Blog from Scott Strand, Executive Director


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

Wisconsin frac sand mine and contaminated water

Underreported story of possible water contamination from shut-down frac sand mine in Trempaleau County.

Another Look at Water Pricing

Good article in yesterday's New York Times about our complete failure to allocate scarce freshwater supplies fairly or rationally.  Another strong case for using markets and pricing to help solve this problem.

Judge Posner and Voter ID Laws

Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, easily the most distinguished conservative judge in the entire federal court system, released the following opinion last Friday on why Wisconsin's voter ID law is unconstitutional.  So far, Judge Posner is losing, and the election in three weeks in Wisconsin may well go forward with the voter ID law in place.  Nevertheless, the opinion is genuinely devastating to the pro-voter ID case, and will, I hope, eventually help the U.S. Supreme Court strike these laws down.  The thrust of Judge Posner's opinion is "facts matter," a viewpoint that one would think does not require defense, but which does more and more often in today's changed political and legal circumstances.

Frank v. Scott Walker is obviously not an environmental case, but it does illustrate a serious problem with today's courts that we do see in environmental cases--a willingness to defer blindly to legislative and administrative fact-finding when the partisan makeup of the legislature or executive branch matches that of the judges. 

How a Bill Becomes Law in Wisconsin

Important article in The Daily Beast from ProPublica called "The Secret Money Buying Wisconsin's Laws." This tells the story of Gogebic Taconite, which plans to open a new iron ore mine up near Ashland and Lake Superior, and its ultimately successful efforts to weaken Wisconsin's mining laws.  It documents the transition from the old way of doing business--lobbyists trying to persuade legislators, reasonably full disclosure--to the new way, which involves direct corporate contributions and 501c3's, with no disclosure, for election campaigns (thank you, Citizens United) to defeat legislators who may not be supportive of industry-backed legislation.  As you can see from the article, this ultimately involved several million dollars to defeat one legislator.  That, plus the millions of corporate dollars now going into judicial elections around the country to assure pro-industry judges on the bench, makes one despair, but it also emphasizes that environmentalists and progressives have to pay close attention to election and campaign finance laws and actions if they hope to have a chance to succeed.  In my view, Wisconsin is showing us the road to a very dark future, and I hope Minnesota chooses a different path.

New Minnesota Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

New report from the Minnesota Department of Health on immediate risks caused by climate change--extreme heat, air pollution, vector-borne disease, drought, flooding.  Again, these are things happening now, not in some distant future.

Why mine tailings basins collapse

Vancouver Sun piece makes several key points about catastrophic mine tailings basin collapses like the Mount Polley disaster in British Columbia.

--One of these happens about every eight months somewhere in the world.--Nearly 40% of these collapses happen in North America (not in the developing world)

--The primary reasons for these collapses are (1) extreme rain events that overwhelm the facilities (much more likely now because of climate change), and (2) lax management and oversight.

You can have all the rules and permit conditions in the world, but they don't work if the companies and the regulators don't do their jobs.  That's why this article predicts more tailings basin collapses in the coming years.

Does energy efficiency just make us use more energy?

As is their wont, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger have created a tempest in the environmental community with a New York Times op-ed suggesting that making products more energy efficient doesn't work because of a "rebound" effect.  LED light bulbs might be much more efficient than old incandescent bulbs, but the result will be just greater demand and more energy consumption.  Joe Romm with Climate Progress (part of the Center for American Progress) rebuts the op-ed, showing how the authors misconstrued the research they cited.  The research shows that, while "rebound" effects can happen in certain unique circumstances, energy-efficient products do in fact reduce, not increase, energy consumption, and energy efficiency still ought to be considered the "first fuel."  Where the authors agree, though, is that energy efficiency alone is not a way out of our problem.  We have to take on the more politically and economically difficult task of switching to cleaner energy sources.

Water scarcity, water quality

Excellent piece in the current Ensia on the ridiculous way we currently allocate increasingly scarce freshwater supplies.  Obviously, in drought-stricken states like California, the urgency of reform is undeniable.  But even here in Minnesota, water appropriation is becoming a critical issue as parts of the state are already confronting serious water availability problems.  Here's the article.

Mount Polley and the U.S.

Strong blog entry in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer making the case for U.S. State Department intervention on copper mining issues in British Columbia after the Mount Polley tailings basin collapse.  With it now appearing that engineering concerns about the Mount Polley facility were ignored in 2010, the blog argues that the BC government has lost all credibility.

New "waters of the US" rule "scientifically sound"

The EPA's independent Science Advisory Board (SAB) released a draft report finding that the controversial "waters of the US" rule is well-grounded from a scientific basis.  The one major criticism is that the definition should be extended to groundwater, because of the interrelationship with surface waters.  This may not do any good, because the issue has become wholly politicized, but perhaps it can help stiffen some spines in the US Senate. (The House has already voted to overturn the proposed rule.)

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