Sierra Club Slams Minnesota Utilities in New TV Ads

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 22, 2015

Contact:
Sean Sarah, sean.sarah@sierraclub.org, 330-338-3740
Michelle Rosier, michelle.rosier@sierraclub.org, 612-259-2444

Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power held accountable for keeping the state tied to polluting, costly fossil fuels

STATEWIDE, Minn. — Tomorrow, the Sierra Club will launch an aggressive TV advertising campaign in the Twin Cities and Northern Minnesota, highlighting how utility companies like Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power are keeping the state tied to coal, an increasingly costly and polluting energy source. The ads will air multiple times a day starting Thursday, April 23, on 23 popular cable TV channels in the utilities’ service territory. Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power have 15 year energy plans due this year, and are the only independently owned utilities operating coal plants in Minnesota without detailed plans in place to transition away from burning coal.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Union of Concerned Scientists, every year Minnesota pays $420 million for out-of-state coal to burn for electricity in Minnesota, despite available and affordable homegrown renewable energy sources like wind and solar, a fact outlined in the TV ads.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilities forcing Minnesotans to pay for their dirty coal choices,” said Michelle Rosier of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Minnesota. “We’re paying an additional $2 billion each year in health and environmental costs, such as hospital visits for respiratory problems, missed school days and the impacts of climate disruption — not to mention the rate increases we’re saddled with to prop up these outdated, increasingly uneconomic coal plants.”

These ads come at a critical time when, among other things, utilities like Xcel and Minnesota Power are putting together their long term energy plans and state legislators are considering clean energy policy. Meanwhile, the majority of Minnesota voters say they would rather reduce the need for fossil fuels by expanding the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy, according to an August 2014 Statewide Voter Survey by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.* On top of this, more than 8-in-10 voters in Minnesota Power’s service territory report that “we need to fundamentally change the way we get our energy in Minnesota,” according to a Precision Poll Report.**

Despite being a utility leader on wind, Xcel Energy operates the largest polluting coal plant in the state in Sherburne County, known as Sherco. Sherco, located in Becker, Minn., is one of Minnesota’s largest sources of mercury and soot pollution.  The plant also emits 14.8 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of 3.1 million cars on the road.  Xcel is faced with deciding whether to spend millions to prop up two coal-burning units at Sherco (1 & 2) or replace coal by investing in renewable energy.

“Utilities are dragging their feet to do what Minnesotans have urged them to do for years — move away from coal,” said Rosier. “There’s only one way to power Minnesota for the long haul. Our renewable power sources like wind and solar are abundant in Minnesota. They’ll power us for the long haul and create good jobs.”

Although Minnesota has the potential to be a renewable energy leader, evidenced by a booming clean energy industry, utilities like Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power continuing to operate aging coal plants. For Minnesota Power’s part, it draws nearly 80 percent of its power from coal.

“Minnesota Power is making its customers shoulder the burden of importing coal from other states,” said Ann Miller, Duluth resident. “This sends our hard-earned dollars out of state, money that could be invested in renewable energy right here at home.”

Recently, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) agreed to a timeline for revising the long-overdue air pollution permit at Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal-burning plant to meet health-based clean air protections established nearly five years ago. For Taconite Harbor, the air pollution permit was more than a decade overdue, putting nearby Northern Minnesota communities, iconic public parks, and recreation areas at risk.

A 2014 settlement between Minnesota Power and the Environmental Protection Agency over previous clean air violations requires Minnesota Power to reduce pollution at both Clay Boswell and Taconite Harbor coal plants. Air pollution modeling conducted by experts demonstrated that even with those required reductions in pollution, Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal plant is likely to result in significant violations of EPA clean air standards for sulfur dioxide pollution, if left unmitigated.

Exposure to sulfur dioxide pollution from coal plants and other sources for as little as five minutes can cause lung function impacts, asthma attacks, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Children and adults with asthma are particularly at risk for adverse health effects from short-term sulfur dioxide pollution exposure. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, northeastern Minnesota has the highest rates per capita of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations in the state.

To view the Twin Cities TV spot, click here. For the Northern Minnesota ad, click here.

To view this release as a web page, click here.

*Polling data referenced came from a statewide landline and wireless telephone poll of 421 randomly-selected registered Minnesota voters, conducted July 26 – August 3, 2014, for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies.  The margin of sampling error for the full statewide samples is 4.9 percentage points, plus or minus; margins of error for subgroups within the sample will be larger.

**Public opinion polling firm Peak Campaigns conducted a telephone opinion survey of 401 voters in the Minnesota Power service area between April 6-9, 2013.  Maximum margin of error for a random sample of 401 voters is +/- 4.9%.

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Minnesota Power Slated to Update Coal Plant’s Long-Overdue Pollution Permit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 6, 2015

Contact:
Alison Flowers, 303-246-6297, alison.flowers@sierraclub.org
Jessica Tritsch, 612-963-9642, jessica.tritsch@sierraclub.org

Over the next year, Minnesota Power must update its air pollution permit at the Taconite Harbor coal plant to meet current health-based clean air safeguards that protect communities

DULUTH, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has agreed to a timeline  for revising the long-overdue air pollution permit at Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal-burning plant to meet health-based clean air protections established nearly five years ago. This comes several months after dozens of faith, health, youth and environmental groups and leaders submitted a letter calling for the MPCA to hold Minnesota Power accountable by acting on the expired permits. For Taconite Harbor, the air pollution permit was more than a decade overdue, putting nearby Northern Minnesota communities, iconic public parks, and recreation areas at risk.  The new agreement is the result of a settlement with Sierra Club, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Fresh Energy.

“I’m looking forward to the residents of the North Shore having some relief and cleaner air to breathe,” said Dr. Gordy Dodge of Schroeder, Minn. “Northeastern Minnesota deserves this small reprieve from harmful coal pollution, but we know there’s much more to do.”

A 2014 settlement between Minnesota Power and the Environmental Protection Agency over previous clean air violations requires Minnesota Power to reduce pollution at both Clay Boswell and Taconite Harbor coal plants. Air pollution modeling conducted by experts demonstrated that even with those required reductions in pollution, Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal plant is likely to result in significant violations of EPA clean air standards for sulfur dioxide pollution, if left unmitigated.

Exposure to sulfur dioxide pollution from coal plants and other sources for as little as five minutes can cause lung function impacts, asthma attacks, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Children and adults with asthma are particularly at risk for adverse health effects from short-term sulfur dioxide pollution exposure. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, northeastern Minnesota has the highest rates per capita of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations in the state.

“Minnesota Power needs to address the ongoing health and air quality concerns associated with its coal plants,” said Jessica Tritsch with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Minnesota. “There’s so much at stake — our health, our natural legacy and our growing clean energy economy. Rather than continuing to throw good money after bad retrofitting and propping up these dirty, obsolete facilities, it’s time for Minnesota Power to do more than the minimum, and clean up our air for the long haul.”

Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal plant pollution also adversely impacts some of the state’s most popular and iconic parks and public spaces, including the Superior Hiking Trail, Temperance River State Park, Crosby Manitou State Park, Lutsen Mountains ski area, and the Sugarbush Ski trail on the shore of Lake Superior.

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Sierra Club Stands with USW Workers, Opposes Harmful Trade Deals

Contact: Margaret Levin, margaret.levin@sierraclub.org

The North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club stands with the workers of the United Steelworkers affected by the announced idling of US Steel taconite mines on the Iron Range. We call for a whole new approach to so-called global “free trade” deals that are facilitating imports of illegally-subsidized foreign steel products, and at the same time weakening environmental protections, including efforts to limit carbon pollution.

When the Sierra Club joined with the United Steelworkers to form the BlueGreen Alliance in 2006, one of our founding principles was to join together against these “free trade” deals that were bad for both workers and the environment by rewarding countries that provided cheap imports of steel with low-paid labor, business subsides and minimal environmental standards.

Representatives of the environmental community marched alongside labor union members to protest the World Trade Organization and these unfair deals in 1999, and we today again stand shoulder to shoulder in opposition to these actions which have caused a flooding of the steel market with subsidized cheap foreign steel, resulting in a glut that dramatically lowers prices in the world market. We now oppose Fast Track Trade Authority, which will only lead to more bad trade deals and exacerbate crises like the America steel industry is facing today. We need to fix these broken trade agreements and not enter into new ones that will further harm American workers and our planet.

We know that our organizations will not always agree on every issue, but when it comes to standing up for American workers and against trade deals that harm workers, the environment and our nation’s competitiveness, we stand firmly united in opposing trade deals and efforts by other countries to harm America’s steel industry.

House GOP Transportation Proposal Leaves Metro Transit Riders Out in the Cold

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Twin Cities, MN (March 23, 2015)–Today, a group of organizations focused on the needs of transit riders issued this response to the transportation proposal, HF4, announced by GOP leadership of the House of Representatives. The organizations include ATU Local 1005, ISAIAH,  MPIRG, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and Transit for Livable Communities.

“Minnesota’s transportation system is aging and out of step with changing needs and demographics. As our population grows older and increasingly diverse, more people depend on a full range of transportation choices. We are encouraged that the GOP leadership of the Minnesota House of Representatives recognizes the critical need for transportation investment. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by by the absence of attention to the growing number of people who rely on bus and rail service to meet their daily needs.We are also gravely concerned about the impact of this proposal on other vital areas of the budget, including education, health and human services.”

“Over the past several months, our organizations have been lifting up the voices of people who depend on public transportation. Socorro Lopez, a mother from Brooklyn Center, represents the experience of everyday transit riders, saying: ‘Last winter, I tried to board a bus with my kids but it was too full, so we had to wait a full hour for the next one.’ Similarly, we have heard from workers in St. Cloud who can’t get home from their shift because the bus doesn’t run late into the evening. We have heard from employers about the need for reliable transit to attract and keep workers. We have heard from people all over the state who want to be able to walk or bicycle safely and who see these options as essential to vibrant communities, small and large.”

“Recognition is growing that Minnesota has a problem with racial equity. A lack of transportation choices impact people of color most severely. We need an equitable solution right now that doesn’t turn a blind eye to these facts. We need a solution that unites our communities and invests in a more prosperous future.”

“Public transportation should serve best those who need it most. Right now, it is falling short. Bus ridership is up 14% over the past decade while funding has remained stagnant. Fewer than 1 in 10 jobs in the metro are conveniently accessible by transit while in Greater Minnesota transit systems are chronically underfunded, leaving workers, seniors, and students stranded.”

“Minnesota has a long tradition of substantially funding transportation from dedicated sources, including the constitutionally-dedicated gas tax and tab fees and the dedication of a portion of the metro-area sales tax to transit. We support the principles of the Move MN coalition and call on the legislature to pass a comprehensive, dedicated, sustainable long term funding solution this session to build the transportation system that all Minnesotans deserve.”

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Sierra Club Statement of Support for Governor Dayton’s Waterway Buffer Proposal

Minneapolis, MN – Today Governor Dayton’s initiative to require a 50-foot natural vegetation buffer along all of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands will be heard in the Minnesota legislature. On behalf of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, State Director Margaret Levin issued this statement of support:

“The Sierra Club believes that all people deserve a healthy planet with clean water, and we are proud to support Governor Dayton’s riparian buffer proposal (HF 1534 and the Senate companion bill, SF 1537).

“This fair and urgently-needed legislation will improve the quality of Minnesota’s water, filter pollutants from runoff, prevent erosion, and create new habitat for pollinators including monarchs, songbirds and wildlife.

“We urge passage of these important bills, and look forward to continued work with Governor Dayton and legislators to protect and improve Minnesota’s clean water.”

Minneapolis: Reverse cuts to clean energy and racial equity programs

Minneapolis City Council
350 South 5th Street
City Hall, Room 307
Minneapolis, MN 55415

December 9, 2014

Dear City Council Members:

On behalf of the Sierra Club’s more than 3,000 members and supporters in the City of Minneapolis, we are writing to share our deep disappointment about the recent 7-6 vote to cut racial equity programs and the Clean Energy Partnership—all to save homeowners an average of only $2.50 per year.

The funding for the Clean Energy Partnership included in the Mayor’s budget is critical to advance the City’s clean energy and efficiency goals. The Partnership is a unique, first-in-the-nation agreement with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy that will advance these goals, while promoting equitable policies. The cuts would send a disastrous message that the City is not serious about the agreement, and undermine the dedicated citizen and Council leadership that has made this partnership possible. We urge you to keep it and the City’s climate goals on track by restoring funding for the program.

We are gravely concerned by the deep cuts approved to programs addressing racial equity, which include the One Minneapolis Fund’s grants to organizations based in communities of color working to create a more inclusive city, and the study of racial disparities through the Civil Rights Department.

The North Star Chapter is committed to becoming an intercultural, anti-racist organization that is partnering with communities and organizations to eradicate all forms of oppression. Minneapolis has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation, which must be urgently addressed to advance racial and economic justice. These cuts strike at the heart of that effort and undermine the City’s national leadership on reducing and managing the impact of climate change, and efforts to ensure that all our citizens have an opportunity to experience clean water, clean soil and a safe environment.

We appreciate your previous commitment to advancing climate solutions and racial equity, and urge you to restore funding to racial disparity programming and the Clean Energy Partnership on December 10.  These issues are closely intertwined. We hope they will receive your strongest support.

Sincerely,

Mathews Hollinshead
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club North Star Chapter

Margaret Levin
State Director
Sierra Club North Star Chapter

100+ Riders Bike Mpls on Sierra Club’s 19th Annual Bike Tour

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

Contact: Joshua Houdek, 612-207-2295, Land Use and Transportation Program Director, Sierra Club North Star Chapter

Over 100 people biked across Minneapolis on Saturday for the Sierra Club’s 19th Annual Bike Tour. Riders got an up-close look at bike and transit developments in the city as they traveled from near the Lake St. BLUE Line LRT station in south Minneapolis, through the U of M Campus, and into Downtown, Northeast and North Minneapolis.

Riders followed bike lanes, trails and protected bikeways for most of the 21-mile Tour, experiencing firsthand how bike and transit connections make it easier to get around.

We know that more and more people across Minneapolis and the Twin Cities metro are leaving their cars in the garage and biking, walking, or taking transit to work,” said Alex Tsatsoulis, volunteer chair of the Sierra Club’s Land Use and Transportation Committee. “On this bike tour we want to show riders how our streets can be made into places where everyone – including drivers – can feel safe, and enjoy using them.”

At rest stops along the way, speakers highlighted specific developments that improve biking and walking and even create investment opportunities.

The Tour stopped at the site of Surly Brewing’s “Destination Brewery” – the location for which was intentionally chosen for its proximity to the U of M Transitway and the nearby GREEN Line LRT station. Colleen Carey, President of The Cornerstone Group, spoke of how access to transit and bike-walk facilities can transform neighborhoods.

We believe that the GREEN Line’s Prospect Park LRT Station has great potential for transformation,” she said. “The new stop is important, but even more important to our decision to invest in this area is a great neighborhood organization with a compelling vision that aligns with ours: to design housing around green space and to create great bicycling and pedestrian connections.”

Other speakers included Ted Tucker, former member of the Planning Commission, and Robin Garwood, aide to Councilmember Cam Gordon, who talked about the brand new Dinkytown Greenway and the Bluff Street Trail, which together create a seamless bike route from campus into downtown.

The Tour also went through Open Streets Lowry, where participants discussed a potential North Minneapolis Greenway, and along Washington Ave. Downtown, where a protected bikeway will be constructed in Spring 2015.

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