Scott's Blog


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

Lead in the water

Excellent primer on lead issues from our friends at the NRDC. We've made enormous progress in getting lead out of the air, but are still way short of where we need to be on lead in the water. This is not just about Flint. This is a national problem.

Worldwide movement toward carbon pricing

Interesting article in the New York Times on World Bank and IMF efforts to get countries to adopt carbon taxes or cap-and-trade programs. MCEA hopes that the recent administrative law judge recommendation that Minnesota adopt the federal "social cost of carbon" is a first step here. And, as many of you know, Washington state has a carbon tax initiative on the ballot this year.

Flint is hardly alone

Good, kind of wonky article about drinking water infrastructure, focusing on technology and financing: "Our drinking water systems are a disaster. What can we do?" 

Criminal charges coming out of the Flint water crisis

Reports are coming in that three of the state and local officials responsible for drinking water problems in Flint are going to be subjected to criminal charges. My understanding is that adding corrosion inhibitors to drinking water supplies is pretty routine when lead pipes are involved. If the reason this was not done was just to save a few dollars to appease the state officials trying to cut all costs at Flint, somebody probably should go to jail.

Half the US Population Still Breathes Unhealthy Air

The American Lung Association has its annual "State of the Air" report out. It shows progress on clean air during the 2012-2014 period studies, but still much farther to go to meet air quality standards. Minneapolis-St. Paul gets a "D" for ground-level ozone and a "B" for fine particulates. If we can get those numbers down--clean up smog in the summer, and soot in the winter--we can make enormous public health strides. That means continuing to close coal-fired power plants, retiring or retrofitting old diesel engines, reducing residential wood smoke, improving practices in typically smaller businesses where volatile organic compounds get released, and reducing overall miles traveled in vehicles running on fossil fuels. It's hard to know how a city like Bakersfield can get out of its air pollution mess, but we can certainly do much better here.

Continuing lead problems

Excellent Last Week Tonight episode, where John Oliver addresses our ongoing lead problem. MCEA has pushed for lower health action levels for lead. As we all know from Flint, there are issues throughout the country with lead contamination in water pipes, but the more serious problem remains ingestion of lead paint. He points out the hypocrisy of members of Congress expressing "concern" about lead in Flint, while they vote to cut spending on lead abatement every year.

Broken record--sulfide mines and financial assurance

Earthjustice report on the Cevron Molycorp mine in New Mexico, which closed in 2014. The "broken record," where policy makers keep making the same mistake over and over, is the inadequacy of the financial assurance package intended to protect taxpayers. The cleanup cost of this mine will be between $500 and 800 million; the financial assurance is $167 million, and you know who will foot the bill for the difference.

Judge recommends Minnesota adopt federal "social cost of carbon"

Big win for MCEA, big win for Minnesota today. Today, Administrative Law Judge LauraSue Schlatter, after months and months of hearings, briefs, and expert reports, recommended to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that it adopt the federal "social cost of carbon" as the binding external cost of carbon emissions for all electric utility decision making. That means that the PUC (and the utilities who need the PUC to bless their plans) will have to include those negative external costs in their calculations, and it will make carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation much more difficult to justify on economic terms.

Too often, environmentalists get derided as blissed-out flower children who don't understand hard economic realities. Well, not so much. When a power plant puts a ton of carbon in the air, we all pay a real economic price that ought to be borne by the utility. Internalizing negative external costs through public policy is something even free-market conservatives endorse, and today Minnesota took another step toward getting that right, at least for electricity generation.

Next stop for this is the PUC. Next step from a policy perspective should be a more serious discussion about shifting toward a carbon tax, based on this kind of economic analysis.

WSJ on tailings dam collapses

Excellent piece last week in the Wall Street Journal on tailings basin collapses, with a terrific explanation of the engineering challenges. With the pressure on commodity prices, the temptation for operators to cut corners will be immense.

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