Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to Hear State-Level Environmental Justice Recommendations for Clean Power Plan

Contact:
Karen Monahan, 952-220-1453, karen.monahan@sierraclub.org
Sean Sarah, 330-338-3740, sean.sarah@sierraclub.org

Justice groups to hold press event before MPCA meeting leading up to the first-ever limits on carbon pollution in long-awaited Clean Power Plan

**ATTENTION ASSIGNMENT/PHOTO DESKS: On-site visuals/signage will include these messages: “I HEART CLEAN AIR,” “ACT ON CLIMATE” and “CLEAN POWER PLAN PROTECTS OUR COMMUNITIES.” Pollution and health impacts b-roll here.

BACKGROUND:  As the nation prepares for the first-ever limits on carbon pollution — the Clean Power Plan — Minnesota is considering how to implement these life-saving protections for the state. For decades, carbon pollution from industry and coal-burning plants have harmed communities, especially children, seniors and low-income families, while also destabilizing climate and playing a significant role in extreme weather events. In recent days, the U.S. Surgeon General testified at the White House Climate Health Summit that climate disruption will have a serious impact on human health.

The Clean Power Plan, soon to be published by the EPA in July, will not only curb the carbon pollution that directly contributes to climate disruption, but it will also reduce harmful air pollution, such as smog and soot and other toxic air pollutants.

WHAT:

Press event before Minnesota Pollution Control Agency meeting to hear Environmental Justice recommendations for state’s Clean Power Plan implementation

WHO:

Environmental Justice advocates, community members, health professionals, Sierra Club

Speakers:
Dr. Bruce Snyder, Twin Cities neurologist, teaches at the University of Minnesota Medical School

Shiranthi Goonathilaka, Urban Heat Island Intern, Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center

Louis Alemayehu, North American Water Office, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, MN Interfaith Power & Light, North Star Sierra Club Board

WHEN:

12:30 PM, Tuesday, June 30 (MPCA meeting to follow on site at 1 PM)

WHERE:

Emerge (North Side), 1834 Emerson Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411

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Sierra Club Statement: Legislative Session A Dismal Failure for Minnesota Values, Citizens

Early Saturday morning, the Minnesota House and Senate passed the Agriculture & Environment Omnibus budget bill and concluded the 2015 Minnesota Legislative Special Session. The Sierra Club North Star Chapter issued the following statement from State Director Margaret Levin in response:

“The Sierra Club is deeply disappointed at the passage of the Agriculture and Environment Omnibus bill in the Special Session. The final bill contains an alarming number of provisions which undermine the safeguards that have helped to make our state an environmental leader.

“The 2015 legislative session will be remembered for its unprecedented rollbacks of protections for clean water – at a time when our rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water face historic threats; for clean air, and for Minnesota’s irreplaceable outdoors legacy.

“Unfortunately, it will be also remembered for the missed opportunity to grow clean energy jobs and address the urgent threat of climate disruption, by failing to consider a responsible clean energy plan. Instead, this legislature chose to roll back smart policies like Minnesota’s net metering law; and instituted decreased electricity rates for large corporations, such as mines and paper mills, which will transfer those costs onto the backs of small business and residential customers.

“And, we will remember the legislature’s failure to address Minnesota’s need for a comprehensive transportation bill that would dedicate funding for a modern, statewide transportation system, including real options for transit, bicycling, and walking, and fixes for our crumbling roads and bridges.

“Some of the worst rollbacks were passed literally in the middle of the night, with no opportunity for public response. The backroom deals and lack of transparency are both troubling and insulting to the people of Minnesota.

“The Sierra Club’s members and supporters across the state will be carefully evaluating the results of this Special Session, and the votes taken by their legislators in 2015. For those environmental champions who stood up against proposals to gut our state’s protections, we thank you for your courageous leadership and look forward to continued work together.

“Minnesotans deserve and expect better from their elected officials, and will hold accountable those legislators who are responsible for endangering our clean water, communities and climate. We will make our voices heard.”

Sierra Club Statement in Response to Vetoes of Agriculture & Environment and Jobs & Economic Development Omnibus Bills

May 23, 2015

Today, Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the Agriculture & Environment Omnibus bill and the Jobs & Economic Development Omnibus bill, passed by the Minnesota House and Senate Monday evening.

Margaret Levin, State Director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, issued the following statement in response:

“The Sierra Club North Star Chapter applauds Governor Dayton’s vetoes of the Agriculture & Environment Omnibus bill and the Jobs & Economic Development Omnibus bill. Numerous provisions in the Agriculture and Environment bill fly in the face of the values that Minnesotans hold dear — for clean water, healthy communities, and environmental stewardship to preserve and protect the Minnesota way of life.

“We thank Governor Dayton for listening and responding to thousands of citizens across the state, who said that this bill did not reflect their values.

“The Jobs & Economic Development bill includes provisions that move our state in the opposite direction — including changes to the net metering law, which would allow rural electric co-ops and municipal utilities to increase charges for customers who own solar panels and other small-scale renewable energy. No opportunity for testimony or debate on the final bill was provided until the final hour of session on May 18.

“The lack of public input on aspects of both bills was deeply troubling.

“We thank the Governor for this responsible action and look forward to a fix that will allow crucial funding to move forward in the special session without new obstacles to clean energy jobs and the protection of our environment.”

New Agreement Requires Minnesota’s Dirtiest Power Plant to Curb Pollution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MAY 15, 2015

CONTACT
Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, 612-210-0211, kreuther@mncenter.org
Joshua Smith, Sierra Club, 415-977-5560, joshua.smith@sierraclub.org
Stephanie Kodish, National Parks Conservation Association, 865-329-2424

 

Clean air advocates say more steps are necessary to reduce Xcel Energy’s Sherco coal plant pollution that harms community health, national parks, wilderness

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today clean air advocates announced an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Northern States Power Company (NSP, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy) to require its Sherburne County Generation Station (Sherco) in Minnesota to reduce its harmful emissions – but more reductions will be necessary to prevent ongoing degradation to the Midwest’s most pristine places, including Boundary Waters Canoe  Area Wilderness and Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks.

“Nearly 240,000 visitors enjoy kayaking, hiking, boating, camping, and fishing in Voyageurs National Park each year and contribute more than $18 million to the local economy,” said Christina Hausman, executive director of Voyageurs National Park Association. “Minnesotans and national park visitors from around the world expect and deserve clean air and clear visibility while enjoying the beauty of Voyageurs.”

The agreement will bring an end to a lawsuit brought by advocates, which include the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park Association, Fresh Energy and the Sierra Club. To help mitigate air quality problems at Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks, which the National Park Service found were caused by pollution from Sherco, the settlement requires Sherco to comply with significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emission limits.

More specifically, the settlement requires NSP, by the end of 2015, to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from two of the three Sherco units by approximately 10,000 tons annually, and will require further reductions of sulfur dioxide from the third unit by mid-2017. EPA has agreed to finalize the terms of the settlement through a federally enforceable implementation plan in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit.

“Minnesotans can celebrate this agreement as a smart decision that reduces harmful air pollution,” said Michelle Rosier of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “But Minnesotans also want to see a transition plan beyond coal that makes room for Minnesota wind, solar and efficiency.”

The groups filed the lawsuit in 2012 after years of EPA’s delay in taking the steps legally required to curtail the pollution created by the 35-year-old Sherco plant, the dirtiest in Minnesota. The plant’s emissions are a major contributor to smog that jeopardizes public health and reduces visibility in the region’s treasured national parks and wilderness areas, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“The long-term health of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the communities around it depend on a commitment to clean air for the region,” said Paul Danicic, Executive Director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness“Cleaning the air benefits people, economies and wildlife.”

In 2009, the National Park Service certified that the pollution from the Sherco coal plant significantly impairs visibility in Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks. As a result, EPA was required to verify the impairment and order the installation of the best available pollution controls at this coal plant. But three years after the certification, EPA had failed to act.

“Today’s settlement represents a strong first step toward protecting Midwest communities and treasured natural landscapes,” said Stephanie Kodish, director and counsel of NPCA’s Clean Air Program. “Under this agreement, Sherco will make meaningful smog reductions that will improve air quality and public health, but those reductions will not be enough to eliminate the plant’s impact on the region’s national parks and wilderness areas. NSP can and must do more to clean up Sherco emissions and transition the plant to cleaner energy to help restore clean, clear skies to the region.”

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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.