PolyMet Press Conference

MCEA delivers thousands of comments on PolyMet draft permit

March 6th was the end of the public input period on the PolyMet draft permit to mine, and MCEA led an event to deliver over 10,000 additional petition signatures and public comments on PolyMet to the Minnesota DNR. Throughout the environmental review and permitting for PolyMet, over 100,000 public comments have been filed, the vast majority of them opposed to the proposal. Over 7,000 people have attended public meetings in the dead of winter. Public polling shows that Minnesotans oppose the PolyMet proposal. The people have spoken - now it is up to the Minnesota DNR to listen.

Rep. David Bly, Sen. John Marty and Sen. Chris Eaton joined the conservation and clean water groups who combined forces to send a clear message that the PolyMet draft permits pose an unacceptable risk to people downstream of the proposed mine. Thanks to our partners in this effort: Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and WaterLegacy.

Just before the close of the public input period, MCEA's Aaron Klemz spoke at Macalester College to give an update on PolyMet and the permitting process. It's a great primer for folks who want to know what's happening now and be aware of the biggest concerns about the proposed mine. Thanks to Devon Cupery of Sierra Club North Star Chapter for organizing and recording this event. You can watch it in full at this link. 

MCEA petitions for a full hearing on PolyMet's permit to mine

In addition to mobilizing thousands of Minnesotans to comment on the PolyMet draft permit, MCEA continues the scientific and legal work needed to protect the rivers and streams of Northern Minnesota from copper-nickel mining pollution. In late February, MCEA petitioned the DNR to hold a full factual hearing (called a contested case hearing) before deciding whether to grant a permit to PolyMet for the first copper-nickel mine in Minnesota history. 

MCEA worked with six scientific and engineering experts from a variety of disciplines to analyze the permit application in support of our request. These experts, many of whom are leaders in their field, helped MCEA show the mine proposal is likely to impact ground and surface waters with arsenic, lead, sulfates, copper, cobalt, mercury and other pollutants. They also helped MCEA show how the company and DNR have underestimated the risk of a catastrophic collapse of the tailings dam—the earthen dam that would contain 1,500 acres of liquid mine waste in perpetuity.

Our petition also drew heavily on analysis by experts hired by DNR itself, many of whom have expressed grave concerns with the project as it is currently designed. DNR’s experts have called PolyMet’s pollution controls a “hail mary type of concept” that are almost certain to fail and leak polluted water. They have called the design of the tailings dam “unstable” and “irresponsible,” and have warned DNR that erosion on the dam is very likely to cause a “massive release of tailings.” This dam would have to contain liquid mine waste literally forever; there is no proposed closure of this facility that would reintegrate it into the natural landscape after mining has ended. As one of DNR’s experts warned, “at some point the entire mass will unravel.”    

MCEA is currently awaiting a decision on our request to have an administrative law judge hear evidence on these questions to assist the DNR in making good decisions on the PolyMet permits. It is critical that the state get these decisions right, because there is a whole lot more at stake than just this one mine.

MCEA legislative update

The 'just say no to everything' Wild Rice bill

The Minnesota Legislature is racing to throw another obstacle into efforts to create a science-based standard to protect wild rice from the effects of sulfate pollution.  Adding another chapter to a tortured history, industry and city lobbyists are pushing through a bill that will tie up the Pollution Control Agency (PCA) in knots.

If passed, the law will tell the PCA NOT to do what federal law tells them they MUST do.  A recipe for litigation? Yes, indeed. The goal of this bill is to delay indefinitely any actual enforcement of a standard to protect wild rice, Minnesota’s state grain.  

The bill would take a “just say no” approach to solving a complex problem. It would say:

  • No to letting the PCA do its job to protect wild rice and water

  • No to Minnesota tribes for whom wild rice carries spiritual importance

  • No to the science created when Minnesota spent $1.5 million on research

The bill has now passed three committees in the Senate and two in the House. What is missing in this discussion is good old-fashioned science, since industry has taken to giving out incorrect information on the science behind the sulfate standard that PCA has been developing.  

We urge you to call your legislator, and let them know you want to see a valid, science-based standard in place that is actually enforced so that wild rice will be protected.  Tell them to vote against the anti-wild rice bills, HF3280/SF2983, when they reach the House and Senate floor.  

The Chamber of Commerce's dirty water bill

The annual bill from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, HF3120/SF2705is traditionally a wish list from industry looking to weaken environmental protections.  This year's bill is no different and contains a number of pro-pollution provisions.

Dirty water provision number one: Remove a permit requirement to transfer waters from one water body to another. This is bad because it leaves lakes exposed to potential contamination or infestation with aquatic invasive species.

Dirty water provision number two: Allow polluters to have a nearly two decade break from meeting water quality standards after they make upgrades. This doubles down on a bad idea from last session, allowing the 16-year “holiday” for cities. The "holiday" allows industrial polluters to have a long vacation from water quality standards, even if new contaminants are discovered in the meantime. An Administrative Law Judge agreed with MCEA and ruled this approach violates the federal Clean Water Act.  If this legislation passes, the Legislature is guaranteeing more litigation. Not exactly the “regulatory certainty” that they are promising to the cities and industries.

Dirty water provision number three: Prevent the Pollution Control Agency (PCA) from raising fees for permit holders without legislative approval, which will leave key water programs without needed funding. Agency funding shortfalls have resulted in a backlog of permitting and underfunded pollution monitoring. Micromanaging the PCA makes it difficult for the agency to do its job, politicizes fee increases, and increases the work backlog.

We urge you to call your legislator and tell them to vote against the Chamber’s dirty water bill, HF3120/SF2705. Ask them to vote NO to giving industrial polluters or cities a “water quality holiday" in the Chamber bill and anywhere else, as similar language can be found in HF2802/SF2807.

Oppose the legislature's interference in the judicial process

The Legislature continues to try to interfere with legitimate decisions of the courts and administrative law judges. One example of this is HF4003/SF3573, which aims to prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from spending money to enforce a court order. The proposed bill would prohibit the DNR from taking actions on water appropriation permits that would implement the recent court order to restore White Bear Lake water levels. The District Court found the DNR violated the law based on its permitting of high capacity groundwater pumping. MCEA supports the District Court order in this case, you can read more about it here.

This bill is premature and inconsistent with current attempts to sustain and protect White Bear Lake and groundwater. We urge you to call your legislator on this issue and tell them to vote against this bill and support the completion of the legal process and the protection of groundwater.

Want to stay up to date on the latest developments on environmental policies throughout the legislative session? Like us on Facebook to watch live video of MCEA staff testimony, follow us on Twitter for live updates at legislative committee hearings, and bookmark our legislative bill tracker to access our fact sheets and copies of our written testimony. 

Women in Energy Spotlight: Leigh Currie

The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs (Clean Energy Resource Teams) highlighted these leaders during the month of March in 2018, which is Women’s History Month, and will host a reception at the 2018 CERTs Conference in St. Cloud on March 28th to recognize the women.

As part of the series, CERTs interviewed MCEA's own Senior Staff Attorney Leigh Currie to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Here's a little snippet of her interview:

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

"The best and worst part of my job is that I am trying to find solutions to climate change. It’s the best part of my job because I get the satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing everything I can to tackle climate change, which is one of the hardest-to-solve environmental issues of our generation. At the end of the day I can honestly look my kids in the eye and tell them that I did everything I could, and there is some comfort in that.
 
But working on climate change is also the worst part of my job because it’s become such a divisive issue. It’s disheartening to know that we have economic solutions to dramatically decarbonize both electricity production and transportation, but that we can’t get them in place because of the political power held by large fossil fuel companies."
Click here to read on and learn more about Leigh and her work!

MCEA to lay down new roots in Spring 2018

Perkins+Will staff tour visitors through MCEA's new office headquarters 

In case you haven't heard, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is moving to a new home after spending 27 years at 26 E. Exchange Street in downtown Saint Paul! Our current office building is in the works to be restored and converted into a historic 75-room boutique hotel.

MCEA will still be based in Saint Paul, but will be more centrally located in the Twin Cities at 1919 University Ave. W., Suite 515, St. Paul, MN 55104, starting April 16th. We're excited to move into an office space that reflects our values as an environmental organization. The building is Energy Star rated with a new solar panel roof. It is located right off the Green Line Light Rail, has ample free parking for visitors, and features a bike storage and repair area. 

Long-time MCEA supporters were one of the first to see our new office headquarters on March 15. They joined us to learn about how our new space reflects our environmental values, expands our ability to collaborate internally, and how it will help us connect with stakeholders across Minnesota. Staff from Perkins+Will, who donated their design services to MCEA, led tours of the space under construction. Click here to see more photos from the event.

We plan to host a number of open house events, similar to the one described above, for all MCEA supporters to come by and check out our new space after we're all settled in - stay tuned for more details! 

 

Read more about it... 

Seeking diversity in environmental activism

How reflective are Minnesota’s environmental groups of the diversity of our communities — their needs, their voices? This compilation by the Minnesota Women's Press offers perspectives on how organizations are attempting to create a tapestry of viewpoints in environmental action work across our state.

Click here to read MCEA's perspective written by Gretel Lee, first-year attorney and Robina Institute legal fellow

Volkswagen settlement, what's in it for Minnesota?

For years, VW diesel engines illegally circumvented pollution laws. A legal settlement with VW resulted in approximately $47 million paid to the State of Minnesota to take actions to reduce the pollution they created. MCEA has advocated that this money must be directed to the areas where VW's TDI vehicles were located. Specifically, low income neighborhoods and communities of color have borne the public health burden of vehicle-related air pollution, and they should receive the benefits from this settlement. 

Read more on MCEA's analysis on the VW settlement here

PolyMet Mine Site

PolyMet's Financial Prospects Dim

This week, PolyMet finally updated their financial feasibility study and it shows a proposal that isn't financially viable. In order to make enough profit, PolyMet is now hinting they would need to triple or quadruple the size of the mine. A financially marginal mine puts state taxpayers and people downstream at risk. 

Learn more

Join us for Water Action Day at the Capitol

Join us Wednesday, May 2nd for Water Action Day 2018! This is a day of public action and advocacy to let lawmakers know we care about our water.

This all-day event will include free breakfast and briefings in the morning, both on how to actively engage legislators and on the water issues that we face in Minnesota. Throughout the day, attendees will meet with legislators to ask them to protect our water, and the Clean Water Rally will be held in the Capitol Rotunda at 2:00 pm.

Click here to register

Contact Us

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
26 E. Exchange St.
Suite 206
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101
(651) 223-5969
info@mncenter.org

We're moving on April 16th - our new address is 1919 University Ave. W., Suite 515, St. Paul, MN 55104

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