Blog from Scott Strand, Executive Director


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

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.

Necessary, not sufficient

Good thorough article in today's New York Times on the likely outcome of the climate negotiations going on in Lima, Peru.

Oil-by-rail: disaster waiting to happen?

More and more oil is traveling through Minnesota by rail, both more explosive light crude from the Bakken oil shale in North Dakota, and heavy bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta.  The oil pipelines crossing Minnesota are a serious problem, but oil-by-rail is more dangerous (oil-by-truck is more dangerous yet).  Here's a video describing the problem, and there are written articles in Inside Climate News linked to the video that go into greater depth.

Habitat for pollinators

Bees and other insects like monarch butterflies have been disappearing at an alarming rate.  Neonicotinoids, a particular form of pesticide, are part of the problem, but there are a multitude of causes.  Last week, Environmental Initiative sponsored a policy forum on restoring habitat for pollinators, and Ron Meador has a report on the conference in today's MinnPost.

Louisiana's wetlands

Several weeks ago, the New York Times Sunday magazine did a cover story on the loss of wetlands in Louisiana, as the Gulf of Mexico takes over the southeastern part of the state, due to ill-advised channeling projects for the oil industry.  ProPublica has done a series of articles on this, and they are well worth reading.

What We're Up Against (Congress, state legislators)

Today's Star Tribune reprints a Tom Hamburger story from the Washington Post about anti-EPA efforts in Congress and in state legislatures through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC is a conservative "bill mill" which writes bills for state legislator members.  Here in Minnesota, we have seen legislators offer ALEC bills verbatim, with at least one still saying "[enter name of state here]" instead of "Minnesota."

What We're Up Against (State Attorney Generals)

Important front-page, above-the-fold, long-form piece in the Sunday New York Times about Republican state attorneys general working in sync with the fossil fuel industries they are supposed to be regulating. This is the second in a series.  The Oklahoma Attorney General is apparently having oil companies write his letters to the EPA challenging the agency's proposed methane regulations.  The Republican Attorney General Association seems to be becoming indistinct from the American Petroleum Institute.  All of this is, of course, fueled by enormous political contributions, now flowing to state AG races and state judicial races for the purpose of ensuring that regulations be less effective.

Business groups have made state AG's a particular target, and their efforts are clearly paying off.  There was once a time when the state AG's acted as a group, with AGs from both parties supporting measures to protect consumers and the environment.  No more.

Citizen suits and environmental protection

Nice piece on the Legal Planet blog today pointing out that all of the Obama Administration's "courageous" rulemaking efforts to address air pollution--the new ozone standards, the mercury rule, the existing source greenhouse gas rules--were all forced by citizen suits brought by groups like MCEA.  Nothing better in a negotiation than to be able to say "our hands are tied."

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