So far, 2011 has been a difficult year in many ways. As I write this, the Japanese people are struggling to survive the destruction caused by the tsunami and earthquake and to avert a worsening crisis at the Fukushima nuclear reactor – while mourning friends and family whose lives were lost in the tragedy The Sierra Club’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this disaster and the heroes who are working to aide the survivors.
Here at home, we are facing an unprecedented onslaught against Minnesota’s environment at the State Capitol. Since January, we’ve seen proposals to gut protections, citizen input, and our clean energy future.
Bringing Back Dirty Energy?
Today, our clean energy future hangs in the balance, with a proposal to repeal a key lynchpin of Minnesota’s forward-thinking energy policies, the carbon pollution offset requirement for new coal plants, which was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2007 as part of the Next Generation Act and signed by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty.
In addition to setting strong clean, renewable energy targets that are helping to grow Minnesota’s economy and create good, family-supporting jobs in green industries, the Next Generation Energy Act was broadly supported because our state leaders wisely recognized that if unchecked, carbon pollution will harm our families, economy, and environment.
But our clean energy progress could easily be erased by the emissions from just one coal-fired facility. In 2010, wind power provided almost 10% of Minnesota’s electricity and avoided 4.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year – About the same amount of greenhouse gas pollution that would be emitted by a single large coal plant. That’s why Sierra Club members fought alongside our allies to successfully defeat the Big Stone II proposed coal plant, and why we have stopped 150 proposed coal facilities across the U.S. since 2001.
Besides global warming pollution, coal creates significant health impacts, including asthma, lung cancer, and mercury pollution. That’s why the America Lung Association published an op-ed in last week’s Star Tribune opposing the repeal.
An effort to repeal the moratorium on new nuclear reactors in Minnesota would create many more problems than it solves. Originally established as part of a compromise in 1994 that allowed for storage of toxic radioactive waste in temporary dry casks, the moratorium was intended to halt nuclear expansion until the issues of waste and health were resolved. Over 15 years later, we’re no closer to a solution. In fact, a federal repository is even further from reality than it was then, and construction costs have soared to an estimated $6 billion – $12 billion per plant.
Fortunately, we already have the answers to our energy needs: investing in clean, renewable sources like wind and solar, and allowing the resulting economic development and innovation to transform our economy. Meanwhile, we can reduce our energy needs through conservation and efficiency. For example, between 2007 and 2008, Minnesota utilities increased their energy savings by 17%!
Polluters: 1, Citizens: 0
Sierra Club members were deeply disappointed when a bill to weaken the environmental review process – safeguards to ensure that the impact of large proposals is fully understood before unanticipated and irreversible harm is caused – was signed into law in early March. One of the worst provisions of this bill exempts the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), the northeastern Minnesota economic development agency, from the environmental review process.
However, nowhere in the changes to environmental review was the claim that we would cease to hold polluters accountable, or stop asking them to consider ways to reduce their pollution and protect public health. That’s because we all know that Minnesota’s strong environmental framework has protected the quality of life that we enjoy – our clean air and abundant waters that we also need to keep healthy for future generations.
That makes it even more appalling to see a proposal (HF 1002) to reduce Minnesota’s water quality regulation to make it easier for northern mining operations to meet.
No Shortage of Bad Ideas
Bad ideas keep coming – from attacking worker’s rights, exempting industry-favored projects from environmental review, increasing damage to our forests, reducing water quality standards, halting new water protections, weakening permit standards for large feedlots, and slashing funds for essential conservation and enforcement programs.
Today, the Minnesota House will hear a bill to drastically cut funding for public transit, which would likely mean mass service cuts and fare increases. Transit services are critical to economic growth, regional equity, and reducing our dependence on oil.
Get involved in the North Star Chapter by attending a New Volunteer Night; joining an issue committee; or signing up to volunteer. In this challenging time, you can have a voice in Minnesota’s future.
By getting involved, you can make a difference. Get involved in the North Star Chapter by attending a New Volunteer Night; joining an issue committee; or signing up to volunteer. In this challenging time, you can have a voice in Minnesota’s future.
Volunteer with us and make a difference today!