WRITTEN BY: Allison Wolf, Legislative Director
Thanksgiving week gives MCEA the chance to offer up our gratitude: to our supporters across the state, our Board members, our staff (past and present) and our terrific volunteers.
It is also a good time to thank elected officials who have helped us make environmental progress at the Capitol. With newly elected legislators moving into the House and Senate buildings, we bid farewell to many talented and dedicated environmental heroes who are returning to private life.
We will miss Senator Katie Sieben (DFL-Cottage Grove), who was an enthusiastic champion for clean water, public health, and public parks. She authored MCEA’s Environmental Health Tracking bill, and received our “Shoot the Rapids” award for that work.
Senator Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada), will also be missed. We thank Senator Scalze for supporting the protection of wetlands and working hard for the Governor’s new law requiring buffer strips to filter out contaminants. Senator Scalze was also known for her excellent work as co-chair of the Legislative Water Commission.
Senator Matt Schmitt (DFL-Red Wing), tackled the difficult issue of frac sand mining in his first session, working to pass legislation that, among other things, provided special protection for sensitive trout streams. It is tough to see someone leave the Senate who has as much potential as does Senator Schmit.
The Minnesota House is losing three scientists: Representatives Kahn, Yarusso, and Persell. MCEA will miss these three, who brought their training in biophysics, chemical engineering, and biology to their legislative work. MCEA will miss hearing their voices on the House floor, where they were known to rise to explain technical matters to the rest of the House of Representatives.
Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) is leaving after serving 22 terms in the House. Her Yale University Ph.D. in biophysics and broad scientific knowledge made her an important voice on environmental matters. MCEA is especially grateful for Representative Kahn’s leadership in protecting the Clean Water Fund dollars.
The House is losing another Ph.D. scientist, chemical engineer Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview). Representative Yarusso will be sorely missed, and it would be hard to find another House member who does as much homework. When MCEA visited with her about the PolyMet environmental review documents, we were amazed to discover that she had already read the entire document of 2000+ pages!
Representative John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) is a biologist who has represented the Red Lake area for four terms. Representative Persell was a terrific partner on water quality issues. He carried MCEA’s Clean Water Accountability Act to passage in 2013, and received our “Shoot the Rapids” award.
The House is also losing Representative Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). MCEA will miss his voice on climate change, and his playful sense of humor on the House floor. We are grateful to Representative Atkins for carrying MCEA’s legislation to address high-potential greenhouse gases.
While these environmental champions are bidding adieu to the Capitol, we hope that they will remain active in Minnesota policy, and wish them all the best in their post-legislative endeavors. Godspeed!
WRITTEN BY: Kathryn Hoffman, Interim Executive Director
As all Americans absorb the results of last night's elections, we at MCEA want you to know that we are more committed than ever to our mission to protect Minnesota's environment, natural resources, and the health of its people.
This is perhaps the most perilous time in history for environmental protection. Donald Trump has denied the very existence of climate change, the greatest environmental threat that we face, and has already appointed a climate skeptic to his team. We will need to marshal all of our resources as an environmental movement in the next two years to ensure that the bedrock protections of air, water and land remain in place.
That is discouraging, but it makes the work of state-level organizations like MCEA even more important. In communities across the state, Minnesotans hold our natural places dear. Already, much of the most important work to protect our environment was being done at the state and local level. MCEA’s work will help ensure that Minnesota remains a leader, and helps provide a model for other states. Now is not the time to lose heart. It is time for us to come together to protect the places and the resources that we love.
Now is a time for leadership. Minnesota has always been a leader on environmental issues, and that legacy remains strong. Minnesotans make good choices for the environment every day. And many of our decision-makers do as well. This is the perfect moment to reach out to your legislator and let them know that you expect them to continue to represent our environment.
Now is a time for hope. Our challenges to the environment are great, but our determination is even greater. More than ever, your support is critical to MCEA's work. Our ability to protect Minnesota's environment depends on you. We possess a range of tools and we will continue to use them. We work with the courts. We work with state agencies. We persuade lawmakers. Just this morning, MCEA challenged PCA’s lax regulation of a taconite mine to push the agency to protect our northern waters.
Now is a time for respect. We do not agree on everything, but we can still work to understand each other. We all depend on nature. We all know of beautiful places we'd like to preserve. Our challenge is to make those connections from a place of respect.
Stand with us. In leadership, in respect, in hope.
WRITTEN BY: Jim Erkel, Land Use & Transportation Director
At baseball games, vendors yell out that “you can’t tell the players without a program.” If you are a political junkie like me, you will be watching the presidential race but also paying attention to down-ballot action including state and local measures that relate to many different issues such as education, health care, the minimum wage, marijuana use, and gun control. If you’re a baseball fan like me, you will need a program to help you keep score on the measures that you consider important.
Here are several programs on issues of significance to MCEA:
TRANSPORTATION – I’ve prepared a list of 70 transportation-related ballot measures from 59 jurisdictions. It includes major transit funding packages in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and Atlanta. These regions compete economically against the Twin Cities and, if the measures succeed, will be supporting transit build-outs with chunks of sales tax that in some cases will be six times what the Twin Cities invests in its regional transit system. The most striking thing about the measures, though, is how many different funding mechanisms they would tap for road construction and maintenance. Rather than raising a state-level gas tax, states and communities are desperately seeking to raise tolls, sales taxes, parcel taxes, lodging taxes, gravel fees, utility fees, cigarette taxes, and even new taxes on non-medical marijuana. You can check it all out at the bottom of this blog post.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING –Recently, a $25 million fund was established in the Twin Cities to help preserve existing affordable housing stocks. It is interesting to note that a number of the transportation ballot measures I identified also seek to fund affordable housing needs. Instead of a revolving fund of $25 million, one of the ballot measures I identified would annually raise $50 million to create exits from homelessness and moving the homeless to more stable situations. There are a number of measures that would specifically fund or regulate affordable housing solutions. In one, $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds would be authorized to fund affordable housing solutions. The Twin Cities’ $25 million fund will need to revolve almost fifty times to match that kind of a regional investment in affordable housing. To see how other regions are seeking to fund or regulate affordable housing solutions, check out a list of measures prepared by Cheryl Young, a senior economist at Trulia here https://www.trulia.com/blog/trends/election-nation-16-preview/.
LAND CONSERVATION – It is not unusual for there to be a number of state and local measures on the ballot that seek to protect or restore natural areas, watersheds, working farms and forests, neighborhood parks, open space, and other lands that define and enrich communities’ character. You can check out a list of conservation-minded measures prepared by the Trust for Public Land at https://www.tpl.org/2016-conservation-ballot-measures.
CLIMATE – In this category, there is a big measure and a small one. The big measure is Washington’s Initiative 732 which would establish a carbon tax and return the revenues through tax credits for low-income households and an across-the-board reduction of Washington’s sales tax. It is opposed by many environmental and clean energy organizations who prefer a carbon fee and reinvestment approach in which funds could be invested in clean energy opportunities and other climate solutions. You can check it out at https://weiapplets.sos.wa.gov/MyVoteOLVR/OnlineVotersGuide/Measures?language=en&electionId=63&countyCode=xx&ismyVote=False&electionTitle=2016%20General%20Election%20#ososTop. The small measure is an advisory referendum in Middleton, Wisconsin. It poses two questions – (i) should the city act to reduce the threat of climate change through its decisions and actions, and (ii) should the city endorse a federal carbon fee and dividend program which is somewhat similar to Washington’s Initiative 732. You can check it out at http://www.middletonclimatereferendum.com/index.html.
CLICK HERE to view 2016 Transportation Ballot Measures
WRITTEN BY: Leigh Currie, Energy Program Director
I just registered for the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s jigsaw puzzle competition in January. Yep, competitive puzzling is totally my jam. At least I think it will be, I’ve never done it before. But any competition that involves a training regimen of getting together with girlfriends, drinking wine, and doing puzzles has got to be awesome. If you want to follow our success, my team’s name is “double tap”--named for the satisfying double tap of the fingers on the puzzle when you successfully land a piece.
There is such satisfaction in seeing a jigsaw puzzle come together, and I’m hoping that an even deeper sense of satisfaction will be a reality when the chaotic puzzle pieces that currently make up our rapidly transitioning electricity system come together. There are major advancements right now in “distributed energy resources,” “advanced grid infrastructure,” and renewable energy. Distributed energy resources include all sorts of options for producing and managing electricity in ways that don’t involve the large, centralized, fossil fuels plants that we’re used to—things like rooftop solar, community solar gardens, and programs and technologies that control when customers use electricity. Concurrently, the advancements in renewable energy technology have brought down prices of utility-scale wind and solar to the point that they are cost-competitive with fossil fuels.These pieces are new and exciting, but the challenge right now is fitting them together.
I'm convinced that if these pieces are put together in the right way, we can create the electricity system we need to make major strides toward figuring out how to avoid the worst damage from climate change.
The state of the science around climate change suggests that the path to mitigating the most catastrophic damages involves rapidly decarbonizing our electricity system while electrifying everything we can. We have the pieces we need to do this. More renewable energy is being installed than any other type of fuel. Technology already exists to control how and when customers use electricity which can help avoid new investments in the fossil fuel infrastructure. We have figured out how to store electricity and the cost of storage is beginning to fall. For many families, rooftop solar pays for itself, and community solar gardens offer an option for those families where rooftop solar doesn’t make sense. Electric vehicles with 200+ mile ranges at a mass-market price point are now available. And research is being done about how electric vehicles can serve as batteries and provide electricity back to buildings and homes during peak power usage times.
But even though all of these pieces currently exist, it is no small task to fit them together into a decarbonized electricity system that still lets us take our lights, appliances, and devices for granted like we always have. Our public utilities commission is wrestling with this puzzle right now and MCEA is in the thick of it. We just had a major victory along with our energy partners in convincing the public utilities commission to agree to the retirement of two coal units at Xcel Energy’s biggest coal plant. As part of this proceeding, we also succeeded in convincing the commission to avoid locking in a natural gas replacement to provide electricity that will be needed when the second unit is retired in 2026. We argued that it makes more sense instead to look at all of the puzzle pieces and study whether a replacement option could be constructed that provides the energy, capacity, and grid stability that we need while still avoiding carbon. This next phase of determining the replacement resources for Xcel’s Sherco units will begin in the next year, more than likely, and we are already working in several commission dockets including grid modernization, updating interconnection standards, and examining rate design that relate to other pieces of the puzzle.
As we start to dive into the hard work of thinking about how to get the electricity system from where it is today to where it needs to go, I’m hopeful that we will get to do the satisfying "double tap" when the pieces start falling into place; and I’m hopeful that we can figure it out before it’s too late.
As you've probably heard...today is National Voter Registration Day! This is a nationwide effort to get Americans registered to vote on Election Day, which this year lands on Tuesday, November 8th.
Like many other Americans, the Presidential election may be starting to wear you out. It's evident that this election is a historic one, and has really forced Americans to think critically about where our country is going, what the future looks like, and who is best suited to take us there.
If you want to view your Sample Ballot, click here! By reviewing your sample ballot prior to Election Day, you'll familiarize yourself with the candidates and the issues relating to your district, which will make the voting process easier, and less complicated.
2016 Minnesota Ballot Measures
Constitutional Amendment - Legislative Salaries: This amendment, if approved, will create an independent board that sets the pay of legislators in Minnesota.
Note: In Minnesota, by not voting on a ballot measure, it counts as a "no" vote.
2016 Minnesota Elections
In addition to the President, here are the other offices up for election:
and depending on your district, you may also be voting for the following:
If you want see view your Sample Ballot, click here! By reviewing your sample ballot prior to Election Day, you'll familiarize yourself with the candidates and the issues relating to you district, which will make the voting process easier, and less complicated.