United, We Stand Stronger!
Thanks to all who attended the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting on Monday, May 22! We had a great discussion in the Business meeting, and then two exciting speakers who helped us to understand how we as local Leagues, joined together in an ILO like UMRR, can also be part of the work of democracy being done by LWV US. Here's the video of our speakers - a good resource for local Leagues to learn and share!
LWV's foundation is our local Leagues. We work locally to build and defend democracy, joined together through our State Leagues. Beyond local and state Leagues, we work together regionally and nationally through ILOs and LWV US. We need each other and can depend on each other. United, we stand stronger!
This year we focused on the ties that bind us, and how we can work together more effectively. Our first speaker was Jessica Rolhoff, Midwest Regional Organizer for LWV US. Jessica gave an update (and answered questions) about the LWV US transformation plan, introducing this new LWV US initiative to our members. She also introduced a new social media tool for use within LWV - League in Action. Watch the video to learn more!
We then turned to the LWV US Climate Interest Group. As citizens of the world we must protect our planet from the physical, economic and public health effects of climate change while also providing pathways to economic prosperity. To advance League action on this urgent issue, the LWV Climate Interest Group was formed to collaborate nationwide. The Climate Interest Group is a group of League members from across the United States working together to fight climate change. They've organized teams in important climate issue areas to provide materials for local and state Leagues to use in their education and advocacy.
Joy Guscott-Mueller is Chair of the Water Team for the Climate Interest Group. She's also the Chair of LWV Lake Michigan Region, the other regional, multi-state Inter-League Organization focused on a major water body. Joy spoke to us about how the work of the Climate Interest Group strengthens the work of ILOs and our member Leagues. The work that the Climate Interest Group is doing is wide ranging and exciting - we send delegates to the international climate summits and have working groups on a number of topics. Joy explains all of this in the video (starting at about 32 minutes); we also have blog posts here and here that look at the work of the LWV US Climate Interest Group.
Bio information on our speakers is available on the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting 2023 page, along with the documents that were adopted and approved in the business meeting.
The implications of this decision will vary by state, depending on how the state regulates ephemeral waters. (Ephemeral waters are waters that present in wet times but vanish in dry times. A permanent wetland can be isolated in dry times, but connected to a lake, river or stream in wet times.)
The author of this blog post checked State Departments of Agriculture in the five states now part of the LWV UMRR family. Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota had no mention of the Sackett decision as of May 29. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, applauded the decision as bringing needed certainty to farmers.
In states where state regulations do not prohibit removing isolated wetlands or preserving ephemeral watercourses, it's reasonable to think that there will be significant pressure to develop or farm in these areas. Even if something like this is allowed now, those who do the developing and farming will still face the reality that water 'seeks its own level', meaning that in large rainfall events or wet seasons these areas will again be inundated and the water will need to be dealt with. Where will this water go?
The Minnesota is degraded by excess nutrients and sediments that erode streambanks and bury aquatic habitat. The increased flow in the river due to the drainage of the extensive wetlands that covered the land before European settlement has caused significant damage to the river.
This has led to the Minnesota being not only a major source of nutrient pollution to the Mississippi, but also being " a river where aquatic life struggles."
Rivers and streams across the Midwest are similarly degraded. The Sackett decision can lead to more drainage and more development. This expansion will alter the hydrology, leading to two major concerning outcomes. One will be reducing the time that water has to sink into the soil and replenish groundwater; the other will be the direct discharge of more runoff to surface waters, making them hotter and dirtier. (Want to learn more about the role of groundwater in the hydrologic cycle? Read here.) Hotter and dirtier water will mean more struggles for aquatic life, and less 'fishable and swimmable' waters overall.
In this video, Gretchen Sabel, first Chair of UMRR, explains how this ILO is organized, how it came to be, and what it does. This talk was given for the Annual Meeting of an other Inter League Organization - the Council of Metropolitan Area Leagues in Minnesota - on May 20, 2023.
Sackett vs EPA - Supreme Court decision limits extent of Clean Water Act jurisdiction
The U.S. Supreme Court Court on May 25 significantly curtailed the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the nation's wetlands and waterways. It was the court's second decision in a year limiting the ability of the agency to enact anti-pollution regulations and combat climate change. Reporting by Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio quotes President Biden as calling the decision "disappointing." It "upends the legal framework that has protected America's waters for decades," he said. "It also defies the science that confirms the critical role of wetlands in safeguarding our nation's streams, rivers, and lakes from chemicals and pollutants that harm the health and wellbeing of children, families, and communities."
Farmers and developers see it differently - this will enable them to use wetlands that were previously restricted. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture reports in a May 25 email that this decision in Sackett v. EPA clarifies states’ authority and brings hope of regulatory certainty for farmers. NASDA CEO Ted McKinley says "The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Sackett v. EPA today comes as welcome news to farmers, landowners and state departments of agriculture who sought clarity on what has been an over-litigated issue for decades,” McKinney said. “We take relief in this decision as the justices clearly state the ‘significant nexus theory is particularly implausible’ and the EPA has no statutory basis to impose the standard.”
The Des Moines Register in an May 25 article reports on the split decision:
In a May 25 press release, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan issued the following statement:
“As a public health agency, EPA is committed to ensuring that all people, regardless of race, the money in their pocket, or community they live in, have access to clean, safe water. We will never waver from that responsibility.
I am disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision that erodes longstanding clean water protections. The Biden-Harris Administration has worked to establish a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health while providing the clarity and certainty that farmers, ranchers, and landowners deserve. These goals will continue to guide the agency forward as we carefully review the Supreme Court decision and consider next steps.
In 1972, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress passed the Clean Water Act, giving EPA and Army Corp implementation responsibilities. In doing so, our leaders recognized that protecting our nation’s waters is vital to ensuring a thriving economy and agricultural sector, to sustaining diverse ecosystems, and to protecting the water our children drink.
Over the past 50 years, we have made transformational progress — rivers that were once on fire have been restored and now sustain vibrant communities in every corner of the country. A common sense and science-based definition of ‘waters of the United States’ is essential to building on that progress and fulfilling our responsibility to preserve our nation’s waters — now and for future generations.”
This interpretation is another volley in the game of political football that the Clean Water Rule has become. Previous reporting on the LWV UMRR Blog:
Arne Carlson was governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999. He continues to speak out on issues, especially those affecting Minnesota's environment. In a recent interview with Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Dennis Anderson, Carlson talked about his concern regarding the proposed PolyMet and Tamarac mines. In this interview, Carlson restates his long-held concerns about the ownership of these proposed mines and their past performance in other settings. The PolyMet copper mine would be located in the Boundary Waters watershed. The Tamarac mine in the headwaters of the Mississippi, and would be a source of nickel, cobalt and copper. This report on the Minnesota Legislature's website provides deeper information on these two projects.
Another mining project proposed in Minnesota is a manganese mine near Emily, Minnesota, in the heart of our northern Minnesota lakes region. This mine, North Star Manganese, would be an underground mine with a processing plant. Development of this mine has been controversial, and like the others, it has the possibility of serious impacts to water resources in the Upper Mississippi. An April 30 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the troubled path this project has followed and the plans for its future.
The minerals that are proposed to be mined will be needed for powering electric vehicles in the future. These mines would provide domestic sources of these critical minerals. The need for balance in developing these resources is critical. This 2017 article in the New York Times provides background on the minerals and issues. We will continue to follow these projects and provide periodic updates on the LWV UMRR blog.
This is a post by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and is shared here with permission.
Developed at 3M in the 1970s, the PFAS class of chemicals are useful for making products waterproof and easy to clean, among other uses. They don’t break down easily, and there’s no natural process that makes it happen - hence the use of the term “forever chemicals” to describe them.
The fact that PFAS doesn’t break down in the environment would be bad enough. But many of these chemicals contribute to a myriad of health conditions - cancer, vaccine resistance, high cholesterol - makes their rapid proliferation a worldwide tragedy. And those are just the effects we know of today.
No one on this planet chose to put PFAS in their bodies, but almost of us have it anyway. These chemicals have made their way into our bloodstream through water, fish, and consumer products. Some communities, like parts of the eastern Twin Cities Metro - home to an old 3M dumping site - have it worse than others, facing appalling rates of illnesses like childhood cancer.
Some of the worst offenders among PFAS chemicals - specifically PFOA and PFOS - have been largely phased out in most countries, leading to dramatic reductions in their prevalence in human bodies. But others continue to be used in numerous consumer products and in concentrated sources like firefighting foam. And we’re only just beginning to learn about the horrifying scope of PFAS usage in pesticides (as if one of the world’s worst environmental offenders couldn’t get worse!)
Taken together, the story of PFAS so far is a gloomy one. Humanity will be dealing with the health ramifications of these toxic substances for generations to come.
But in Minnesota, the birthplace of PFAS, we might be starting to turn things around.
The Minnesota response
The good news is that we have simple, effective tools for reducing the amount of PFAS in our bodies: halt their use, and make sure that our drinking water is protected. Those solutions are the basis for the package of PFAS legislation currently advancing at the Capitol, which MEP has identified as one of our key priorities to pass this session. Most are included in one or both of the Environment Omnibus Bills introduced in the House and Senate.
The solutions proposed in these bills have included:
These bills certainly haven’t gone unopposed. Lobbyists representing a wide array of chemical companies flew to Minnesota earlier in the session to argue that companies will be unfairly burdened by these proposals. They made arguments about the cost of compliance, the fact that not all PFAS chemicals have yet been identified as causing harm, and the challenges of having different chemical laws in different states. That last argument should be taken with an especially large grain of salt - the chemical industries aren’t exactly thrilled by the idea of nationwide regulation, either.
The chemical lobby stood in contrast, especially in comparison to students and parents from Tartan High School in Oakdale - ground zero for PFAS exposure. These community members shared their own stories with Legislators of how their loved ones’ lives have been devastated or cut short by PFAS-related cancers.
Legislators have modified some of their provisions, but they aren’t stepping backward on the PFAS package, nor should they. If signed into law, it would represent among the strongest actions ever taken in the United States to combat this health threat.
It’s encouraging to see the signs around the world that the use of PFAS substances is waning. 3M, which faces major lawsuits for its role in this crisis, has committed to phasing out their PFAS manufacturing entirely by 2025. The European Chemicals Agency has proposed phasing out PFAS across the entire European Union. Maine has passed a law that bans all intentional inclusion of PFAS in products by 2030.
Here in Minnesota, we’re working to start fixing the PFAS problem where it began. We owe it to ourselves, our kids, and the world to get it right.
For previous columns by Matt, visit mepartnership.org/category/blog/. If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free - simply contact the author through the LWV UMRR email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CO2 Pipelines - Update
Carbon pipelines were the topic of the October 2022 UMRR meeting - this UMRR blog post has the video and lots of information. Now, as companies are seeking landowner and regulatory permissions to build CO2 pipelines, there have been some events that can affect the process.
Today (March 28) in Iowa, House File 565, which restricts the use of eminent domain to build carbon pipelines, passed the Iowa House in a bipartisan vote with 73 votes in favor and 20 against. This bill moves to the Iowa Senate Commerce Committee now - it must pass there by March 31 to move on.
In Illinois, the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines has obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing Navigator's 1350-mile CO2 pipeline project would cross over 1800 waters of the U.S. and impact over 150 acres of wetland. The project also includes horizontal directional drilling under major rivers, such as the Illinois and the Mississippi. According to a post on the Coalition's website, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to permit the project, not as a one complete pipeline, but as 1800 separate projects, under its expedited Nationwide permitting program. This will allow the pipeline to proceed without a full environmental review or any public comment. There is an Action Alert on the site to reach out to Corps officials and US Senators and members of Congress requesting a more robust permitting process. There is also a bill in the Illinois legislature to restrict pipeline expansion.
An article on Reuters website provides a broader update on pipelines. They report that Navigator CO2 Ventures’ proposed carbon pipeline project in the U.S. Midwest is struggling to secure a site to store millions of tons of greenhouse gas it hopes to collect from the region’s ethanol plants, as residents refuse to give up land rights over fears the underground reservoirs could leak, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
Also at issue in Illinois is the regulation of "pore space", the airspace between bits of rock and soil where CO2 would be stored. Who owns the 'nothing' in the soil under our feet? An article posted on the Newburn Law website examines this issue. This article provides some background on the issue as well as an analysis of laws pertaining to the use of pore space.
"One of the emerging issues around CCS is who owns the pore space in the ground. Under United States' land rights laws, the person who owns the pore space in the ground is generally the person who owns the surface estate—that is, all the land above the pore space. Of course, a landowner can sell the right to mine the underlying ground soil for minerals.
More and more, energy companies are seeking out land with underground pore space to implement their CCS technology. CCS is usually employed deep underground. The issue for companies wanting to use CCS is whether they must pay the surface owners for use of the underground pore space. Of course, this raises issues of private property rights.
Does the surface owner of the land own all of the pore space beneath it? What if someone else owns the mineral rights to the land? Do they also own the pore space?
Whether a landowner can divest their rights to the pore space under their land, who has the rights to the pore space, and the value of the pore space, are all complicated and novel legal issues courts are just now starting to address."
Our speakers are ardent and knowledgeable people who know hydrology and are passionate about the rugged terrain and wild waters of the Driftless area. The video starts with the basics - how groundwater works, interconnections to surface water, land use impacts and drinking water impairment. Jeff Broberg led us through this with humor and grace. Jeff's home in rural Winona doesn't have a safe water supply, so he has a personal stake in the water quality of the area.
Next our speakers addressed two examples of watersheds - one in Minnesota and one in Iowa. The WinLac watershed in Minnesota surrounds the cities of Winona and La Crescent, along the Mississippi. The uplands of this watershed are in the Karst bluffs and land use has heavily impacted drinking water quality. Paul Wotzka described the impacts we see in this small watershed, including the impacts of row crop and animal agriculture. When land use changes, water quality improves. How does that work? Paul explained how his land practices have improved the water at his home.
The second watershed we looked at is Bloody Run in northeastern Iowa - read more about Bloody Run at this link. Larry Stone is part of the Save Bloody Run movement, and he provided an update on where this case is in the courts and on the ground. The webinar wrapped up with a lively question and answer session led by LWV UMRR Chair Mary Ellen Miller.
Many thanks to our speakers for this excellent program!
The Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge - Virtual Tour and Project Update
Zoom or in person event, sponsored by the Izaak Walton League of Minnesota
January 27 at 6:30 pm
The in-person event will be held at the IWLA Minnesota Valley Chapter House
6601 Auto Club Road - Bloomington, MN
Creation of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (Refuge) was largely the result of the Izaak Walton League, and in particular, the efforts of its founder and leader, Will Dilg. Dilg's vision became a reality on June 7, 1924 when Congress passed the Act establishing the Refuge. Today the Refuge begins near Wabasha, MN and extends downstream for 261 miles ending near the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. In this meeting, participants will take a journey around the Refuge highlighting recent efforts in MN that perpetuate Dilg's vision.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||