Flint Hills Resources owns and operates a major oil refinery just south of St. Paul, Minnesota. According to their website, 'Based in Wichita, Kansas, Flint Hills Resources is an independent company and wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc., one of the largest private companies in America. According to Forbes magazine, the estimated annual revenues of Koch Industries, Inc. are as high as $100 billion. .... " The refinery, formerly known as the Pine Bend refinery, was built in 1955 and today has a capacity of processing more than 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day. They make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and many industrial products used in manufacturing . (source, Wikipedia)
The facility is a major industry and its environmental discharges are highly regulated to ensure that air quality and water quality standards are met. There have also been number of leaks, spills and releases over time. To help alleviate concerns of residents living in the area, a group was formed that serves as a communication link between the refinery and the community. This group, the Community Advisory Council for Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend Refinery, meets monthly for site tours and is updated on environmental and safety issues at the facility. According to their website, the CAC:
The League of Women Voters of Minnesota was among the groups who helped to establish the CAC in 1998. This group grew out of a neighborhood nonprofit that was set up to address quality of life issues in the area, and was mediated by local and state elected leaders. You can read a detailed history of the formation of this group on their website.
In November of 2021, Steve Sarantos, a member of the CAC, reached out to LWV UMRR with an idea - are there other industries that would benefit from this sort of oversight and communications strategy? From his experience, working with Flint Hills has been beneficial to both the industry and the community, and would be a good model for others. What do you think? Would you be willing to organize and serve on a group like this?
Side note: the movement of crude oil and finished refinery products in the US
Crude oil comes to a refinery, and refined fuels are sent out, through a network of pipelines. The graphic to the left shows this network in the US; the article from the US Energy Information Agency includes information on how both crude oil and finished fuels are commingled through this network. This blog has carried a number of posts with concerns about pipeline construction and leaks. To read some of our blog posts on this topic, click on the "pipelines" category to the right of this post.
It's time to send a note to your federal elected officials, urging them to support the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative. This Act, now working its way through Congress, has promise to be very important to protecting and restoring our Mississippi River. We learned about this at our Annual Meeting this spring; you can see a video of that meeting to learn more about the Initiative. Here's a link to an Action Request from our sister organization, Friends of the Mississippi River, that will make contacting your legislators easy.
This blog has provided information lots of things, including the flip-flop changes that US Water Law has undergone in since the Obama administration adopted the Waters of the US Rule. You can check these out (going back in time) in these posts:
Well, good news for the environment came on October 21, as describe here in a post from the Western Environmental Law Center - here's the highlights - (read the article at this link for the full story)- "Late last night, fishing and recreation advocates won a significant victory for clean water when a federal district court threw out (vacated) a critical Trump Clean Water Act rule. Today’s order from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California restores state and Tribal authority to ensure federally permitted activities in rivers and lakes comply fully with state and Tribal law. The Biden administration had planned to revise the rule to an unknown degree through a years-long public process. This court decision erases the Trump rule completely and immediately."
On to Soil Health News: The Izaac Walton League has published a new comprehensive review of existing research on soil health and carbon sequestration. This research comes from a University of Maryland scientist, Dr. Sara Via, and shows that increasing the use of common agricultural practices that improve soil health will slow climate change while producing multiple other environmental and economic benefits. In the report, “Increasing Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture: A Natural Climate Solution,” Dr. Sara Via discusses how rebuilding our degraded agricultural soils and acting on climate change are related problems that require urgent action.
Dr. Via writes, “the practices recommended in this report provide a low-cost and immediately available way to reduce atmospheric carbon. Given the wide array of co-benefits associated with these practices, increasing their use is an investment in U.S. agriculture that will pay economic and environmental dividends for years to come.”
The report was published in collaboration with the Izaak Walton League of America and the National Wildlife Federation, and is available at this link: www.iwla.org/publications/news/press-release/2021/10/13/viareport
If you have questions or would like to discuss the report, contact: Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America, DHovorka@iwla.org, (402) 804-0033 (cell).
Alan Guebert bio: Alan Guebert was raised on a 720-acre, 100-cow dairy farm in southern Illinois. After graduating the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as an associate editor at Professional Farmers of America in Cedar Falls, Iowa and Successful Farming magazine in Des Moines. Later he spent eight years as a contributing editor for Farm Journal magazine of Philadelphia.
In 1993, Guebert began the Farm and Food File, a weekly newspaper column on farm and food policy and politics. Twenty-eight years and 1 million words later, the Farm and Food File continues to be published weekly in 26 states and two Canadian provinces.
Guebert currently lives in Madison, WI, with his spouse, the lovely Catherine. They have two children and three grandchildren.
Kay Slama, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and LWV UMRR Board member
Are you anxious about our climate? Think about it: We’re experiencing more intense heat periods. That leads to increasing droughts and to giant forest fires. The heat is causing more water to evaporate into the atmosphere, creating more severe storms and floods. To stave off the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, the average child born today must emit about eight times less carbon dioxide (CO2) than their grandparents. ARE YOU FEELING ANXIOUS YET?
If not, read the national and international climate reports giving us only 8-10 years to make important changes to head off disastrous climate change. Glaciers and permafrost are melting, ocean currents are slowing, and oceans are rising. Millions of people are responding to the effects of climate change by migrating. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was 3 million years ago. 250,000 deaths a year from climate change is a conservative estimate.
NOW ARE YOU FEELING ANXIOUS?
If you are feeling nervous, relax; you’re normal. It shows that you care about our earth and its living things, including people.
Climate anxiety is also known as eco-anxiety, defined as “chronic fear of environmental doom” by the American Psychological Association, which is concerned that climate anxiety is increasing the rates of depressive and anxiety disorders. Nearly a year ago, an American Psychiatric Association poll found that 55% of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on their own mental health.
Some degree of climate anxiety is good. In fact, some substitute the term “eco-awareness.” Some anxiety can galvanize us into taking important actions. But past a certain point, climate anxiety’s effects become increasingly negative, and this is where some substitute the term “environmental trauma.” Living with doom and gloom is very ineffective. We become depressed and hopeless, thinking we can’t do anything about what is happening to our planet. We avoid thinking about climate change (even deny it) or feel immobilized, and we don’t join with our fellow earthlings to change what we can.
The climate crisis can create apathy and burnout. A report notes that “the ability to process information and make decisions without being disabled by extreme emotional responses is threatened by climate change.” Fear can cause paralysis. People who are anxious tend to be avoidant, or they shut down and don’t engage.
Susan J. Ray wrote A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet (2020). She said that it’s “a systemic thing that we need all hands on deck to address. We need all the talents, we need all the skills from the artists, to the creative types, to the imagination people, to the children’s book writers, to the teachers to the parents,” in addition to scientists, engineers, and politicians. All of us can contribute in multiple ways to managing our climate. To ease this feeling of anxiety, turn it around. “Instead of focusing on the fear, you should instead focus on what you want to do,” psychologist Janet Swim said.
Ray noted that the climate crisis if affecting every part of our lives. She said that we must change how infrastructure works, how transportation works, how we build our homes, how we live on this planet and walk on this Earth. It even affects whether we have children. Ray said that some young adults are choosing “not to have children because they don’t think their children will have a livable future.”
So what can we do to deal with our anxiety about the earth’s climate? We can help ourselves feel more of a sense of control by choosing among these approaches:
Want to convince others that climate change is real? Telling them what to do is likely to raise their resistance or aversion to thinking about it—people don’t like that. Instead, just mention, in the course of general conversation, something you are doing for the climate. You can gently ask what their concerns are for their children and grandchildren’s world as climate changes. But hammering and nagging tend to be counterproductive. Be patient with others as you do what you can for the climate.
If you are anxious about climate, you are not alone. One of the best ways to cope is to find groups that raise awareness or work to fight climate change. keep the core values of courage, flexibility, resilience, and compassion. Working with others who also want to protect the environment can increase your sense of connection and ease the sensation of struggling alone. That emotional and social support can help boost resilience, increasing your optimism and hope.
*Kay Slama, from the Willmar MN chapter of LWV, grew up on a family farm in ND. She is a clinical psychologist who is retired from practice and from adjunct faculty positions with the UM Medical School Dept. of Psychiatry and St. Mary’s University’s doctoral counseling program. She is active with the Sierra Club and the Willmar Area Climate Action Group, and she serves as her church Social Justice Co-Chair. Kay’s most recent professional submission is “Women and the Existential Climate Crisis”, provisionally accepted by The Humanistic Psychologist. She says, “I volunteer for climate and other environmental issues because so much is at stake: Our water, land, soil, health, and the future of our children and the Earth.” She enjoys racket sports, biking, canoeing, reading, music, and gardening, and she spends several months each year in outdoor travel, birding, and photography.
Minnesota's investigation into PFAS contamination began in 2002 when 3M notified the MPCA of PFAS in its Cottage Grove production well. In 2004, PFAS were found to have contaminated drinking water supplies in parts of the eastern Twin Cities, and fish tested in the Mississippi River Pool 2 had high concentrations near the discharge from the 3M Cottage Grove facility. Most of the contamination was traced to four dumps or landfills. The East Metro investigations have identified an area of groundwater contamination covering over 150 square miles, affecting the drinking water supplies of over 175,000 Minnesotans.
This meeting is a follow-up to UMRR's October 4 PFAS webinar, PFAS The Unfolding Story which took a regional look at PFAS contamination, and then focused on problems in Wisconsin. You can watch the video of this meeting at this link. This post also includes supplemental material on PFAS sources and actions.
Kirk Koudelka, MPCA Assistant Commissioner
Kirk Koudelka was appointed Assistant Commissioner for Land Policy and Strategic Initiatives in May 2012.
Prior to that, Kirk served as the Legislative Director at the MPCA. He led the agency’s legislative efforts for the 2011 through 2014 legislative sessions in both roles.
Before coming to the agency, Kirk spent 11 legislative sessions at the Minnesota House of Representatives in various capacities. The last six years were spent focused on environmental and natural resources issues, four for which were with the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee. It included administering the Solid Waste, Recycling and Resources Conservation Working Group focusing on state level changes, but also internal changes at the Legislature.
Kirk has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History from Hamline University.
LWV UMRR held a webinar on PFAS in our four-state area on October 4 - you can watch the video at this link. For more information about the webinar, including the excellent meeting materials, click here.
Here's a public notice from the Wisconsin DNR from October 13:
From: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources <email@example.com>
Date: October 13, 2021 at 08:41:08 CDT
Subject: Reminder: DNR Listening Sessions Regarding PFAS Investigations on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will host listening sessions regarding the PFAS contamination in Marinette, Peshtigo and surrounding communities on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, from noon to 2 p.m. and from 6 - 7:30 p.m. The listening sessions will be conducted via Zoom video conferencing. Participants may join online or by phone.
Online: Zoom video conferencing (click the words "Zoom video" to join)
By Phone: Dial 312-626-6799, Meeting ID number: 822 9180 9472
The listening sessions will include routine updates from the DNR and the Department of Health Services (DHS) regarding the status of the PFAS investigations in the community. Representatives from several DNR programs will participate in these sessions to answer questions and hear concerns from community members regarding the PFAS cleanup and investigation.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These contaminants have made their way into the environment through spills of PFAS-containing chemicals, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and certain types of firefighting foams.
Participants are strongly encouraged to submit questions in advance through email at DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov or by telephone at 1-888-626-3244.
The Zoom meeting link and an agenda for these online Listening Sessions will be posted on the DNR’s Marinette and Peshtigo PFAS webpage.
Recordings of these listening sessions will be placed on the Marinette and Peshtigo PFAS webpage shortly following the events.
This post was written by Matt Doll with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership* on Sept 25, 2021. Line 3 is an Enbridge pipeline project taking tar sands oil from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. Opposition to this pipeline has been strong, but the project continues to move to completion. There have been a number of spills of drilling fluid and incidents where construction endangered ground water and fens in the area.
On Thursday (Sept. 24), MEP sponsored an online presentation, “Understanding the Line 3 Aquifer Breach and Spills,” in which geologists and Indigenous pipeline resisters shared information on the impacts that construction of the Line 3 oil pipeline is already having on our waters and ecosystems. Though science has predicted that Line 3 will harm our climate and pose a threat to Northern Minnesota waters, the presenters painted a disturbing picture of the damage that Enbridge has already inflicted on land and groundwater.
The video is now available on MEP’s YouTube channel.
Our first presenters were geologists Jeff Broberg and Dr. Laura Triplett, who began by explaining how Enbridge’s digging of a deep trench near the Clearbrook Terminal caused an aquifer breach. Earlier this year, the crews sunk sheet pilings - stabilizing structures that prevent trench collapse - deep into the earth while operating in the trench for the new pipeline. Those pilings pierced into the waters of the aquifer below the layers of earth. When the pilings were removed, water gushed upward, forming an eruption of quicksand that resembled boiling water.
The result of this breach, beyond the release of water into the trench, is that nearby ecosystems are harmed, specifically a variety of wetlands known as “calcareous fens.” These fens are highly biodiverse and sequester large amounts of carbon, but are dependent on water springing up from the aquifer. The loss of their water can dry them out, which is why permitting for this pipeline included measures meant to protect the fens.
“What we have here is a cascading series of failures,” said Broberg, “that started with the design and permitting.” Originally, he said, Enbridge’s plans presented to regulators indicated they would dig a trench only eight feet deep to protect the fens, but crews ended up digging eighteen feet deep instead to avoid the company’s other pipelines. The aquifer breach is estimated to have been releasing up to 100,000 gallons of water into the trench every day.
The breach began January 21. Over 25 million gallons have been lost. The DNR only ordered Enbridge to fix it last week, “There was a failure of the backstop that we rely on with our regulatory agency,” said Triplett. “I don’t think the system worked.”
The DNR also told Enbridge to fund an escrow with $2.75 million for the restoration of damage to the calcareous fens sensitive ecosystems that have been risked. Understanding the damage to the fens may take years to uncover. The company has also been assessed $300,000 for the water from the aquifer that has already been (25 million gallons) and will be lost by the time the aquifer is repaired, if that is even possible. This amounts to about 1 cent a gallon for this water. The DNR has also assessed a forgivable $20,000 administrative penalty order, the most allowed by state law. These do not amount to penalties or deterrence for future law violations for a company with almost $30 billion in income for the year 2020.
The presentation continued with Dawn Goodwin, an Indigenous organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, co-founder of the RISE Coalition, and a resident of the Clearbrook area. She described how she and other Indigenous pipeline resisters have monitored Line 3 construction in treaty lands, lands on which the Ojibwe have the guaranteed right to gather resources like wild rice and fish. They have uncovered and documented spills along the line known as “frac-outs,” in which drilling fluid used in construction surges into low-pressure spaces during excavation, resulting in chemical pollution and disrupting the local hydrology.
“This is a pattern of Enbridge rushing, not reporting, and being so slow and not transparent,” said Goodwin. Like the aquifer breach, these frac-outs often go unnoticed by state authorities, and result in harm to land, water, and wildlife. The effects of this pipeline construction, coupled with climate change effects like this year’s drought, gravely threaten the culture and livelihoods of the Ojibwe.
Ron Turney, a member of the White Earth Nation and of the Indigenous Environmental Network’s media team, showed his own drone footage that has helped to identify these frac-outs, which have occurred on tributaries of the Mississippi (Turney’s section begins around 47:45 in the video). He described how Indigenous monitors identified these issues, raised them publicly, and were wrongly accused by the Pollution Control Agency of spreading disinformation. “But we have the evidence,” Turney said. “They can’t hide this from us - they can’t hide it from the public.”
100 people, including journalists and legislators, joined us for the meeting, and the most common question asked was, “What should we do?” The presenters’ responses varied in details, but they all focused on the core issue: Enbridge has repeatedly failed or refused to protect Minnesota’s environment, and our state agencies have failed to hold the company accountable. Jeff Broberg said, “We need our state elected officials to make the calls. We need our State Representatives and Senators and Governor Walz and Senator Klobuchar and Smith to call President Biden: tell him that these water permits should be abandoned.”
Both President Biden and Governor Walz have the power to halt this pipeline if they choose. Between these harms to state lands and waters, the associated cover-ups, and the catastrophic climate impacts of this pipeline, they have nothing but good reasons to do so.
We've written about this project on the LWV UMRR blog previously - click here for past posts.
*The League of Women Voters Minnesota is a member of the MEP, and LWV UMRR participates with MEP through that connection.
The Wisconsin Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and LWV Wisconsin co-sponsored a series of meetings on Wisconsin's infrastructure in the past year. The videos from these 11 meetings are now posted. Here's the information on the meetings that Carol Diggelman (Emerita Professor, Civil & Architectural Engineering & Construction Management Department, MSOE; Co-Chair, LWV of Milwaukee County Natural Resources Committee and Member, LWVWI and ASCE WI Section) shared recently.
ASCE WI-LWVWI “Invest in Wisconsin’s Infrastructure” Overview and Category Series are now complete. You will find the links to video recordings of all programs below. Overview meeting links can also be found on the ASCE WI YouTube channel. Category meeting links can be found on the LWVWI website at this link.
We encourage everyone to forward these program links to others, particularly your elected officials.
This year's Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone (which occurs near where the Mississippi River drains into the Gulf) brings the same story of a larger-than-average measurement. The hypoxic (no oxygen) 'dead zone' measured three times larger than our national goal, measuring in at over 6,300 square miles; an area larger than the state of Connecticut. It is a stark reminder that we must be doing more, not less, to protect clean water across the Mississippi River Basin. Friends of the Mississippi River’s, Peter LaFontaine, breaks down this year’s measurement and solutions to the problems here.
It’s time for a new vision
Now, we have a great opportunity to do something different. Let’s break this cycle of the same headlines year after year. The Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (or MRRRI) is one new tool we can support right now. Matt Rota of Healthy Gulf in Louisiana recently shared that, “this legislation would create a Federal office focused on the health of the Mississippi and would include significant funds dedicated to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that feeds the Dead Zone”.
The MRRRI Act, or H.R. 4202, was introduced by Congresswoman Betty McCollum earlier this summer. Take action to support a new vision for the Mississippi River now by emailing or calling your congressperson (don't worry, it's easy to take action!).
The Dead Zone is three times larger than it 'should' be. Image: LUMCON/NOAA results from their July 25 - August 1, 2021, Gulf Hypoxia Zone measurement cruise.
This blog post was extracted from an email sent by 1 Mississippi on September 2, 2021.
The video of this webinar is available for viewing now at this link: https://youtu.be/SodForAydqQ
On October 4, LWV UMRR hosted a panel discussion on PFAS. Our presenters helped us understand how PFAS have become a big part of our lives – present in food packaging, household products and drinking water – and what we know about how they affect our health. As awareness of PFAS contamination grows, communities are struggling to cope with tainted drinking water while engaging in advocacy to increase public awareness and bring about constructive change. Watch the video to learn what the federal government and states are doing to establish safe standards for drinking water and ban the use of PFAS in manufacturing. Most importantly, learn what you can do to help protect yourself, your family and your community.
Jeff Lamont – Retired hydrogeologist, works with SOH2O (Save Our H2O) to ensure safe drinking water for residents in Northeast Wisconsin and to advocate for state and federal standards for PFAS compounds. Jeff resides in the Tyco/JCI groundwater contamination plume in the Marinette and Town of Peshtigo area and has a private well impacted by PFAS. Jeff and his wife have been living with bottled water for drinking and cooking for the last 3.5 years.
Erika Schreder – Science Director, Toxic-Free Future, conducts and publishes research on toxic chemicals, their presence in people and products, and safer alternatives.
Deanna White – Minnesota Director, Clean Water Action, coordinates EPA and state level interactions for policy and legislation. Deanna has an extensive background in community organizing and advocacy.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||