for Minnesota. As most of our energy leaders repeat over and over again, Minnesota's competitive future depends in large part on moving away from imported fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.  Apparently some of our energy leaders don't believe their own rhetoric,however, because instead of using the Clean Power Plan as a stepstool to get where we need to go, they too quickly get focused on complaining that Minnesota has to do more than its share, that other states are getting off too easily, that we aren't getting enough credit for all the good work we've already done, and that the goals are too hard and we need more time, and so on.  It may be good, short-term politics to celebrate getting over a bar that you have successfully lowered, but the public should not let politicians get away with it.


Climate, air pollution, environmental justice, racial justice

Important op-ed from Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Van Jones in today's Guardian.  So often, we put issues like environmental protection and racial justice in separate pigeonholes, but, as the editorial explains, that is a mistake.  People of color bear the brunt of problems like air pollution, and the cost in premature deaths and serious illness is not borne equally.  Those of us who wallow in the details of air quality permits and ambient air quality standards get hung up in averages, when the real problems are the disporportionatel effects on populations who already suffer considerable disadvantages.

Broken transportation politics

Article in ProPublica today about how Congress cannot raise the gas tax, even though business, labor, environmental groups all support it, and a growing list of red states have raised their gas taxes for growing infrastructure needs without any significant political blowback.  Obviously, Minnesota's current situation parallels Washington's, as we continue to kick the transportation can down the (crumbling) road.

Copper mining in Montana

Very interesting piece in the Travel section of Sunday's New York Times on the Smith River in Montana and the threat posed by a new copper mining proposal.  Of course, with a few name changes, basically the same article could be written dateline Minnesota.  The talking points from the mining company are virtually identical to the talking points here, the chronic inability of environmental impact statements on new mines to predict the level of pollution accurately remains the same, and obviously the threat to a resource like the Smith River is the same as what we might be facing here.  The only difference is that Montana has struggled with copper mining for decades, and the industry's poor environmental track record stares Montanans right in the face.  "But this new mine will be different..." remains very hard to swallow.

State air pollution is a killer

That was the headline this week on the front page of the Pioneer Press.  The story was about a new report out from the MPCA and the state health department, calculating the health impacts of ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution.

Because Minnesota remains in what the Clean Air Act calls "attainment," many assume that we do not have a clean air problem.  And indeed, the air is cleaner here than in many parts of the country.  But--and this is a big but--science is telling us that even lower levels of exposure have serious health consequences.  That means the air quality standards are going to get tougher.

To stay out of "nonattainment" (which, by the way, would cost Minnesota business hundreds of millions in new compliance costs) and to reduce these adverse health impacts, the MPCA has set a goal of reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions (precursor to ozone formation) and fine particulate emissions by 10%.   That is an ambitious goal, one MCEA applauds, but we do not have the funding or the programs in place to drive those numbers down.

Over the next 20 years, changes in vehicle fuels and retirement of coal plants will help a lot, but that is too long.  We need to accelerate the replacement or repowering of old diesel equipment, we need to reduce residential wood fires, particularly on "bad air" days, and we need to keep reducing overall vehicle miles travelled, which means investments in transit.  As with water, the problem with air  is no longer the big "point sources," but rather the thousands of smaller sources where traditional regulation cannot be as effective.  Yet, if we fall out of attainment, it will be the big point sources who will pay the heaviest costs, so they should be motivated to do what it takes to get these air quality numbers better.

Fossil fuel companies going over the cliff?

Energy economists continue to warn that major new fossil fuel investments are likely to lead to "stranded assets," and disruptive company collapses. This reinforces the view I certainly share, which is that the transition to renewable energy is going to happen, it's just a matter of whether we make the transition smartly and smoothly or not.

BTW note the reference to Glencore Xstrata, the giant conglomerate that is the principal funding source for the PolyMet copper-nickel mining project.  A couple of months ago, Ivan Glasenburg, Glencore's CEO, made the cynical comment that he was sure governments would never actually adopt climate action policy, so his company's bets on coal were secure.
Energy economists continue to warn that major new fossil fuel investments are likely to lead to "stranded assets," and disruptive company collapses.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/09/fossil-fuel-firms-risk-billions-ignoring-climate-change-iea  This reinforces the view i certainly share, which is that the transition to renewable energy is going to happen, it's just a matter of whether we make the transition smartly and smoothly or not.

  BTW note the reference to Glencore Xstrata, the giant conglomerate that is the principal funding source for the PolyMet copper-nickel mining project.  A couple of months ago, Ivan Glasenburg, Glencore's CEO, made the cynical comment that he was sure governments would never actually adopt climate action policy, so his company's bets on coal were secure.
Energy economists continue to warn that major new fossil fuel investments are likely to lead to "stranded assets," and disruptive company collapses.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/09/fossil-fuel-firms-risk-billions-ignoring-climate-change-iea  This reinforces the view i certainly share, which is that the transition to renewable energy is going to happen, it's just a matter of whether we make the transition smartly and smoothly or not.

  BTW note the reference to Glencore Xstrata, the giant conglomerate that is the principal funding source for the PolyMet copper-nickel mining project.  A couple of months ago, Ivan Glasenburg, Glencore's CEO, made the cynical comment that he was sure governments would never actually adopt climate action policy, so his company's bets on coal were secure.

Anti-regulatory "earmarks"

New issue alert from the Center for Progressive Reform on the Congressional majorities' growing use of anti-regulatory policy riders in must-pass budget bills.  They add up the cost in premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and missed school and work days.  Of course, late additions of bad policy riders was the heart of the controversy over the environment bill in this year's Minnesota legislature. 


Minnesota Power announces closure of Taconite Harbor coal plant on the shore of Lake Superior

Minnesota Power announced today that it will retire the remaining two units of its Taconite Harbor coal-fired power plant, located south of Grand Marais on the north shore of Lake Superior.  This is an important victory for clean energy in Minnesota.  MCEA prepared a lawsuit a year ago, and the settlement required that Minnesota Power demonstrate how this power plant would comply with new tougher air quality standards.  Today, MP decided to retire the plant rather than spend the money to try to retrofit it to comply with the Clean Air Act.

New climate report with focus on cities

The New Climate Economy Group, chaired by former Mexico president Felipe Calderon, issued a report yesterday emphasizing the importance of local action, particularly in the areas of transit and land use, to achieve significant carbon emission reductions.  Here's the Guardian story, which has a link to the report itself.

Court upholds Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan

A Third Circuit panel on Monday upheld the "total maximum daily load" report completed by the EPA for the Chesapeake Bay basin.  The Chesapeake has been choked by agricultural runoff--sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus--with the resulting algal blooms and "dead zones."  This TMDL report does not force anybody to do anything, but it does set the stage for much more strict regulation in the states surrounding the Bay.

The Farm Bureau and the usual ag industry suspects challenged it as being beyond the scope of EPA's authority, mainly because it was too specific about what actually needs to be done.  The farm groups' main fear, of course, is that the EPA might haul off and do the same kind of thing or the Mississippi River watershed and start forcing real change in agricultural practices.

The opinion is also helpful for its explanation of how this part of the Clean Water Act works.  It's complicated, but it goes right to the heart of many of MCEA's efforts on behalf of clean water in Minnesota, and the concerns that drove the governor's buffer initiative this past legislative session.  The opinion can be found here, and an article from the Center for American Progress can be found here.

A Third Circuit panel today upheld the "total maximum daily load" report completed by the EPA for the Chesapeake Bay basin.   The Chesapeake has been choked by agricultural runoff--sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus--with the resulting algal blooms and "dead zones."  This TMDL report does not force anybody to do anything, but it does set the stage for much more strict regulation in the states surrounding the Bay.

The Farm Bureau and the usual ag industry suspects challenged it as being beyond the scope of EPA's authority, mainly because it was too specific about what actually needs to be done.  The farm groups' main fear, of course, is that the EPA might haul off and do the same kind of thing or the Mississippi River watershed and start forcing real change in agricultural practices.

The opinion is also helpful for its explanation of how this part of the Clean Water Act works.  It's complicated, but it goes right to the heart of many of MCEA's efforts on behalf of clean water in Minnesota, and the concerns that drove the governor's buffer initiative this past legislative session.  The opinion is at http://www.eenews.net/assets/2015/07/06/document_gw_03.pdf, and an article from the Center for American Progress is at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/07/06/3677227/chesapeake-bay-cleanup-opinion/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=cptop3
A Third Circuit panel today upheld the "total maximum daily load" report completed by the EPA for the Chesapeake Bay basin.   The Chesapeake has been choked by agricultural runoff--sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus--with the resulting algal blooms and "dead zones."  This TMDL report does not force anybody to do anything, but it does set the stage for much more strict regulation in the states surrounding the Bay.

The Farm Bureau and the usual ag industry suspects challenged it as being beyond the scope of EPA's authority, mainly because it was too specific about what actually needs to be done.  The farm groups' main fear, of course, is that the EPA might haul off and do the same kind of thing or the Mississippi River watershed and start forcing real change in agricultural practices.

The opinion is also helpful for its explanation of how this part of the Clean Water Act works.  It's complicated, but it goes right to the heart of many of MCEA's efforts on behalf of clean water in Minnesota, and the concerns that drove the governor's buffer initiative this past legislative session.  The opinion is at http://www.eenews.net/assets/2015/07/06/document_gw_03.pdf, and an article from the Center for American Progress is at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/07/06/3677227/chesapeake-bay-cleanup-opinion/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=cptop3
A Third Circuit panel today upheld the "total maximum daily load" report completed by the EPA for the Chesapeake Bay basin.   The Chesapeake has been choked by agricultural runoff--sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus--with the resulting algal blooms and "dead zones."  This TMDL report does not force anybody to do anything, but it does set the stage for much more strict regulation in the states surrounding the Bay.

The Farm Bureau and the usual ag industry suspects challenged it as being beyond the scope of EPA's authority, mainly because it was too specific about what actually needs to be done.  The farm groups' main fear, of course, is that the EPA might haul off and do the same kind of thing or the Mississippi River watershed and start forcing real change in agricultural practices.

The opinion is also helpful for its explanation of how this part of the Clean Water Act works.  It's complicated, but it goes right to the heart of many of MCEA's efforts on behalf of clean water in Minnesota, and the concerns that drove the governor's buffer initiative this past legislative session.  The opinion is at http://www.eenews.net/assets/2015/07/06/document_gw_03.pdf, and an article from the Center for American Progress is at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/07/06/3677227/chesapeake-bay-cleanup-opinion/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=cptop3

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