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Bumblebees flying and pollinating a creeping thyme flower. emeliemaria / iStock / Getty Images

It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.

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Governor Tim Walz holds up the signed oath on his Jan. 8 inauguration day at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lorie Shaull / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Rachel Rye Butler

We've only got 10 years to work on the climate. But, thankfully the Green New Deal is pushing and shoving its way through Congress — putting elected leaders and presidential candidates to the test to show us whether they're actually serious about climate action.

And while climate champions like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are advocating for widespread and far-reaching federal climate policy, we need to do everything in our power (which is pretty mighty) to make sure state officials like Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan keep fossil fuels in the ground right now by stopping projects like Enbridge's dangerous Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

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With her win, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became one of four Democrats heading to Congress to push for a Green New Deal. Rick Loomis / Getty Images

Results from the U.S. midterm election are mostly in, and, when it comes to what they mean for the environment, they're a real mixed bag.

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By Jake Johnson

Surpassing a mark set during the peak of the Dust Bowl in 1934, the continental U.S. just had its hottest May on record thanks in large part to the human-caused climate crisis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Wednesday.

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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced construction of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline replacement project in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 10, 2016. Marc Chalifoux / Epic Photography for the Government of Alberta, CC BY-ND 2.0

By Logan Carroll

The Minnesota section of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline accounts for nearly 300 miles of the longest crude oil transport system in the world, and it is failing. The multi-billion-dollar transnational corporation has applied for a permit to replace it. Opposition from tribes in the region and environmental groups is slowing the project, but the process at times appears so tilted in Enbridge's favor that, watching the court battles and utility commission meetings, it almost feels like Enbridge wrote the rules.

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On Tuesday, a trial over Minnesota's $5 billion lawsuit against manufacturer 3M Company—the biggest environmental lawsuit in state history—was set to begin with jury selection.

But on that very same day, the Maplewood-based manufacturer agreed to an $850 million settlement, finally putting an end to eight years of litigation over the water pollution case.

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Three Midwestern states are closing out the year with big clean energy changes on the horizon.

Both Illinois and Michigan passed major clean energy bills in the last hours of their lame duck sessions, encouraged by the state's Republican governors.

And while Ohio's legislature extended a freeze on the state's renewables standards, earlier comments from Gov. Kasich indicate he may veto the bill.

"Ohio lawmakers decided to significantly stall the state's clean energy efforts, putting politics over economic growth," Dick Munson, Midwest clean energy director for Environmental Defense Fund, said. "The governor should continue the leadership he has demonstrated and reject this harmful legislation, so Ohio can get back to work building its clean energy economy, opening the door to well-paying jobs and millions in investment."

Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, agrees. "Governor Kasich has an opportunity to show that Ohio's energy policy is not for sale to utility lobbyists by vetoing HB 554 and unfreezing clean energy in the Buckeye State," he said.

In Minnesota, while a Republican legislature could curtail progress on the state's emissions reductions plans, some policymakers have hinted that clean energy policies could be ground for bipartisan compromise.

Michigan, Ohio, Illinois: Midwest Energy News

Minnesota: Midwest Energy News, MPR News

Commentary: Crain's Chicago Business, Will Kenworthy op-ed

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

Greenpeace

By Cassady Sharp

The same law that contributed to George Zimmerman walking free out of a Florida courtroom last weekend after taking the life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was primarily written by the same super lobbying group behind legislation protecting natural gas companies from disclosing chemicals used in fracking.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a unique kind of lobbying front group responsible for pushing legislation designed to enhance the bottom line of their corporate funders. Corporations like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Duke Energy, along with industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide more than 98 percent of ALEC’s funding, whose members, which includes elected officials and corporations, write and pass laws that will benefit those corporations.

Via the laws ALEC pushes through state legislatures, the lobbying group impacts Americans nationwide from voting right laws to environmental regulations (or lack thereof) to guns like Stand Your Ground. We’ve collected the most significant ALEC laws that could be coming to a state legislature near you, if they aren’t there already.

7. Electricity Freedom Act 

This act prevents states from requiring their energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources, killing a key government incentives for clean energy projects. ALEC falsely claims that any renewable energy mandate sacrifices economic growth and American competitiveness, a dead horse they have continued to beat for decades.

Because of the economic benefits of renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina and Kansas and in spite of support from ALEC’s other Koch-funded friends in the State Policy Network, ALEC’s most heated attacks on Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) were shot down by Democrats and Republicans alike. Quieter ALEC-supported attempts to repeal or weaken RPS laws also failed in Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine and Oregon—not a good start for ALEC’s top energy-related priority this year.

Greenpeace has initiated an action to demand that the nation’s largest utility company, Duke Energy, cut ties between ALEC, a relationship that is polluting Americans and democracy.

6. Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline

ALEC is trying to use state resolutions to add pressure to the federal government to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In fact, ALEC took its member legislators on a Big Oil-funded trip to Alberta, Canada, to promote tar sands, courtesy of lobbyists from TransCanada, Shell, Devon Energy and other oil and gas interests. ALEC’s conferences have featured seminars on the controversial pipeline, featuring speakers from oil companies and the Canadian government alike. The Center for Media and Democracy, which runs ALECexposed.org, has filed an ethics complaint in Nebraska for a legislator’s failure to disclose the trip and its sponsors. Keep in mind that ALEC is a tax-exempt organization, and their lobbying doesn’t count as lobbying to the IRS.

While ALEC has its own model resolution, its state legislator members introduced resolutions straight out of a TransCanada press release, coordinating across state borders to get an apparent jump in support for Keystone XL in Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi all at once.

5. Voter ID Act

These laws prohibit about 11 percent of citizens from voting by requiring a government-issued ID to vote at the polls.

This 11 percent overwhelmingly consists of elderly people, low-income and minority voters and students. Thirty-three states now have voter id laws and four states now have strict photo id requirements in effect. With the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, we can expect this number to increase with ALEC's full support.

4. Arizona’s SB 1070 Immigration Law: “No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act” 

In short, this bill was ALEC’s way of making private prison companies rich by rounding up brown people without documentation and tossing them in jail. Although most of this law was struck down in Arizona, the “papers please” provision survives requiring law enforcement to check a person’s status if they are stopped, detained or arrested. State legislators and prison and bail industry lobbyists met at an ALEC meeting to write the law which originally stated that law enforcement had to check a person’s status only after “contact.” The Arizona legislature changed narrowed the law to the current language.

3. Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act

The title of this bill is a lie–ALEC’s flagship fracking bill prevents oil and gas companies from having to disclose the chemicals in frack fluids that qualify as “trade secrets.” Who took the idea to ALEC? ExxonMobil. Bloomberg reports that the ALEC bill has been introduced in at least eight states, although there appear to be more. Exxon’s bill became Ohio law with ALEC’s help, and a particularly controversial fracking law sponsorship by ALEC legislators passed in North Carolina last year without anyone reporting ALEC’s fingerprints. DeSmogBlog has documented attempts in Florida, Illinois and several other states.

ALEC previously drafted a state resolution that puts the regulating authority into the hands of state agencies, which are woefully understaffed, underfunded and ineffective at regulating the powerful gas and oil industry, creating a one-two punch that leaves fracked communities in the dark on chemical disclosure and at the mercy of insufficient and often captured regulatory agencies for protection from fracking pollution.

2. Intrastate Coal and Use Act

This act serves to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating the coal industry. Specifically, the act prevents the EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state. This act relies on the “Commerce Clause” claiming that the federal government can only regulate commerce that goes beyond state lines, flying in the face of settled Supreme Court interpretation of the “dormant” Commerce Clause. The first version of this bill was passed in West Virginia in 2011, a state with 273 operating coal mines as of 2011.

1. Stand Your Ground

Considering the recent national tragedy of the Trayvon Martin ruling and the violence “Stand Your Ground” releases, this law should be repealed immediately in the states it’s active. In strong conjunction with the National Rifle Association (NRA), ALEC has managed to push versions of this law in over two dozen states. It allows any killer to claim immunity if they felt a reasonable fear of bodily harm. The Florida version of this law passed in 2005 and was written by a NRA lobbyist.

ALEC is behind loads of more dangerous laws or proposed resolutions that must be exposed, blocked or repealed if active. Please let us know other significant ones we missed in the comments below. 

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.

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Earth Island Journal

By Jennifer Krill

Last month, I visited Wisconsin’s booming silica sand mining region and saw sandstone bluffs strip-mined for sturdy quartz sand that’s essential for the horizontal hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from underground shale formations. I saw how residents there had little protection against silica dust exposure since Wisconsin has no regulatory standards for this relatively new mining industry.

A sand bluff in Goodhue County, MN, that Thoreau once walked across. Minnesota has several frac-sand mines and loading facilities and many new ones are being proposed. Citizens here have active in pushing their government to impose more stringent regulations on the industry. Photos by Jim Tittle/
thepriceofsand.com

After Wisconsin, I headed across the Mississippi River to the southeastern corner of Minnesota. The industry is pretty active here too, with several existing mines and loading facilities and many more proposed, but so is the citizenry, which has been pushing the state to regulate frac-sand mines and processing facilities.

While I was there, I met with the Land Stewardship Project’s (LSP) staff and members from four counties across Minnesota’s Driftless Area. LSP has been fighting for sustainable agriculture and communities in Minnesota for over 30 years, and has been warily watching the boom in frac-sand mining across the river in Wisconsin. After traveling through the same counties I visited last month, lifelong resident of Winona County, Minnesota and LSP organizer Johanna Rupprecht said, “What I saw in Wisconsin made me even more certain that this industry is absolutely wrong for our rural communities.”

Johanna was not alone. Everywhere we went, Minnesotans were determined to protect their communities’ health and environment from frac-sand mining.

In Wabasha, MN, city council member Lynn Schoen described the city’s efforts to prevent a new frac-sand transportation loading facility that aims to take advantage of the town’s location by the rail line adjacent to the Mississippi River, which would carry frac-sand north and west to the booming Bakken Shale in North Dakota and into Canada. Last week, the small town was sued by a trucking company that wants to haul sand to the loading facility. The facility developer, Superior Sand Systems of Canada, is also threatening to sue. Both companies claim that the proposal to ship frac sand should be exempt from environmental review because railroads are regulated federally. The town of Wabasha maintains that it has the right to require a permit for the influx of as many as 600 daily truck trips through town.

Wabasha is home to lovely bluffs terracing down to a bend in the river that attracts bald eagles, golden eagles, and a hundred thousand tourists annually to the National Eagle Center to see rescued bald eagles up close and to watch wild eagles hunting fish in the wide river. Schoen is very concerned about the impacts of the frac-sand facility, with hundreds of daily truck trips, noise from trucks and trains and the ubiquitous silica dust blowing, on the town’s existing tourist economy.

A similar frac-sand facility lies 30 miles south in the town of Winona, MN, which is now home to a new landmark known as "Mt. Frac.” The Winona facility includes both rail loading as well as barges on the river which carry frac-sand south to the Barnett and Eagle Ford Shales in Texas. Dozens of protestors have been arrested at Mt. Frac in several actions since early 2012. The state does not have a health impact study for silica in the air from such a sand loading operation for either humans or eagles.

Silica Dust blows from sand piles at Preferred Sands mine in Woodbury, MN.

From Wabasha, we traveled to Winona, Houston and Fillmore counties, meeting with residents campaigning to slow or stop the demand for silica sand from destroying the region’s picturesque sandstone bluffs.

In Winona County’s Saratoga Township seven separate silica sand mines are proposed, with five of them grouped on County Road 6. The concentration of mining in one area limits impacts in the rest of the township. But for neighbors along County Road 6, including nearby Amish farmers, the mines would mean rapid industrialization, increased truck traffic and the health impacts of quartz silica sand blowing through the neighborhood.

Many Minnesota residents who have visited frac-sand mines in Wisconsin or have heard about the negative impacts are concerned that that local government zoning ordinances aren’t strong enough to keep up with the pace and scale of the frac-sand mining boom. So they’ve been pressuring the state government to take action.

During the last legislative session, a diverse collection of local government officials called on Gov. Mark Dayton to implement a moratorium in Minnesota on new industrial silica sand mining and processing facilities until an in-depth study was done on the cumulative impacts of the industry. They asked for regulations that would ensure that trout streams, wildlife and communities were protected from impacts.

Minnesota didn’t pass a moratorium, but in May the state legislature passed a law with strong rules that advanced the interests of Minnesotans over the frac-sand mining industry.

Minnesota now prohibits frac-sand mines within a mile of a trout stream unless granted a permit by the state Department of Natural Resources. The state will soon be setting overall environmental quality rules for the frac-sand industry, including rules for silica dust management and an ambient air quality standard. frac-sand mines will also be required to post a reclamation bond and will have to follow a statewide reclamation standard.

Most importantly, under the new rules, local governments can enact moratoria on frac-sand mining and facilities until 2015. In Minnesota, local governments are arguing strenuously to maintain local control over large-scale silica mining for fracking within their communities. Since the state confers power to counties, townships and cities to pass zoning ordinances that are in the best interests of each community, many communities already had moratoria on frac-sand mining in place. This new law will help build momentum in counties that want to ban frac-sand mining altogether.

Although the state didn’t put a moratorium on frac-sand mining, it did empower local governments to slow or stop the impacts of this harmful industry. And that, in itself, is heartening.

Superior Sand Systems has not yet sued the town of Wabasha, though it has threatened to do so. However, a local trucking company has sued the town. This article has been corrected to reflect this information.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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