Thoughtful post on the barriers to "decarbonization" in certain U.S. electricity markets. Minnesota struggles with these issues too, even though Minnesota remains on the more highly regulated side, with investor-owned utilities (IOUs) like Xcel with monopolies over their service area, but issues like rate recovery being subject to fairly plenary review by the state Public Utilities Commission.
Governor Dayton has made news with comments on the two proposed sulfide mining projects that are the furthest along in the process--PolyMet and Twin Metals. In the last several days, he has refused to allow Twin Metals to conduct exploratory activities on state lands, and endorsed the decision of the US Bureau of Land Management not to automatically renew their federal leases. In so doing, the governor has made it clear that he thinks the Twin Metals project is a bad idea for Minnesota, too risky being located right next to the BWCA.
At the same time, he has said he will not "block" or "delay" the PolyMet project, which is located on the other side of the continental divide from Twin Metals. Some have cynically derided this as a split-the-baby decision--let PolyMet go through, but draw the line at Twin Metals.
I suppose the cynics may be right, but I think the governor understands exactly what the role for his Administration is. For PolyMet, which does not involve state lands, his job is to make sure the regulatory bar is set in the right place under the law and the company's job is to see if they can get over it. If they cannot, or it is too expensive to do so, then no project. I see little in the governor's comments that he is inclined to negotiate away the law's requirements to ensure that the PolyMet project opens at some distant future date. I think he also understands that, with current copper prices and mining contractions happening globally, there is not that great a prospect of copper mining in Minnesota in the near term.
President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland will be a political football for awhile, but, if he were to be confirmed (and, in saner times, he would be), his record indicates he will allow agencies like EPA to do their jobs, but is not afraid to push back on them if they don't have facts to support their position. Here's one take on the nomination from the environmental side.
Here is the letter Governor Dayton sent to Twin Metals, advising them that he will not allow the DNR to grant them access to state-owned land for exploratory and baseline survey purposes.
Obviously, the precise issue about access to land is not all that significant. What matters is the governor's open acknowledgement that the risks of sulfide mining are real and can easily outweigh the potential benefits.
The governor will no doubt get some backlash, but his bold position deserves our support.
Interesting article from Josephine Marcotty in Star Tribune about the likelihood of any copper mine opening anytime soon in today's market conditions. PolyMet has always claimed that they can produce copper for around a dollar a pound, but it is not clear whether or to what extent that number includes paying off loans to build out the mine, address "legacy" environmental problems on the site, and provide sufficient financial assurance to the State to protect taxpayers. Those upfront costs could easily exceed $1 billion.