LWV UMRR Advocacy Update - and how you can get involved in comments to the proposed Clean Water Rule
The dual mission of League of Women Voters - to educate voters and advocate on issues - is exemplified in the work of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region. We provide information on a variety of topics in this blog, through our newsletter, and in the educational meetings we co-sponsor with local Leagues. And we advocate, through taking and advocating for positions on key issues. This post provides an update on work we are doing in three areas; the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Rule and Foxconn.
Farm Bill: The conference committee report, which reconciles the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, was released early today. The Senate has already approved it, and a vote is expected in the House tomorrow. Here's a link to a summary of the bill, from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. LWV UMRR has been participating in conference calls with this coalition, and on Dec 11 signed on to a letter to Congressional leadership urging final passage of the bill . The bill has many positive components, including continued support for income-based food support, strong and expanded conservation program funding, additional supports for dairy farmers and even a provision to ease restrictions on the growing of hemp. We will include more information on this bill in blog posts to come, so stay tuned. The full text of the bill can be read here.
Clean Water Act preservation and support: LWV US was very involved supporting the initial passage of the Clean Water Act in 1970. (Read the history of LWV Clean Water Act advocacy here.) We are continuing this work through advocacy in two areas where our current federal administration is seeking to roll back Clean Water Act protections. One rollback is the rewrite of the Clean Water Rule. This multi-part rulemaking revolves around the definition of "Waters of the US". Here is the US, EPA rulemaking page, proposed changes were just announced on December 11, and a 60-day comment period will soon begin. LWV UMRR will work with LWV US to participate in this rule making. If you are interested in learning more about this proposed rule, and helping LWV UMRR prepare comments, please email us at email@example.com. We will send you materials and set up a conference call to discuss possible comment areas. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The Environmental Integrity Project has issued a report on the impact of this potential rule change on Chesapeake Bay - Read more about it here.
LWV UMRR and LWV US have also signed on to a letter to EPA, urging them to maintain the existing Clean Water Act 404(c) rules. These rules have been used by environmental groups to counter environmentally damaging projects. The sign-on letter was started by the National Wildlife Federation.
Click here to read the letter. Click here to see the list of organizations that have signed on to the letter.
Foxconn: LWV Wisconsin has lead LWV efforts to oppose the withdrawal of more than 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water for this new industrial development near Racine. LWV Lake Michigan is party to the Petition seeking reconsideration by WI DNR. LWV Upper Mississippi has made a resolution in opposition, and will continue to find ways to work against this transfer. You can read the resolution here.
LWV UMRR will be traveling to southeastern Wisconsin for our February Board meeting. We will seek to meet with Leagues in the area to talk about the project, get an update and see how the recent change of administration in Wisconsin may affect things. Once the plans for this meeting are set, we will share them here on our 'Upcoming Events" page. There are three previous blog posts on Foxconn:
The Cedar Rapids Gazette has dedicated resources to reporting on the progress of the twelve states that have agreed to work toward a 45% reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus discharged to the Mississippi, with a goal of reducing the 'dead zone' in the gulf.
This is an excellent series of articles, and is highly recommended to be read in their entirety.
The Gazette keeps their content behind a pay wall, however, allowing only so many 'reads' for free, and then requiring subscription at the introductory rate of $.99 for the first month. Here's a link to the articles - well worth checking into.
All that said, now here on the blog we will attempt to provide a summary - or maybe a teaser - with quotes and illustrations from the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The main article looks at what's being done and where, and how little progress is being made despite lots of sound and fury and expense. We also add here some information on what is happening in Minnesota, the headwaters state, where implementation is incremental at best, and positive results seen only on a small scale while the larger problem grows.
The article starts off with a problem statement: "A government task force said in 2008 it would cut nitrate and phosphorus pollution 45 percent by 2015 — both to help the Gulf of Mexico, where the nutrients have created a sprawling dead zone in which wildlife cannot survive — and to protect the health and safety of Midwest waters. Now 10 years later, the dead zone is growing, the 45 percent goal has been shoved back 20 years and, although millions have been spent in nearly every state along the Mississippi River, it’s not clear any progress is being made, a four-month investigation by The Gazette found."
There has been no reduction in nutrients, and the 'dead zone' continues to grow. Illustrations from the Cedar Rapids Gazette articles.
“The Gulf’s oxygen-deprived dead zone, called that because fish and other organisms must swim away or die, has an average size over the past five summers of 5,772 square miles. That’s three times larger than the task force’s goal of about 1,900 square miles. The group established the 45-percent reduction in nitrate and phosphorus running into the Mississippi because that’s what scientists think is needed to shrink the dead zone.
The task force’s 2008 Action Plan, a 64-page document that doesn’t describe enforcement options, asked each of the 12 central U.S. states to develop their own plans for reducing nutrients. The states are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The Gazette reviewed all 12 state strategies, talked with dozens of state agency leaders and found the following:
In this article, Erin Jordan (author) contrasts the lack of progress in the Mississippi Basin with the work that is being done in the Chesapeake Bay, where reductions were mandatory and the water is getting cleaner. Click "Read More" below for more on Chesapeake Bay and information about voluntary and regulatory efforts to reduce nitrogen releases in Minnesota.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has an excellent blog post on this subject - check it out here: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/2018-midterm-election/. The change in leadership in the House will definitely affect the Farm Bill, both in content and timing.
LWV UMRR thanks NSAC for their excellent reporting on this issue, and for their leadership in working for a strong conservation focus in the Farm Bill!
Here is some added speculation on how things may turn out, from Reuters news agency:
Stalled farm bill could move fast after House win: senior Democratic lawmaker: “Congress may swiftly resolve a drawn-out impasse on the U.S. Farm Bill now that Democrats are poised to retake control of the legislative body, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said on Wednesday. Collin Peterson, ranking member and presumptive new chair of committee, said passing the crucial agricultural legislation was going to be his top priority, with a deal possible as soon as next week during the lame-duck session. “That’s going to be the number one goal,” he told reporters on a conference call. “My sense is this is going to get worked out (in the lame-duck session).” The Farm Bill provides funding for an array of programs important to farmers - a crucial constituency for Republican President Donald Trump - including crop subsidies and rural development. But the latest bill, passed in 2014, expired on Sept.30 after talks over its replacement broke down. At issue has been a provision in the new draft of the bill that would impose stricter work requirements for recipients of food stamps. The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the $867 billion bill in June with the tougher requirements, over the objections of Democrats. The Senate, meanwhile, passed its own bipartisan version that excluded the requirements. Now that the Democrats have gained control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, the deadlock could be resolved, Peterson said. “Most of the ideas are out there and drafted. It is a matter of putting them together. If that could get resolved this week, then we’d have a bill ready by next week,” he said. He added that he has held talks about the issue with other Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, seen as a front runner to become House Speaker. “There’s no indication or idea on the Democrat side in the House that we would like to delay this thing,” he said. Food stamps are used by more than 40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population, and the program’s inclusion in the Farm Bill has long been used as a way to get support from Democrats who represent urban districts.”
[Reuters, 11/8/18] https://goo.gl/wnBYRs
Post contributed by Lonni McCauley, LWV UMRR Action Chair
In 2017, the state of Wisconsin agreed to a $4 billion package of incentives to bring development to Mt. Pleasant that would serve as the North American manufacturing hub for the Taiwanese company, Foxconn. At the time of the initial agreement, this plant was to employ 13,000 people to make large LCD screens. Since that time, there have been changes to the plans and the scale may not be as grand as previously planned. Further developments from Foxconn indicate instead of the promised Generation 10.5 plant, Foxconn now says it will build a much smaller Gen 6 plant, which would require one-third of the original investment.
Mt. Pleasant is in southeastern Wisconsin, near Racine. Although it’s only six miles from Lake Michigan, the plant site is located in the headwaters of the Des Plaines River watershed. The Des Plaines River flows south into Illinois, feeding into the Chicago Ship Canal and then the Illinois River and eventually the Mississippi River – read more about the Des Plaines River here.
In addition to financial incentives, the state promised to make the permitting process less burdensome for Foxconn. The plant was approved by the Wisconsin DNR without an environmental impact statement. Additional exceptions from air, water and wetland permitting requirements were granted to the plant to expedite construction. Wisconsin DNR also granted permission to the city of Racine to use Lake Michigan water for this industrial development in violation of the Great Lakes Compact. Ground was broken in June, 2018, at a ceremony attended by President Trump. Construction is now ongoing.
Because of the environmental give-aways and concerns over the use of Lake Michigan water for industrial development outside the Lake Michigan watershed, this project was opposed by LWV Wisconsin, seven other Wisconsin Leagues, LWV Upper Mississippi River Region, and other organizations in states surrounding Lake Michigan. The LWV UMRR blog has a previous articles on this topic, here and here.
UMRR passed a resolution in June 2018, opposing the water diversion based on the Great Lakes Compact which states, in part, that water cannot be diverted from the Great Lakes basin and specifically not for uses other than personal consumption. The resolution specially states that this action would cause a precedent that would be hard to overcome in the future. Further, there is cause for concern that the plant’s chemicals will leach into watersheds flowing to the Mississippi River.
The reason for opposition rests in its environmental impact. The proposed plan would draw up to 7 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan daily for operations. That, and the impact that chemicals associated with the manufacturing process draining into surrounding watersheds would cause led to calls for a legal brief to halt the manufacturing plan. Recent developments see the legal brief, which is led by the LWV Wisconsin, stalled due to the lack of an attorney willing to donate time to this suit. A request to file a brief is due November 15. We will update you through this blog as we progress in these endeavors.
Some information used in this post has come from a recent article on The Verge – read the full article here. For more information on the Great Lakes Compact, visit the website of the Great Lakes Commission here.
Changing practices and implementing pollution controls can be expensive. The benefits of these measures are broad, but the cost is often borne by a limited number of parties. How can this cost be shared across the watershed that benefits from the changes? The Great Lakes Commission is testing a market-based approach in the Western Lake Erie basin* – stewardship credits.
“Many organizations and individuals are concerned about the health of Lake Erie. Harmful algal blooms have, in recent years, impacted local water supplies and upset the significant tourism economy. Stewardship credits are generated by agricultural producers who implement conservation practices to reduce the amount of nutrients (including phosphorus) leaving their fields and entering nearby waterways. The amount of nutrients reduced is translated into “credits” that can be purchased by “stewards.” Dollars invested in the purchase of stewardship credits pays for farmers’ efforts to reduce phosphorus contributions to waterways that flow into the Western Lake Erie Basin. Revenue from the sale of stewardship credits allows farmers to continue or increase those conservation efforts in the face of decreasing farm revenues. Stewards that buy credits can feel good knowing they are helping to improve water quality in Lake Erie.” source - Great Lakes Commission factsheet “How the Erie P Market Works for Stewardship”
The market for stewardship credits is just opening - the first purchase by an individual was made by LWV Upper Mississippi River Region’s chair, Gretchen Sabel, for her grandson Isaac’s eight birthday. Isaac lives with his family in the Sandusky River Basin in northwest Ohio, and will benefit from cleaner water as he grows up. Of course, an organization purchasing a large block of credits would have a lot more impact than this single purchase. You can learn more on the Great Lakes Commission’s Lake Erie P Credits page here and purchase credits directly by clicking here.
How do these stewardship credits work? This is a Credit Calculation Example Scenario that the Great Lakes Commission provides in the Framework for Water Quality Trading in the Western Lake Erie Basin (see full document here):
“Farmer Brown lives in Defiance County, Ohio where he owns and operates a 100-acre corn and soy bean farm. After hearing about the newly introduced Erie P Market, Farmer Brown decides to improve his field management practices and make some extra money. Working with the local conservation district, he designs and implements a conservation plan that includes: (1) no-till (2) 4R nutrient management (3) the installation of a filter strip along the down-slope boundary of his property, and (4) planting 50-acres of cover crops. Using regional climate data, the results of his Mehlich 3 Phosphorus tests, and other detailed knowledge of his farm’s characteristics, Farmer Brown calculates his Credits to be traded on the Erie P Market as follows:
As you can see, the purchase of Lake Erie P Stewardship Credits helps farmers directly implement changes to reduce the loss of phosphorus from their fields. By increasing the pool of capital available to make changes, groups and individuals can help be part of the pollution solution!
*Map of Western Lake Erie basin from Great Lakes Commission website:
State officials are seeking public comment on a draft list of five water quality standards topics proposed as priorities for protecting Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. Also under consideration is the development of standards for certain emerging contaminants that may need to be monitored and controlled to protect people and the environment.
Stakeholders are invited to comment on DNR’s draft priority list from August 28 to October 5, 2018. The draft report of the priorities, which includes the list and topic descriptions, is available on the DNR website here or go to the http://dnr.wi.gov and type in the search words “triennial standards review.” Comments on the triennial standards review process should be directed to Marcia Willhite by calling (608) 267-7425, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailing to Wisconsin DNR WT/3, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707.
A public hearing will be held on September 21, 2018 from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. This hearing is for citizens to comment on or ask questions about the topics presented. Anyone who would like to participate is invited to join online through a webinar using the link posted on the DNR’s triennial standards review Web page, or in person at the DNR’s Madison office at 101 S. Webster St., Madison, in Room G27 after signing in at the visitor’s desk.
Text for this post was extracted from an August 30 email from Midwest Environmental Advocates.
LWV Upper Mississippi River Region is working with LWV Wisconsin and LWV Lake Michigan to question the proposed use of Lake Michigan water for an industrial development outside the Lake Michigan watershed. A recent post on this blog provides more background - click here.
Here is the most recent update on that project, from LWV Wisconsin:
Racine Diversion Challenge AdvancesLast week, the legal challenge to the City of Racine’s plan to divert Great Lakes water to the Foxconn industrial complex advanced. A pre-hearing conference is set for September 12 before an Administrative Law Judge.
The petitioners contend that the Wisconsin DNR’s approval of Racine’s request for a Great Lakes water diversion for the Foxconn development violates the Great Lakes Compact, an interstate agreement enacted to protect this economic and cultural resource. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is one of six organizations appealing the diversion permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The Compact strictly requires diversions of Great Lakes water be limited to public, largely residential, uses. Racine’s attempt to divert 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water west of the Great Lakes Basin divide to serve the solely private industrial uses of Foxconn violates this rule.
The League believes that the Great Lakes Compact, signed into law in by President G.W. Bush on October 3, 2008, significantly supports the long standing League positions of an "environment beneficial to life through the protection and wise management of natural resources in the public interest," and that policies must consider the "environmental, ... and economic impacts of proposed plans and actions." Read more at the LWVWI website.
In Minnesota, LWV UMRR Action Chair Lonni McCauley has reached out to the Governor's office and the Minnesota DNR to urge Minnesota to engage on this issue through the Great Lakes Compact. We will provide updates here as things progress.
Groundwater is a critical resource for Minnesota - it feeds our streams, fills our lakes and is a (mostly) clean and reliable source of drinking water for about 75% of the population. Many areas have localized problems, some with natural contaminants like arsenic, man-made toxics from unsound disposal of industrial wastes and many areas with nitrate contamination at levels that are of concern. Here's a link to a video from an LWV UMRR meeting last October where Chris Parthun from the Minnesota Department of Health describes the problems with nitrate contamination in our water.
In 1989, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law aimed at increasing protection of Minnesota's groundwater resources. Click here to watch a video detailing Minnesota's 1989 Groundwater Protection Act. This act included a set of tiered actions to be taken to address everyday sources of groundwater contamination not addressed by programs like Superfund or the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program. This Act also established a groundwater protection goal of preventing degradation and reducing pollution where is has already occured.
One area where groundwater protection is particularly thorny is in agricultural areas, where nitrate contamination is affecting both public and private wells, and the levels are rising. As laid out in the Groundwater Protection Act, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is responsible for developing and administering programs and laws to address this. This has not been an easy course, and the twists and turns abound. This link leads to a blog post on the Loon Commons Blog by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. Here, Matt describes the rule that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture proposed to address the growing problem of nitrate in groundwater.
The Minnesota Legislature introduced bills to stop this rule. LWV UMRR Chair Gretchen Sabel testified in both the House and Senate, on behalf of LWV Minnesota, in opposition to these bills. This link will take you to a copy of her testimony in the House. In the end, the bills were passed and Governor Dayton vetoed it. The Ag Committees in both houses have taken steps to use an administrative procedure to further slow the rule. Here's another blog post from Matt Doll on the topic.
The saga continues... the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is now in the process of finalizing the rule. Public comment will be taken until August 15 - read about it here. And comment! Clean water is important for all of us in the Upper Mississippi - Minnesota is the headwaters state, and this rule is just one part of the solution.
September 28 update - it looks like the 2014 farm bill expire - read more about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's very excellent blog update. We will have more on this site as events transpire...
September 23 update - The 2014 farm bill's package of programs and funding expires in one week, on September 30. The 2018 farm bill moved ahead, with bills passing both houses of Congress this summer. Conference committee met in early September, you can watch the video here. But then, Hurricane Florence caused Congress to evacuate and delayed further work, so now things are really down to the wire. The bill on the Senate side does a good job of maintaining a strong conservation focus, but the House bill is not so good in this regard. This makes the work of the conference committee crucial. Now is a good time to contact your Representative in Congress and tell them that our country needs a farm bill that is strong on conservation and protects our water resources!
THE FARM BILL IS A major legislative package that deals with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs ranging from food safety, trade, nutrition support and subsidies for farmers. Similar bills have been passed approximately every five years since 1933. The active version of the law, passed in 2014, expires on Sept. 30. (For more information on the content of the Farm Bill, read our blog post here.)
(Photo from Minneapolis Star Tribune Dec 17, 2017.
The 2018 Farm Bill is in the works. LWV UMRR is following this progress, and has signed on to letters urging Congress to improve the conservation titles in the Bill. This bill is at a pivotal stage now - read about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's blog. It's a good read, detailed and with clear explanations.
Timing is critical - conference committee members have been assigned and it is expected that they will meet before the August recess, with a goal of getting a bill to the President for signature before the end of the Federal fiscal year on September 30.
Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese manufacturer of LED-screens, is coming to Wisconsin, with jobs, economic development and lots of questions.
Foxconn is building its major manufacturing facility near Racine, in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. The company’s North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee and a research facility will be built in Eau Claire. The state of Wisconsin, under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker, has given significant incentives to land this development. Unfortunately, many of these incentives have been reduction of environmental permitting requirements, which is another story; click here for an interview with Dr. Peter Adriaens from the University of Michigan.
The facility in Mount Pleasant will need lots of water. For this, the City of Racine has requested permission from Wisconsin DNR to take 7 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. Since Mount Pleasant is a ‘straddling community’ – part in the Lake Michigan watershed and part in the Upper Mississippi watershed – their request must conform to the standards set out in the Great Lakes Compact – see more information here. WI DNR decided that the standards were met and granted the withdrawal. An appeal to this permit was filed and an additional process of public comment and review gone through. On April 25, 2018, the WI DNR again approved the withdrawal.
Is this a bad thing? Inter-basin transfer of water (taking water from one major water basin, in this case the Lake Michigan basin, and sending it to another, in this case the Upper Mississippi) is troubling. Water shortages abound across the world, and many look longingly at the vast freshwater resources of the Great Lakes. The purpose of the Compact is to ensure that the water in the Great Lakes is not mined and that Great Lakes ecosystems are protected. Learn more about the Great Lakes Compact here.
WI DNR’s approval of the City of Racine’s application violates the Compact requirement that any water diverted out of the Basin must be used solely for “Public Water Supply Purposes.” The purpose of the City of Racine’s diversion, as identified in the City’s application, is exclusively to supply water to industrial and commercial customers in a newly-designated “electronics and information technology manufacturing zone” in the Village of Mt. Pleasant. The in the out-of-basin portion of Mt. Pleasant subject to the diversion request.
LWV has a position (here) that inter-basin transfer should not be allowed unless:
LWV Wisconsin has lead efforts to oppose the withdrawal. LWV Lake Michigan is party to the Petition seeking reconsideration by WI DNR. LWV Upper Mississippi has made a resolution in opposition, and will continue to find ways to work against this transfer. You can read the resolution here.
According to the Great Lakes Compact, the 8 states and 2 provinces that border the Great Lakes have a right to question decisions. LWV UMRR so far has undertaken these actions:
Addition: Minnesota Public Radio looked at who comes out ahead in the Foxconn deal on July 31 - you can read more about it and listen to the conversation here. - LWV UMRR Blogger, Gretchen Sabel
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