Minnesota Legislature Cuts Funding for Air and Water; Empowers Polluters

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 9, 2017

Media Contact:
Margaret Levin – Margaret.levin@sierraclub.org, 612-659-9124

Saint Paul, MINN. (May 9, 2017) – Today, the Minnesota House and Senate passed a conference report for the Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus Finance bill (HF888). Despite a surplus of $1.5 billion, HF888 would cut funding for state agencies charged with protecting Minnesota’s air, water and the health of our communities. The bill also contains a significant number of unrelated and controversial policy provisions, many of which would weaken existing environmental laws and undermine public oversight of our natural resources.

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

“Minnesotans are incredibly fortunate to live in a state with vibrant natural resources. It is surprising and disappointing that Republican leadership in the Minnesota Legislature continues to jeopardize these resources by underfunding and undermining their protection.

Not only does the conference report for HF888 unnecessarily cut funding for protecting our air and water, it also includes dozens of pages of controversial and unrelated policy changes, many of which are designed to weaken public oversight of our lakes, rivers, air and natural resources.

We recognize that this conversation is likely far from over. We are grateful for Governor Dayton’s commitment to veto this and other budget bills, and urge legislative leaders to start over with a clean slate and a renewed commitment to Minnesota’s natural legacy.”

###

Advertisements

Minnesota Legislature’s Budget Packed with Attacks on Clean Air, Water and Public Transit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 1, 2017

Media Contact:
Justin Fay, Justin.fay@sierraclub.org, 612-251-1457

Saint Paul, MINN. (May 1, 2017) – Today, conference committees in the Minnesota Legislature adopted “delete everything” amendments that reflect the outcomes of a budget agreement reached between House and Senate leadership late last week. Despite a budget surplus of more than $1.5 billion, the Legislature’s budget imposes cuts on funding for clean air and clean water, underfunds public transit, and includes hundreds of pages of damaging policy initiatives.

Leaders of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter responded to the Legislature’s budget bills:

Margaret Levin, State Director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter issued the following statement in response to the Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus Bill (HF888): “Minnesotans have repeatedly made it clear that they expect their state leaders to provide adequate funding for work to protect Minnesota’s air, water and the health of our communities. Not only does this bill fail to keep the faith with Minnesota voters, it also includes a laundry list of sweetheart policy provisions for special interests, including new and damaging barriers to the implementation and enforcement of standards for clean air and clean water. We strongly urge legislative leaders to reconsider this misguided direction for Minnesota.”

Erin Daly, Chair of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Land Use and Transportation Committee issued the following statement in response to the Transportation Omnibus Bill (HF861): “Our transportation system is the backbone of Minnesota’s economy. Unfortunately, despite a significant budget surplus, the Legislature has failed to provide adequate funding for public transit. These shortfalls will lead directly to worsening congestion and dirtier air, and create unnecessary new barriers for Minnesotans who simply need to get to work. This bill represents a clear failure by the Legislature to consider the needs of all Minnesotans, including and especially low income Minnesotans and those who are unable to drive. Minnesotans deserve a transportation system that works, and this bill doesn’t come close.”

SJ Spitzer, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Clean Air and Renewable Energy Committee issued the following statement in response to the Jobs and Energy Omnibus Bill (SF1937): “The future is clear: Minnesota is on the path to cleaner energy thanks to affordable wind, solar and efficiency. The Legislature is sadly on a different path – succumbing to the whims of the oil and gas industries at the expense of Minnesota consumers. If allowed to become law, this bill will result in slower and more expensive decision-making for energy consumers along with costly new pipeline projects that threaten our waters, the integrity of private land and indigenous treaty rights. We ask legislators to reconsider including these damaging policy proposals and fully fund Governor Dayton’s budget request for the critical work of building and maintaining the energy system of the future.”

###

Minnesota Legislature Sides with Polluters Against Clean Air and Water

March 31, 2017

Media Contact:
Margaret Levin – Margaret.levin@sierraclub.org, 612-659-9124

Saint Paul, MINN. (March 31, 2017) – This week, the Minnesota House and Senate passed their Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus bills (HF888/SF723). In addition to irresponsible budget cuts to state agencies charged with safeguarding Minnesotan’s air, land and water, the bills include more than 90 pages of policy provisions, many of which are controversial polluter-sponsored initiatives that weaken existing environmental laws and roll back protections.

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

“Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and voters expect their legislators to prioritize the protection of clean water, clean air and the health of families and children when they come to St. Paul. Today, the Minnesota House and Senate both failed to meet this standard. The House and Senate Environment Omnibus bills include sweetheart provisions for polluting industries, undermine Minnesota’s longstanding framework for environmental protection, and fail to adequately fund the protections that keep our air and water safe.

In 2008, Minnesotans voted to raise their own taxes in order to ensure that our most precious natural resources are properly protected. Minnesotans view the protection of air and water as core functions of their state government. Clearly, Minnesota legislators need to get in sync with their constituents on these critical issues.”

###

Governor Dayton Stands Up for Rural Clean Energy Customers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 20, 2017

Media Contact:
Margaret Levin – Margaret.levin@sierraclub.org, 612-659-9124

Saint Paul, MINN. (March 20, 2017) – Today, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced his veto of House File 234, a bill that would remove protection by the Public Utilities Commission for renewable energy customers served by rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities.

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

“Minnesota wind and solar customers deserve the same level of protection regardless of where they live and which utility happens to serve their community. Governor Dayton’s decision to veto this legislation ensures that clean energy customers served by rural electric coops and municipal utilities will continue to have at least some recourse when faced with onerous and burdensome fees and surcharges by their electric utility.

The Governor’s decision also sends a clear signal that Minnesotans value the critical role that the Public Utilities Commission plays in protecting ratepayers and consumers from utility decisions that are not in the public interest. We applaud the Governor’s decision today, and look forward to continuing our work to ensure that rural Minnesotans have access to clean and affordable renewable energy.”

###

Legislation Aims to Rollback Utility Commission Authority in Historic Fashion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 9, 2017

Contact:
Justin Fay – justin.fay@sierraclub.org
Ricky Junquera – ricky.junquera@sierraclub.org

Fast-tracking Xcel Gas Plant; without consideration of public’s best interest.

Minneapolis, MN – Today, the Minnesota House passed, and Governor Dayton announced his intention to sign, legislation that exempts Xcel Energy from the long-standing authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to evaluate whether new power generation is in the public interest. Instead, this bill would give Xcel Energy sole discretion whether to build a new 786-Megawatt gas plant in Becker, Minnesota.The legislation will be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks before advancing to the Governor’s desk.

Sierra Club Minnesota issued the following statement in response:

“Legislation to exempt Xcel Energy’s proposed gas plant from standard consumer protection publicly undermines the authority of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Authorizing Xcel Energy to replace two retiring coal units with a $1 billion gas plant, while avoiding basic demonstrations that the plant is in the public interest, undoes long-standing precedent; replacing a balancing of interests with a process that gives a giant check to Xcel.

The mission of the Public Utilities Commission is ‘to protect and promote the public’s interest in safe, adequate and reliable utility services at fair, reasonable rates.’ Xcel Energy and state lawmakers are choosing to let shareholders benefit at the expense of ratepayers across the state.

Sierra Club, along with many other stakeholders, has participated extensively in PUC proceedings over the years and believes Minnesota’s Commission is a best-in-class example of a regulatory body that weighs diverse interests in search of the best outcome. State lawmakers have opened the door to bypass the PUC every time a company decides it would be more expedient to make a decision to build a new coal plant or a new nuclear plant in a corporate boardroom rather than in the public venue specifically designed for this work.

We stand ready to defend the Public Utilities Commission from further rollbacks to their authority to act on behalf of Minnesotans, and encourage state lawmakers and the Governor to do the same.”

###

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.7 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

Sierra Club Praises Decision to Block Sulfide Mine, Protect Boundary Waters

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, December 15, 2016

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

Minneapolis, MN—The Obama administration today denied renewal of two mineral leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, halting plans for sulfide mines that could pollute the waters of America’s most popular wilderness area following extensive public input.  Sulfide mining has never been done in Minnesota, and would pollute rivers and groundwater for hundreds of years.

The administration also announced it is beginning a process to consider withdrawing federal mineral rights from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area watershed long term.

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

“The Obama administration has rightly recognized that toxic sulfide ore mining poses grave risks for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, America’s most-visited national wilderness.  Today’s decision brings a welcome reprieve for the Boundary Waters’ 1,000 pristine lakes and streams, and validates the voices of thousands who have asked that its waters be protected from this threat.

“The tremendous public opposition to these mines demonstrates the incredible connection that Minnesotans and people from all over the country feel with this place and the deep-rooted desire to see it protected, not just today but into the future. We applaud this significant step forward and will continue to fight for permanent protection of the Boundary Waters.”

Sierra Club Comments on Crown Mill Hydro Project

Honorable Kimberly D. Bose,
Secretary Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20426

VIA Electronic Filing

Re: Draft Environmental Assessment for Crown Hydro Docket No. P-11175-025

Dear Ms. Bose,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment (“EA”) for the Crown Hydro, LLC Crown Mill Hydroelectric Project (“Crown Hydro”).

We are writing on behalf of the 50,000 members and supporters of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. The Sierra Club objects to the efforts of Crown Hydro, LLP. (“Crown”) to acquire rights to use land in the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park (“Regional Park”) in Minneapolis to construct and operate a hydroelectric plant. The Sierra Club has long advocated for city planning that combines dense, sustainable, land use development with parks and open space, particularly development that is bicycle, pedestrian and transit friendly. Redevelopment of the Minneapolis central riverfront has proved an immensely successful example of exactly this type of development. The driving force behind its success is the riverfront park centered on Saint Anthony Falls.

The Sierra Club is a strong proponent of statutory environmental review. Rigorous environmental review is standard for this area in Minneapolis. It develops information that is essential for decision makers to consider when making decisions that impact our environment. After analyzing the EA for the Crown Hydro, we have the following serious concerns:

  • Licensing Crown Hydro is a major federal action that could have serious adverse effects on the landmark Saint Anthony Falls. This project has been an extremely controversial for decades and given this controversy, the issues surrounding Crown Hydro need to be given the scrutiny that a full EIS would afford. A full EIS would insure the community, the City of Minneapolis, and the Federal Government that all issues were given the highest level of review and alternatives considered before a decision on a license was made.
  • The EA fails to address the cumulative impact of all the hydro projects on the flow of water over the Falls. Crown Hydro is the tipping point project that has the capacity to dewater the Falls. The impacts from reduced flow on recreation, parklands and other social and economic aspects need to be studied and quantified.
  • The EA fails to understand the recreation issues surrounding the project, and if they are mentioned the EA fails to seriously analyze these issues.
  • Alternatives were not considered. Given the circumstances, the “No Action” option needs to be seriously considered.

The EA fails to adequately consider the impact on aesthetic flow of water appropriation by Crown on the vibrancy of this area. The EA states that any minimum flow requirements would not apply “during the winter months (November 15 through March 15) and during nighttime hours (dusk till dawn) in all months.” This area, however, is active all year round, with visitors enjoying views of the Falls during the day and night. Without the centerpiece of the regional park, Saint Anthony Falls, the future growth of this area may stall. In addition, the Falls encourages people to use bikes and their feet to travel rather than cars. The EA does not adequately consider the impact of removing or reducing this major attraction.

In addition to threatening the flow over the Falls, the physical presence of the Crown Hydro facility would have a significant negative impact on recreational resources. The EA fails to address how the structure would restrict access from Downtown, Water Works and the Stone Arch Bridge to the Lock and Dam building, thereby subverting key elements of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (“MPRB”) Master Plan calling for improved bicycle and pedestrian connections to the riverfront and a new visitor center at the Lock and Dam with spectacular views of the Falls. Friends of the Lock and Dam have put forward a proposal that could turn the Master Plan concept of a visitor center into a reality with a transformative design to repurpose the lock and dam into a visitor center. This bold vision would be precluded by the Crown Hydro project.

Trail connections around the Stone Arch Bridge on the west side of the river are identified as a Key Focus Area in a Major Gateway of the Regional Park in the Regional Park Master Plan (p. 7-9). The EA fails to adequately address this issue and ignores how the project will impede, frustrate or otherwise preclude year round 24/7 trail usage after construction of the project. Further, the project will preclude the use of the intake and outlet areas near the lock and dam as a kayak/canoe landing and portage location, another significant goal in the Regional Park Master Plan (p. 7-7).

The Crown Hydro project would be built on public land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which is subject to a perpetual easement held by the MPRB for park purposes, including bicycle and pedestrian facilities. MPRB has been a consistent project opponent and previously denied Crown access to Park property. Although no details are presented in the EA, this project appears to require access to public land used for park purposes.

The Sierra Club is a strong supporter of green and alternative energy. However, the energy that would be produced by Crown is very expensive compared to other green energy sources. The Federal Power Act requires equal consideration of power production, energy conservation, the protection of fish and wildlife, the protection of recreational opportunities, and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.

To properly balance the small amount of expensive energy that would be generated against the major negative impacts on the central riverfront park and continued economic growth of this dense pedestrian, bike and transit friendly area, Sierra Club requests preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

Sincerely,

Mathews Hollinshead
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club North Star Chapter