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Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category

Dayton says No to smaller St. Croix Bridge.

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Previously, TRC has discussed the proposed bridge project that is going to replace the lift bridge in Stillwater, MN. The plan as it stands is to build a “freeway style bridge” from medium-small Stillwater to little Houlton, WI across the St. Croix River. This very large bridge will be able to accommodate future growth in the area, it is argued, as well as make for easier crossing between states during rush hours. There was an alternative plan floated by a group of environmental and conservation organizations, which was also supported by citizens who thought that such a large bridge would not be necessary.

But Governor Dayton has said that the small bridge proposal will not be considered, and the larger bridge will move forward, assuming congress provides the cash. The bridge project is bringing together strange bedfellows in politics, with the support of Sens. Franken and Klobuchar, Rep. Bachmann, Gov. Dayton, and a host of others. It is too bad that what can finally bring such a group together is the repeal of environmental law.

For the “freeway style bridge” to be constructed along the St. Croix, the river must be given an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which as Federal Law should be able to do that which the US Government intended it to do: protect wild and scenic rivers. The Rivers Act protects this stretch of the St. Croix from development that will harm the special character of the river, and bringing in a 4-5 lane bridge that runs bluff to bluff rather than above the water will certainly harm the special character of the river.

The reason that TRC finds this case so important is not that we are tied to only small projects forever, or that development is all inherently negative. Rather, exemptions from environmental laws set dangerous precedents. And bringing a monstrous bridge project that requires the end-around of a 40 year old river protection law is bad planning.

Written by Christopher ZF

August 17, 2011 at 10:01

A lament for the end of conservation

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TRC recently discussed the state of the conservation movement in this country, by looking at the alliance of environmentalists and outdoor recreationalists. We tried to be optimistic.

Dennis Anderson at the Star Tribune, however, is not optimistic. He has written an article worth a read: It’s the End of Conservation as we Know it. Anderson asks if the lovers of the lakes and waters and woods of America hear the rumble in the distance, and argues that the noise you hear is not congress.

Instead it’s the sound of modern conservation crumbling at its foundation, not quickly to be put back together, if it ever is.
Put another way: The money’s gone, and with it — in Washington and in state capitals across the land — the legislative will to sustain the nation’s natural heritage by funding land and water conservation at historical levels.
Perhaps it should be no surprise.
Jobs are scarce, money is tight. And it’s long been known that the largest share of the population doesn’t give a rip about natural resource protection.
Not if they have to pay for it, or exert effort toward that end.
It was a good run. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and extending, with varying levels of intensity and effectiveness, through the administration of George W. Bush, the conservation of the nation’s lands and waters was an idea whose basic validity never was challenged.
Historically, factions have argued over legislative and funding priorities, and how much could be afforded. But underlying these disputes was the fundamental belief that wild places and wild things were integral to the national psyche, and worth preserving.

It’s safe to say, at least to those of us who are passionate about preserving wild things in the country, that fundamental belief seems to be disappearing from the broader American mind.

Anderson ends with a call to revitalize conservation without an expanded DNR or government funds, for surely such things are in the past. Rather, the local, state and national leaders in the conservation movement must develop a new vision for conservation in America. “Otherwise the Minnesota — and the nation — your kids and grandkids inherit won’t resemble a whit the one you’ve called home these many long years.”

Written by Christopher ZF

August 1, 2011 at 16:58

56 mpg? Impossible!

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The debt ceiling is a big fiasco. But other things are going on in the world of US Government. One issue is the proposed increased in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards being pushed by the Obama Administration. The current standard is 34.2 mpg which became the rule in 2009. The new CAFE standard sought by the President would be  in the mid-50s mpg by the year 2025. (I’ve seen a few different numbers for the actual standard, but it ranges right around 54-56).  Since climate change is going to be cause serious harm in the next century, tackling the sources of GHG emissions must happen now. And cars are among our most serious GHG problems.

Naturally, this is causing disdain among many anti-regulation conservatives and consternation among all of the nations auto companies–whose general reaction to any change regarding cars is consternation. It is also being praised by environmental groups and tech-based innovation folks. This is no surprise and is certainly not news. It’s also worth noting that the United Auto Workers support the increase.

Today, I had to read the editorial from Reason.com (Free Minds and Free Markets) written by Shikha Dalmia, titled: The Coming Autopocalypse.* In the piece, Dalmia essentially claims that the auto industry CAN NOT meet these demands, and trying will result in many deaths, lost jobs, wasted money, government bailouts, etc. That might be the case if we continue to seek mpg increases by decreasing auto size (the standard method is to reduce vehicle size and weight).

But Dalmia, in explaining how 56mpg could never be a reality, makes this claim: “The 56-mpg-mandate will require a total, top-to-bottom overhaul of cars. Every part of a vehicle from its transmission to its engine would have to be replaced.”

When I read that, I wanted to say to Dalmia: Yes, this is true. Everything about cars IS going to have to change. Exactly. Spot-on. This is what we need to do if we are going to continue to rely on the single-occupancy vehicle. And we are going to continue our love affair with cars. So what are we going to do? Well, the author seems to know where we should start.

Earlier in the article, Dalmia writes: “Not a single car—big or small, hybrid or non-hybrid—currently delivers this kind of mileage (with the exception of electrics).” Again, exactly. What to Dalmia is just a parenthetical is likely the near-term answer**.

I’m not sure what the best way to go to about re-hauling the American vehicle is, be it CAFE standards, or some other regulatory mechanism, or just letting the auto companies deal with the issue, but it seemed worth addressing the fact that, what Dalmia finds to be the problem-everything must change-might actually be the solution.

*Can we please ban the use of “pocalypse” or “mageddon” as an addition to anything someone might not like? You may not like debt, or increased fuel efficiency, or snow, but it will likely not result in something equivalent to, you know, the apocalypse.

**To which one might say: But where can I charge an electric vehicle in this country? Well, by the end of 2011, you can go to one of the 800 Walgreens that will have EV charging stations. That is a remarkable commitment. I might just have to break something so I can get a prescription filled by my local Walgreens.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 28, 2011 at 15:21

Protecting Minnesota’s Waters Once More

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I wrote this editorial on sulfide mining last year while in Montana, but unfortunately its wisdom has not yet convinced everyone to stop everything. Today, Don Shelby writes that the former BP CEO Tony Hayward, famous for being terribly insensitive during the worst ecological disaster in US history, has been hired to oversee environment and safety on the new sulfide mining project in northern MN. So I thought I’d try again.

Protecting Minnesota’s Waters Once More:

Minnesota has shown its commitment to clean water. We recognize the importance of protecting our natural resources, and as a result passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to honor and value our waters and wetlands. Our vote to protect our waters passed, but in response, our legislators are finding new ways to harm that which we have voiced a desire to protect. The most serious of these threats regards sulfate contamination and mining.

Several companies, the furthest along of which is the PolyMet Mining Corporation, now propose to open sulfide mines—metal extraction from rocks embedded with sulfide bearing ores—throughout the Arrowhead. Such mines would be the first of the kind in our state. Long have iron ore mines operated in the region, but sulfide mining presents a much more serious problem than rust. Sulfide mining means sulfuric acid and damage to aquatic ecosystems and wildlife–especially our state’s wild rice–as well as pollution of drinking and recreational waters.

Despite the water protections in Minnesota and the assurances of these companies, this pollution will find its way into the natural systems. It always does. It has happened in New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota and elsewhere. The examples are readily available, yet we continue along a path that will lead to the contamination of the very resources we have declared our intent to protect.  It would be devastating, for example, to see the mistakes of the Brohm Mine of Deadwood, South Dakota reoccur in Minnesota’s beloved Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest.

After a year of operation, the Brohm mine was ordered by the state of South Dakota to cease its operation due to major cyanide leaks. It was eventually permitted to reopen and spent a decade spilling sulfuric acid into nearby waters. When the location was mined out, the operation closed. S.D. Gov. Bill Janklow sought to hold Dakota Mining financially responsible for cleaning up their mess.  The company’s president, Alan Bell, filed for bankruptcy and avoided any cost to the company for cleanup. The Brohm mine is now a Superfund site, and taxpayers across the U.S. are paying the bill. Shortly after the bankruptcy, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bell was appointed to board of the Polymet Mining Corporation.

Residents, especially our legislators, should find little common ground in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment Minnesota has adopted, and these proposed sulfide mines. The citizens of Minnesota have shown we are willing to look beyond ourselves for the good of our state and the future. Minnesota’s government must do the same and keep the terrible legacy of sulfide mining from tarnishing our state.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 26, 2011 at 11:15

Hook and Bullet Conservation

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Americans throughout our history, overwhelmingly and without party distinction, support conservation. We like state parks and national parks, even if we don’t visit them and nature is mostly abstract. We are not a nation of environmentalists, because environmentalist is dirty, dirty word these days. But we are nation that understands that conservation, of land and wildlife, is an overall benefit, especially as urban and suburban America grows. For some though, preserving wild lands and wildlife is not abstract. The ZF family, for example, loves getting into wilderness.

So do outdoor sportsmen. Those men and women who get up at 3am to hit the lake or the forest, to hunt and fish and spend long days outside, have done as much to protect our wetlands, wildlife, and landscape as anyone (except for, you know, the Nature Conservancy, I suppose). The hook and bullet bloc are a strong voice, politically, and they are generally, historically conservative. But they are not pushovers. And if standing on one principle (spending cuts) gets in the way of a stronger principle (conservation), watch out.

This morning, Politico wonders if the GOP has “poisoned the well” with their interior and environment spending bill for 2012.

“Under the legislation, the Interior Department’s overall budget would fall $720 million from fiscal 2011. A popular land and water conservation fund would see a more than 80 percent cut to $62 million, while funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act would get a 47 percent reduction to $20 million. State Wildlife Grants would also be cut 64 percent to $22 million.
Wildlife-themed riders are also sprinkled throughout the bill, including language that allows chemical companies and large agriculture operators to skirt pesticide permit requirements and enforcement of certain mountaintop mining rules. Conservation groups are complaining the language will dirty rivers and streams they use for recreation.
Other riders include a prohibition on judicial review of Interior’s decision to delist wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region from the Endangered Species Act, as well as a zeroing out of funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to list new species and designate critical habitat under the law…
While they may understand the budget crunch, hunters and anglers are not done making their case to get their funding restored and the riders removed.”

This may not have a chance of being in the final budget. But it’s hard to say these days what will and will not receive funding. It seems as though everything is up in the air.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Id), chairman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee wants people to face reality: “There’s an awful lot of Republicans who are concerned about conservation and that I’d call Roosevelt Republicans, myself included, to some degree… But when you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money,Simpson added. “I’d like to drive a Porsche. Guess what? My wife says I can’t afford it.”

So of course, like all political discussions today, it comes back to money and what are our priorities. It’s a bit insulting to compare the entirety of American Nature and the interest of millions of Americans to wanting Porsche, but Rep. Simpson demonstrates the difficulty. Tough choices are tough, and cutting spending on what publicly could be seen as overreaching environmentalists may seem a good party move to some Republicans. But the cut-spending-at-any-cost folks in the government should be careful of stretching their mandate too far. Or they will find strong traditional support looking around for someone who will protect the lakes and rivers and woods that provide so much to so many Americans.

*NOTE* I must make mention of the common conflicts between wilderness preservation and recreational conservation efforts by sportsmen. I have been involved in these debates, usually not in the pro-outdoor sports side (you should not be able to drive your ATV anywhere anytime, sorry) but I think the important overlap of the interests far outweighs these disagreements.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 13, 2011 at 11:11