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.


EPA weak coal ash rule

As expected, the EPA came out with the weaker alternative coal ash regulation last Friday.  Prof. Dan Farber has a good analysis of the decision on the Legal Planet blog.

New EPA rule likely to treat coal ash as non-hazardous waste

EPA is under a court order to promulgate new rules today regulating coal ash, the stuff that comes out of the scrubbers that control air pollution at power plants.  Environmental groups (including MCEA) have taken the position that new science shows that coal ash should be treated as "hazardous waste," with much more stringent requirements, instead of mere "solid waste," leaving most of the regulatory responsibility to the states.  Looks like we're going to lose.  That is not a disaster, because here in Minnesota there is a greater likelihood of adequate regulation, but it will leave serious environmental problems (e.g. leaking coal ash ponds or landfills) in place in many states.

New Guidelines on how to deal with greenhouse gas emissions in environmental impact statements

Yesterday, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued new guidelines to federal agencies, directing them to measure "reasonably foreseeable" greenhouse gas emissions resulting directly or indirectly from a project or program, and to incorporate likely climate change effects in all the other analysis contained in an EIS.  This supersedes guidance from 2010.  At first blush, this looks like progress, and is consistent with where the courts have been going on this issue.

More on the Louisiana wetland catastrophe

Terrific report, with outstanding maps, on the ongoing destruction of wetlands in southeastern Louisiana. At the current pace, in the next 50 years, 2 million people there are going to have to move, as will half of the country's oil and gas refineries, 90 percent of the pipelines for U.S. offshore oil production, and a port that 31 states depend on, including Minnesota.  The equivalent of a football field is falling into the Gulf every hour.  This is all due to oil and gas company canal dredging (with some help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), but obviously the industry has no interest in being held accountable for all this damage.  Some of the issues are in the courts right now, and we will follow that closely. 

Better way to invest Green Climate Fund?

Interesting piece in Ensia, making the case that investing in education, rather than solely on engineering projects, would be a more cost-effective way to increase the climate change adaptability of developing nations.  (The Green Climate Fund is what President Obama pledged $3 billion to a couple of weeks ago.  The goal is to raise $100 billion by 2020.)  We too often jump to the conclusion that the solution to a big environmental problem is a big construction project (and there are always constituencies around to lobby for those big projects), and we dismiss "soft" solutions like education too quickly.

Public Opinion on Climate and Energy

New Yale/National Opinion Research Center poll on American attitudes on climate change and energy issues.  Usual disconnect between public opinion and policy positions taken by legislators at both the federal and state level.

New York Bans Fracking

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced yesterday that he was banning fracking, deferring to the recommendations of his health experts.  That was a welcome surprise to NY environmental groups.

ProPublica has been covering the fracking issue in NY for years, and this article contains links to many of their earlier reports.

EPA and agricultural water pollution

As MCEA followers know, we have been working for years on trying to get EPA and MPCA to adopt numeric water quality standards for phosphorus and nitrogen in our rivers.  Largely because of political backlash from EPA's efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades, EPA has tried to avoid acting itself, and to instead leave it up to the states.  The states, in turn, have said they need to wait for the EPA and the result has been that little or nothing gets done.

That's starting to change.  After years of work (and delay), the MPCA here in Minnesota recently formally noticed new rules setting river nutrient standards.  That immediately drew a lawsuit from local governments who do not want to have to meet tougher standards for their wastewater treatment plants.  We think the MPCA is on very solid ground, and MCEA plans to intervene to help defend the State on this issue.

At the same time, litigation continues to try to force the EPA to adopt federal standards.  The US District Court in New Orleans agreed to issue an injunction compelling EPA to do so, and that decision is now on appeal to the Fifth Circuit.

The EPA's own inspector general has been highly critical of the Agency's failure to act, and, as this blog entry describes, EPA's response has been tepid at best.  All of this suggests that we are moving toward the goal of setting firm, enforceable standards governing pollutants from agricultural runoff, a critical step is we are going to move toward solving out #1 water pollution problem. 

Washington State Leads on Carbon, Transportation Funding

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), perhaps our nation's greenest governor, is proposing a $12 billion transportation funding plan, with much of the revenue coming on carbon emission fees under a cap-and-trade system.  At the same time, lawmakers are considering tolls, in-city driving fees, and other innovative ways to fund transportation needs and clean up the air at the same time. While Washington leads the way, the safe bet in Minnesota today is that we will do exactly nothing in the 2015 legislative session to deal with either transportation or clean air, other than continue the status quo.  Once upon a time, Minnesota used to lead public policy debates and be a genuine "laboratory of democracy."  Not so much anymore.

A New Environmentalism?

Check out James Gustave ("Gus") Speth's call for a broader "new environmentalism" in the current Ensia journal from the U of M's Institute on the Environment.  Speth, now on the Vermont law faculty, has a list of environmental credentials longer than your arm, and has been writing on this topic for some time.

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