Blog from Scott Strand, Executive Director


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

Mercury and the St. Louis River

Good editorial today in the Duluth News Tribune about the need to reduce mercury levels in the St. Louis River.  Many environmentalists in Minnesota have been critical of the MPCA, believing that is moving too slowly or, worse, that it is caving in to mining interests whose contaminated water is getting into the river.  MPCA obviously disputes that, but, to its credit, MPCA is participating (up to and including the commissioner) in a forum this evening in Duluth to talk about what they are actually doing.  We hope that is a fruitful discussion.

Enbridge Pipeline: Can you divide up a project into small pieces to avoid environmental review?

Enbridge, the giant pipeline company that is proposing to dramatically increase the amount of tar sands oil moving through Minnesota, is trying to avoid serious federal environmental review of their plan to increase the amount of oil going through its "Alberta Clipper" pipeline.  Because the pipeline crosses the international border, it requires State Department approval and normally environmental review before a permit can be granted.  Enbridge, however, is now saying it will divert the oil into an already-permitted pipeline, just to get it over the border, and then run it through the Alberta Clipper once it's in the U.S.  Their argument is that State Department review can be limited to the short segment that crosses the border, and not include the rest of the project.  So far, the state department is buying that, but environmental groups are challenging this attempt to get around the rules.  Here is a good summary of the case, featuring a quote from MCEA board member Alex Klass.

Fixing Climate Change Can Be Free

New York Times piece today on a new report that debunks the notion that fixing climate change means an era of sacrifice and slower economic growth.  The issue should be less about "shared sacrifice" and more about "smart investments."

Germany leading the way on renewables

Thoughtful, thorough front-page article in the Sunday New York Times on Germany's rapid transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear toward renewable energy sources, and the disruptive effect it is having on electric utility business models.  Lots of references to US utilities trying to figure out whether to fight renewables, embrace renewables, evolve into the backup energy source rather than the primary, and so on, and different state regulatory approaches.  As the first big industrial power to make such a substantial push toward renewables, Germany may well set the rules for the new energy economy that is coming.

Important pipeline decision from PUC

Last Thursday, the state public utilities commission (PUC), at the request of the MPCA and the DNR, ordered Enbridge to study the environmental impacts of several potential pipeline routes for the proposed Sandpiper project.  What's important about the 3-2 ruling is that it is the first time the PUC has ordered a pipeline company to study alternatives other than the ones the company has identified.  Estimates are this could delay the project a year, but the odds today of rerouting a pipeline away from more fragile areas of Minnesota's landscape are better than they have ever been.

More Bad Climate News

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report yesterday demonstrating that the percentage increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 was the largest in 30 years.  Their analysis again documents how significant reduction in GHG emissions, as in 80%, is the only way to hold off an irreversible climate catastrophe.  Here's a link to the report.

At the same time, the Audubon Society reports that half the birds in Minnesota are threatened by climate change, including the common loon, our state bird.

Clean Power rules and Environmental Justice

The "existing source" rules for carbon emissions from the Obama EPA have been praised for the flexibility they afford the states in developing their plans.  One negative consequence of that is that many states may choose to leave coal plants located near low-income communities and communities of color in place with little or no reductions, while they do things elsewhere to meet their federal targets.  Carbon emissions may come down statewide, but neighborhoods with kids getting asthma from the old coal plant may not see any benefits.

North Dakota's Legacy

For those who think Minnesota should become more like North Dakota when it comes to environmental regulation, here's some evidence to the contrary.  In the oil patch, North Dakota is clearly trading long-term contamination and economic loss for short-term wealth.  Let's hope Minnesota does not head that direction.

MCEA and the Metro Green Line

GUEST BLOG: by Jim Erkel, Land Use and Transportation Director

As part the opening ceremonies for the Green Line, a video was produced about the Stops for Us campaign which worked to add transit stations for transit-dependent neighborhoods at Western, Victoria, and Hamline Avenues.  It was previewed yesterday at the meeting of the Partnership for Regional Opportunity.  You can check it out at here.  You will see a talking head from MCEA now and again and MCEA's logo at the end.  Much more importantly, though, you will see some of the maps MCEA produced that helped FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff make the case for changing the FTA's cost effectiveness index from a pass-fail test to one of several social and economic considerations taken into account in planning and constructing the Green Line.  As some of the people interviewed point out, the FTA's change of the CEI wasn't only a win for communities adjacent to University Avenue, it helped and will continue to help similarly situated communities across the nation.

Smog standards getting tougher

Late last week, the EPA released another report showing why the ground-level ozone (smog) standard needs to tighten from 75 parts per billion to somewhere between 60 and 70. Here in Minnesota, tightening that standard significantly raises the risk of a "nonattainment" finding and all of the federal clean air mandates that follow.  That could be tough for business.  On the other hand, meeting that tougher standard would have enormous public health benefits.

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