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days and the impacts of climate disruption — not to mention the rate increases we’re saddled with to prop up these outdated, increasingly uneconomic coal plants.”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.