Blog from Scott Strand, Executive Director

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


No-till agriculture and carbon emissions

Article on no-till agriculture features research by MCEA board member Peter Reich. Click to read more.


Grasping at straws?

Blog entry from Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Stromberg, parsing language from Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to suggest a concession from a member of the new Republican leadership in the Senate that climate change is occurring and is being caused by human activity. I'm not sure I see the evolution in Sen. Thune's thoughts on this, but there is always hope.

Executive Action

President Obama appears to be determined to use his authority over the executive branch to get things to happen in the face of a gridlocked Congress.  Last week, the Center for Progressive Reform outlined 13 rulemaking initiatives that they recommend the Administration push through in its final two years. Many of them are environmental, including the new ground-level ozone standard (due out by December 1), the greenhouse gas emission standards for electric power plants, the "waters of the US" rule to clarify federal jurisdiction over protected wetlands and stream tributaries, as well as new stormwater and feedlot standards.  These are all worthy initiatives, and have been pretty fully discussed and debated, so the question is whether the Administration feels the same political obstacles, now that the mid-term elections are over. 

Low oil prices could jeopardize KeystoneXL

Several observers have been skeptical about the KeystoneXL pipeline on purely economic grounds, because extracting oil from Canadian tar sands is expensive and likely to get more expensive as strip mining gives way to in situ extraction where steam has to be injected to release the oil from the rock.  Now, with oil prices down some 28%, the cost of extracting the oil up there could very well already be higher than the price available. And that's before including any external costs that might eventually be included in the cost of getting oil out of that region.  Not likely that any of this will get any traction in the debate over KeystoneXL in the current lame duck session, which appears to be more about giving Sen. Landrieu a chance to vote for it than anything else.

Everything related to everything else

Interesting story about how the toxic algae bloom that contaminated drinking water in northwest Ohio this past summer was not just about phosphorus loads from agricultural runoff, bad septic systems, and so on, but also related to invasive species, specifically zebra mussels and how they react to phosphorus, and climate change effects, not just warmer water but also calmer conditions between more epic thunderstorms. One of the great insights of ecology is, of course, the interrelationship of all things, but environmental law and policy remain highly compartmentalized--air, water, energy, waste, wetlands, wildlife, etc.  That may be unavoidable, but it can interfere with a genuine understanding of a problem in certain circumstances.

New IPCC climate report

Lots of headlines today about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's "synthesis report" issued over the weekend.  Go to http://www.ipcc.ch for the reports themselves; otherwise this summary is pretty good.

Good grief, if they can do it . . .

For goodness' sake, the City of Houston has been able to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by one-third since 2007, through a mix of smart investments, strong municipal standards, and messaging that can appeal to folks who do not care one whit about climate change.  So Minnesota can't do as well as Houston?

What we might expect

Eric Lipton article in Friday's New York Times about a Richard Berman speech to the Western Energy Alliance that was secretly recorded.  He recommends an all-out, personal assault on environmentalists--digging up things to embarrass them publicly--as a central part of the lobbying strategy for the oil and gas industry.  Couple that with the long Times piece earlier this week on state attorneys general essentially trading away public interest litigation for campaign contributions (highly recommended) and it makes for a discouraging Halloween.  Minnesota does not show up in either article, and I hope we can maintain a higher standard, but we cannot be naive about what might come.


Atmospheric public trust litigation

Good article about the litigation pending around the country, seeking court findings that the atmosphere is a "public trust," and that state governments have a legally enforceable obligation to clean it up.  In Minnesota, the "public trust" doctrine has mostly been applied to water, and we have the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), which was in part intended to codify that "public trust" obligation.  Stay tuned.

Electric utilities: "Death Spiral?"

David Roberts has a nice piece in Grist today discussing the notion that electric utilities have to change their business model radically or "distributed generation" will make their future untenable.  The article is a good summary of the issues, and contains a terrific set of hyperlinks to more comprehensive treatments.

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