Human activities have fundamentally altered our landscape, and the outcome has been degradation of the earth's natural processes and cycles. Conservation practices are used to restore the natural hydrology and ecosystems in a patchwork of promise across the landscape. Can these conservation practices also help to capture carbon in the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gases and helping to combat climate change?
The answer is all too familiar - it depends. Practices like turning marginal cropland into restored wetlands does increase the permanent land cover and can encourage the growth of woody plants, but wetlands also emit methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This 2019 report by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources finds "... Drainage of wetlands and conversion to cropland can release significant amounts of long-stored carbon through organic matter decomposition. However, wetlands also emit methane, making it difficult to assess their role relative to GHG emissions. Methane emissions are highest in wetlands that are permanently or frequently inundated, while less frequently inundated wetland types such as wet meadows appear to sequester more GHGs (green house gases) than they emit. "
Similarly, the role of other conservation measures - for example cover crops - has to be carefully considered before values for carbon capture are assigned. This UMRR blog post from December, 2020, outlines a growing experiment in development of a carbon market in Minnesota. Now, the budget proposed by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for the Board of Water and Soil Resources includes funding for expansion of carbon markets in Minnesota - see page 46 here.
Let's be clear here. Conservation practices are a good thing. LWV UMRR strongly agrees that cover crops and reduced tillage are vital climate adaptation and resilience measures, providing undeniable benefits to soil health and farm resilience. Improved soil health, keeping water on the land, and restoring habitat will have benefits broadly, including making our landscapes more resilient to the added stresses of our changing climate. Our concern is that cover crops and no-till may play a minimal role in sequestering carbon. LWV UMRR is joining with other environmental organizations in Minnesota in requesting that more consideration be given to scientific data on carbon capture before the state more strongly commits to including cover crops and no-till as eligible practices in a carbon market.
Watch the LWV UMRR Blog for continued reporting on this issue.
US Army Corps of Engineers seeking comments on the Water Resources Development Act - public meetings in March, comment period ends May 7
The Water Protection Network has shared upcoming opportunities for organizations to provide input to the Army Corps of Engineers on developing implementation guidance for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, the bill that authorizes projects and policy changes for the Corps. The Corps issued this notice, published today in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period (May 7, 2021 deadline) and announcing a series of virtual stakeholder sessions (listed below) for the public to provide input and recommendations to the Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works on any provisions of WRDA 2020.
This Act includes provisions that recognize the role of climate change in water management. There are some provisions that could be seen to be positive, and some that are more troubling. You can read a summary of the bill at this link, and we've also included it at the end of this post.
Click here for a summary, from the National Wildlife Federation, of key provisions of WRDA 2020 that they have identified to benefit the environment, underserved communities, and Tribes; that are particularly harmful to the environment; and that advance restoration of important ecosystems.
LWV UMRR urges people interested in the river to take time to dig into the Corps' plans for implementing the WRDA and raise concerns where appropriate. Here's the information on public comment - note that these meetings start next week! Sitting in on one of these virtual meetings would be a good way to get an overview of the issues at stake; final date for submitting comments is May 7.
In our December blog post, we told you about the Ag-Urban Partnership Forum hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In a recent email, Katrina Kessler of MPCA said:
"I am reaching out to let you know that the MPCA recently published a detailed Water Quality Trading Guidance document and a companion website that provide a high-level introduction to the concept of water quality trading. Water quality trading provides a mechanism and legal framework for regulated wastewater and stormwater sources to engage in watershed-based water quality restoration and protection partnerships, and is closely related to the ecosystem services marketplace ideas presented at the Ag-Urban Partnership Forum.
The Water Quality Trading Guidance is available on the MPCA’s water quality trading webpage. I encourage you to visit the website and, if you are interested, review the guidance document.
I am also pleased to share that the MPCA, in coordination with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), will be initiating a pilot project to increase awareness and participation in water quality trading opportunities. We are excited to work with local resource managers and agricultural producers to identify how state agencies and local partners can work on innovative water quality solutions."
We will continue to follow developments and share them on the blog. Trading is an important option for reducing nonpoint source pollution. Read more about MPCA's efforts in trading on their website's trading page.
Regulatory Capture and Minnesota's Government: Working for the Public Interest, or Special Interests?
Monday, March 15, 2021, 7:00 p.m. – Public Meeting via Zoom
presented by: Don Arnosti, Environmental Organizer
This program is a Zoom Webinar hosted by LWV Woodbury Cottage Grove (MN). Please register here:
Open to the public – invite a friend!
Regulatory capture occurs when government serves private interests instead of enforcing existing laws written in the public interest. Don Arnosti provides evidence that documents regulatory capture
Don Arnosti has 30 years of broad expertise in environmental policy and organizing. He currently consults for the Friends of the Minnesota Valley on agricultural drainage issues. Don Arnosti is a long-time, active member in Minnesota Environmental Partnership (in which LWVMN belongs). He served as Executive Director for Audubon Minnesota and the Izaak Walton League, and in various positions for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Clean Water Action. He has worked with people in all corners of the state to protect water, land and wildlife, while incorporating rural communities' interest in farming, forestry and tourism.
This is not an Action Alert from Leauge of Women Voters, rather we are providing information on a pending goverment action that our readers may decide to comment on, with information from other organizations. Note that the comment deadline is May 18.
A recent email from the Water Protection Network urges readers to comment on a rule being proposed by EPA. (MRN's appeal follows this paragraph, verbatim.) This rule would set standards for the types of scientific research that can be used in environmental decision making. On its face, it would make sense for EPA to define the level of research that will be used - as we are seeing now with covid research it seems that there is often incomplete, inconclusive or even conflicting conclusions that come out regularly. It's important that the research that is used in decision-making reflects the current scientific understanding on a particular topic. But if the constraints work to systematically exclude certain types of research, the quality of decision making is diminished. So, here's the call-to-action paragraph from the Mississippi River Network
"Take Action Against EPA's Secret Science Rule
At a time when the importance of sound science-based decision-making is painfully clear, the Trump administration has proposed a rule that would impose sweeping restrictions on the types of scientific studies that can inform the regulatory decision-making process. Instead of "strengthening transparency" as the proposal claims to do, it is instead designed to "keep highly respected and peer-reviewed scientific studies from informing government decisions on public health and environmental protection" (Bruce Stein, NWF).
Following the links in this paragraph leads the reader to EPA's proposal in the Federal Register and a March 23, 2020, blog post by Ann Mesnikoff of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Reading the EPA proposal it is hard to sort out what there is to be concerned about. There is a link in Ann's blog post taking the reader to Ann's December 4, 2019 post, where she provides more background on the rule. She says, "The rule requires all of the data underpinning EPA legislation to be publicly available or otherwise replicable. However, there are multiple reasons why some studies can’t be replicated or made fully available. Privacy rules and patient protections prevent individual health data from being released. Raw data or original conditions may no longer exist, such as lead exposure from leaded gasoline, which has been banned now for decades. Scientific research is built around long-term and health-based research, so there are long-established methods for evaluating in these situations. The new “transparency” rule would not lead to more transparent research; it would only bar EPA from using critical scientific information."
This action is just one of a myriad of ways that the rules protecting our air, land and water are being weakened. Sigh. Push back will be timely,.
Picture below - How institutions are approaching scientific research during Covid-19
In Minnesota, more than 75 environmental and public interest non-profits have banded together to form the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. This organization strengthens member effectiveness and builds collective power to secure a healthy environment for all Minnesotans. MEP achieves this mission by providing forums for collaboration and offering capacity building services that make our member groups, and our coalition, stronger. They create and organize various services, including communications and capacity building trainings, meetings for our members with policy makers, news and information gathering, networking opportunities, and more. League of Women Voters Minnesota is a member of MEP; LWV UMRR participates in MEP activities through this link.
This blog post and the post "Line 3 Comment Period Extended" are from a March 28 MEP "Environmental Insider" email by Matt Doll, and are reproduced here with his permission. Line 3, an Enbridge pipeline that runs through northern Minnesota is in need of upgrade and repair. This post focuses on the permitting of of a proposed copper-nickel mine adjoining the Boundary Waters Canoe Area along the Canadian border.
PolyMet appeal headed to Supreme Court, company on the defensive on permits
By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Two major developments on PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel sulfide mine in northern Minnesota were announced this week.
On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) air permits for the PolyMet mine. The Court found that in its permit, the MPCA hadn’t adequately considered the increase in air pollution that would ensue from PolyMet dramatically scaling up its mining operation. PolyMet’s recent lans anticipate increasing its mining operation beyond what it stated when it applied for permits. It appears to be a case of PolyMet attempting to use the “foot-in-the-door” trick by securing a permit for a smaller scale of mining before asking for an increase, to which state agencies would be presumably more agreeable. The Court of Appeals decision requires the MPCA to revisit the initial air permits on these grounds.
Then, on Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear PolyMet’s appeal of a January Court of Appeals decision that overturned its permit to mine and its dam safety permits. That decision requires the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hold a public contested-case hearing on the mine’s environmental impacts before permitting for the mine can proceed. (CLICK READ MORE TO PROCEED)
GLBW Founding Partners:
In February of 2019, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is pleased to announce the 16 members of the bipartisan Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality. There are 12 Republican representative and senators and 4 Democrats. Representative Todd Novak-R-Dodgeville is the Chair and Representative Katrina Shankland-D-Stevens Point-Co-Chair.
The development of the special legislative committee commenced after Reps. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) and Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) made a request to the speaker in reaction to a preliminary report showing widespread contamination in private wells in southwestern Wisconsin. Because of the great importance of the issue being studied, this task force will also include members of the state Senate.
“Wisconsinites deserve to have safe, clean and healthy water,” said Speaker Vos. “We’re beginning this essential work by gathering input from across Wisconsin. I’m pleased these legislators have agreed to take part in this statewide, collaborative effort.”
The task force has been asked to make recommendations on assessing and improving the quality of surface water and groundwater. Legislators will hold public hearings around Wisconsin to gather information on the specific concerns in the various regions of the state. The speaker’s office has already been contacted by dozens of groups including Wisconsin Wetlands Association, the UW Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the Wisconsin Conservation Voters. “The goal is to take input from everyone; stakeholder groups, individuals and local officials,” said Speaker Vos. “Every important solution starts with robust conversation.
The Task Force will be traveling to 11 Wisconsin cities to get input. Next week Mauston, Wisconsin will have their hearing on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 and La Crosse, Wisconsin will have their hearing on Thursday, June 13th, 2019. For more information, click here.
LWV Action on Climate Change: A Call to Arms, with lots of guidance, from Caryl Terrell (LWV Dane Co, WI) at the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting on June 1
The LWV US Tool Kit for Climate Action is an excellent resource for getting started. Take some time to explore this website - the menu on the right has links to a wide array of information, advice and examples.
The Nature Conservancy's big idea to protect the upper Upper Mississippi - talk by Matt Gladue on June 1
The upper Upper Mississippi is that part of the Mississippi that starts at the Headwaters and flows to the Twin Cities. Water quality in the upper Upper Mississippi River is very good. The river, especially in the furthest north reaches, is protected by extensive forests and wetlands. But threats to this river are growing - threats from land conversion and development. The river is in danger of becoming polluted, like the Minnesota, which would endanger the water supply of millions of Minnesotans as well as damage this invaluable natural resource.
Matt Gladue's talk at the Annual Meeting engaged the audience in understanding the value of the upper Upper Mississippi - in the heart and soul of Minnesotans, as the source of drinking water for millions, and as an invaluable natural resource for wildlife and recreation. The threats to the river are many, but it is within the power of Minnesotans to make a changes that will save the river.
The Nature Conservancy has a big idea for saving the river. They have identified critical conservation lands, about 2% of the land in the watershed, that if protected from development or restored to forest will help to protect the river. Matt talked about this project, and that The Nature Conservancy is working on doing grass-roots organizing to develop public support. They are also seeking organizations to partner with them in this effort. To learn more about TNC's big idea, click here.
The videos below are broken up in part because Matt provided discussion periods during his talk and in part due to technical difficulties that resulted in small gaps.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||