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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

North Dakota Doubles Down On Dirty Energy

Category: Environment
Posted: 10/23/14 12:25

by Dave Mindeman

I grew up in North Dakota. I graduated from North Dakota State - go Bison! So I have some deep roots there. I have deep philosophical and political differences with my home state - but you learn to accept things the way they are.

But North Dakota is jeopardizing its future in a way that will be difficult to extricate itself. It is a state heavily dependent on energy resources. The oil and gas fracking industry is now deeply embedded into North Dakota's financial structure. And that is part of their future problem.

However, they are doubling down. A recent news release shows that North Dakota is going to begin a return to coal mining. The Coyote Creek Mine will occupy over 8,000 acres near Beulah, North Dakota. It is an extremely rural area - low population. That part of North Dakota can probably withstand a mining operation for the present. But it is the future I worry about.

Despite what you hear there is no viable method of clean coal. And North Dakota is predominantly lignite coal.....

Lignite coal has a low carbon content (25-35%) but a high percentage of water (30-40%) making it uneconomical to ship. All the power plants in ND are near the coal mining fields where the coal can be burned on site rather than ship as is done with the harder more efficient coals of the Powder River Basin (Wyoming) or Appalachia (WV, KY). Lignite has abundant impurities. Among the impurities is particularly high emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Because of that high CO2 content, there have been attempts to some valiant attempts to sequester that carbon in the ground at North Dakota coal plants. But what they have done so far is a blip on the radar and the fact that they are using lignite makes the CO2 release much to high to get any real benefit from the small sequestering efforts.

North Dakota has not had a new coal plant since the 1970's. But if this new permit is any indication of a renewed commitment by North Dakota to coal, then we all will pay a price.

Coal is not the future source of energy production. We need to gradually eliminate coal from the mix and we can actually do that if we get more production from renewables. We are actually almost to that point. North Dakota relies on coal for a lot its electricity. And that may work in a low population state where people have plenty of available space to steer clear of the production sites. But the pollution released affects everyone.

New coal plants are not necessary. And the more you build the harder they become to get rid of. Because of the jobs and because of the areas that become dependent on the power production. It becomes a local political football and we already have squeamish politicians when it comes to shutting down dirty coal plants.

North Dakota was, for a time, the home of Teddy Roosevelt. He came there to let the wide open, clean spaces heal his soul. He loved his time here and talked of it often, but he would be saddened by the danger his pristine Badlands is in because of the ever growing tentacles of big oil, gas, and coal in the wide open spaces of North Dakota.

It is hard enough to deal with the fracking in the Bakken Fields. There are unknown future problems there. But to reposition coal in an already very dirty mix is just not very smart in terms of looking to the future.

The permit has been approved and there is no going back now. But I hope that, at some point, North Dakota will reexamine what it is doing. They may look back on this time and have a future conversation that looks at the big mistake they made right here, right now.

Coal is NOT the future.
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An Apology To The Citizens Of 2100

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/10/14 01:04

by Dave Mindeman

I would like to offer an apology. An apology to the citizens of Earth in the year 2100.

We failed you. My generation has failed you miserably. We did not keep the faith as good stewards of your earth.

We let ourselves be held hostage by the obstacles of economic expediency and inflexible religious dogma. We let those obstacles taint our knowledge and our scientific principles to the point of abandoning them for the sake of greed and our own comfort.

And you paid the price. We let political arguments get in the way of good policy. We withered in the battle to defeat the use of coal. We did not stand up for scientific evidence and let the deniers lead the debate. We let corporate money win the day on the economic challenge of greenhouse gases.

We did that. We failed you. We put your planet, your climate, your lives in jeopardy so that we could continue our own greedy quest for economic benefits. It was a short sighted decision on our part and there is little that can be done.

We chose our mining over your water. We chose our economics over your working planet. We chose religious dogma over letting our spirituality grow with our scientific knowledge. We chose coal and petroleum based energy over your air and your atmosphere.

We let you down and there is nothing more we can do except apologize for our short sightedness.

You were our future and we treated you with disregard and disdain.

The only thing left is to hope that you will be better than us. That you will find a way to overcome the problems we dealt to you. We failed in our link to the future - in our responsibility to give you a planet and a life as good as we had for ourselves.

I cannot blame you if your history books hold us in contempt. We deserve it and have no one else to hold accountable. When you look back on our place in the realm of human endeavor, our only contribution will more than likely be what you can learn from our mistakes.

What I offer here is an apology - I hope you are still there to receive it.
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DFL On The Environment - Avoiding The Inevitable

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/01/14 21:52

by Dave Mindeman

Earlier today the worry about the sulfide mining fight in the DFL was averted by an agreement to do nothing. Party leaders obviously stepped in to quell this growing storm and set aside controversy going into an off year election.

But we are just delaying the inevitable. Maybe we can temporarily sweep this under the rug, but at some point we have to meet this public policy with some kind of action. Avoidance is a temporary solution - a band aid.

The Republicans are going to continue to put pressure on the DFL to pick a side. That is the way it will be framed. They side with business. They always side with business. In the case of Polymet, business has managed to morph this into a labor issue. And that is the means of dividing the DFL Party.

The energy companies are pouring big money into framing this debate as being about jobs, economic costs, and energy independence. We are still waiting to have the debate about the methods they are using to make these things happen. And whether the relatively low number of jobs created are worth the costs and the risks.

The use of tar sand, fracking, and sulfide mining are not natural processes. They require chemicals, they require mixing pollutants with the environment, they require big risks.

In the case of Polymet, the question they are wanting us to ask is - 'how much environmental damage is allowed and how much should we be asked to pay to clean it up?'

That is the wrong question.

What we need to ask Polymet is - 'when are you going to present a plan that does not risk the land, the water, and the wilderness?'

When Polymet talks about jobs, the usual numbers talked about run between 400 and 500 jobs. Is that going to move the needle on our unemployment rate? No. Maybe there will be other jobs involved with the ongoing process, but is it enough to warrant the risks involved? We need to answer that question honestly.

More to the point on jobs is that the damage caused by unchecked mining will create more jobs in the clean up process than in the mining itself - and the taxpayers will end up footing the bill for that. All this talk of Polymet paying for the aftermath is bunk - when they are finished stripping the land they will be gone and declare themselves bankrupt if necessary to avoid the long term obligation.

Many of the same things can be said of fracking. North Dakota has sold its future to the oil industry and its fracking methods of extraction. Sure, there are economic benefits for the moment, but what happens in the next generation? How much instability is being created in the earth? How much damage to the water table is in their future? Will North Dakota make enough in the near term to pay for the damage in the long term?

And speaking of the future. As Minnesota considers the major investment we just made to the Lewis and Clark water project in southwestern Minnesota, how are we going to balance the new resource shortage of the next generation - WATER. The western United States knows of this problem now. And although it is hard to imagine in a "land of 10,000 lakes", we could be risking that abundant resource in our own future as well.

Sulfide mining is not safe. There is no clean coal. Energy creates new technology not new jobs. Fracking has consequences. These are the debates we must have in the future.

We can avoid and delay them for only so long.
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