State sues 3M over perfluorochemicals in water
3M Co. must pay for polluting Minnesota’s water, according to the Minnesota attorney general’s office.
The state sued 3M in Hennepin County for allowing PFCs — perfluorochemicals — to leach into groundwater in Washington County over several decades. The company also allegedly discharged PFCs into the Mississippi River.
The lawsuit does not ask for specific damages. But potential damages would be in the tens of millions of dollars, which would make the case one of the largest environmental suits in Minnesota history.
Attorney General Lori Swanson said her office agreed with 3M in May to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. Those negotiations failed.
“3M polluted and damaged our waters with these chemicals,” Swanson said. “The lawsuit asks the company to make right the problems caused by its contamination of our waters.”
The suit takes a novel approach by claiming the PFCs hurt the environment — but not people.
That makes it different from a landmark 2009 lawsuit. That suit filed by a group of Washington County residents alleged the PFCs harmed people who drank the water.
In that trial, lawyers pointed out that mega-doses of PFCs have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects and thyroid problems in mice. But a judge ruled, in effect, that the traces of PFCs were so small that no one was hurt.
The trial ended in a jury decision that supported 3M.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Aasen named to lead MPCA
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton filled three prominent jobs in his administration, naming heads for the education and health departments as well as a potentially controversial choice for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The new education commissioner will be Brenda Cassellius, who grew up in a Minneapolis housing project, began her career as a social studies teacher in St. Paul and has been a school administrator in the Twin Cities and Memphis. The choice for health commissioner, Dr. Edward Ehlinger, is the longtime leader of the student health service at the University of Minnesota.
MPCA Commissioner-designate Paul Aasen was director of government relations and policy for Gov. Jesse Ventura and more recently a director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Aasen’s appointment was lauded by officials from the Freshwater Society and the Minnesota Farmers Union, but his involvement in environmental litigation may make him a controversial selection for some Republicans.
–The Star Tribune
EPA announces massive Chesapeake clean-up plan
The Environmental Protection Agency established an aggressive “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay, spelling out steps that six states and the District must take by 2025 to put the troubled estuary on the path to recovery.
The legally enforceable road map – more than 200 pages long, with more than 3,000 pages of appendices – will affect a variety of activities in the region, including how pig and chicken farms dispose of waste and the way golf course operators fertilize their fairways.
The plan is “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation,” said Shawn M. Garvin, the agency’s regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic region. It is intended to fundamentally change the tenor of the long-failed Chesapeake cleanup. The EPA once preached cooperation with state efforts it was supposed to oversee. Now, it is playing cop, promising legal punishments if the states don’t live up to their pledges to cut pollution.
Some state and local officials warned the plan could be costly and hard to execute, particularly at a time when state budgets are under immense pressure.
–The Washington Post
China plans $30 billion water conservation effort
The Chinese government is expected to spend about 200 billion yuan ($30.10 billion) on water conservation projects in 2011, a tenth more than in 2010, the state-run China Daily reported.
Priority will be given to improving irrigation to ensure grain security and projects to combat drought and floods, the newspaper said.
It cited Water Resources Minister Chen Lei as telling a government meeting that some of the investment would come from a 10 percent levy on income earned from the leasing of land. The newspaper did not elaborate.
Other funds would go toward renovating water supply infrastructure for main agriculture regions and ensuring safe drinking water for 60 million rural people, the newspaper added.
Over the next 10 years, Chen said he hopes the country can double its current average annual investment in water conservation construction,” it said.
The government has invested about 700 billion yuan on water conservation over the past five years, the newspaper said.
Heron Lake ethanol plant to pay $60,000 penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Heron Lake BioEnergy, LLC has agreed to pay a $66,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Heron Lake in southwest Minnesota.
The agreement covers violations that date back to when the company began construction of the facility in October 2005. During subsequent operations beginning in September 2007, the facility violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits on a number of occasions.
The air quality violations covered in the agreement include exceedances of permitted emissions limits, failure to conduct monitoring as required by the permit, failure to maintain emissions-control equipment as required, and failure to report or certify data to the MPCA as required.
Water quality violations covered in the agreement include failure to obtain prior MPCA approval to use chemical additives in wastewater processing, failure to provide specified holding times for samples, failure to monitor for specified pollutants at the frequency required, exceedances of permitted effluent limits, and failure to install or maintain required flow-monitoring equipment prior to discharging.
–MPCA News Release
Granite Falls ethanol plant seeks expansion
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has completed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for a proposed expansion of the Granite Falls Energy ethanol facility at Granite Falls, Minn. The EAW will be available for the public to comment through January 26th, 2011.
Granite Falls Energy, LLC proposes to expand its existing fuel-ethanol production facility by increasing its permitted capacity to produce un-denatured ethanol from 49.9 million gallons per year to 70 MMGY. The expansion would be achieved by adding additional equipment to support ethanol production. The additional equipment will be located within the facility’s current property boundary. The primary fuel for the facility will be natural gas.
The expansion requires modification of the facility’s wastewater permit and air emission permit. The draft modified permits will be placed on public notice on or shortly after the start of the public comment period for the EAW, and will remain open for comment for 30 days.
A public information meeting will be held January 10, 2011, at 7:00 p.m., in the auditorium of the Minnesota West Technical and Community College in Granite Falls. MPCA staff will also be available for one hour before the meeting to answer questions in an open-house format.
The EAW is a review of how a proposed project could potentially affect the environment. The EAW also helps the MPCA determine if an Environmental Impact Statement, a more in-depth environmental review, is needed.
Written comments on the GFE expansion project EAW must be received by 4:30 p.m. January 26th, 2011. Comments should be sent to Steve Sommer, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.
Copies of the EAW are available for review on the MPCA’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us/news/eaw/index.html
–MPCA News Release
China making electricity from desert sand
Scientists are testing out the nation’s first sand heat power plant, which went into operation December 10 in the desert in Wuhai, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to a Xinhua news report .
During the day, air in the ground-level greenhouse is heated by the sun, forcing hot air to rise up through the brick chimney and drive a turbine positioned at the top of the plant.
Then after the sun falls, heat absorbed by surrounding sand continues to heat greenhouse air, keeping the turbine running, according to Wei Yili, a professor specializing in solar power at Inner Mongolia’s University of Science and Technology.
The plant, co-developed with Spain’s Technical University of Madrid, has an operational lifespan of about 70 years, much longer than that of wind farms and solar plants, which typically stand 20 to 25 years.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Monday unveiled it’s new Legacy logo designed by Bernadette Stephenson of St. Cloud, one of 76 entries submitted as part of a state-wide contest.
“The decision was tough because we had so many great entries to consider,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. “We feel this logo is memorable, distinctive, and sophisticated. It also clearly illustrates the four funds.”
The logo had to illustrate the clean water, outdoor heritage, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage funds that were established following passage of the Legacy Amendment in November 2008. The contest was mandated by the 2010 Legislature.
–The Star Tribune
GOP lawmaker targets environmental rules
It was a campaign theme almost as common as no-new-taxes for Republican candidates from Tom Emmer on down: Minnesota environmental regulators are paralyzing Minnesota farmers and business owners with needlessly complicated and time-consuming regulations.
Emmer lost the race for governor, but Republicans won a majority of seats in the state House and Senate. And Republican Rep. Tony Cornish is making sure that environmental regulation will be one of the first topics of discussion in the 2011 legislative session that starts next week.
“The regulations are so complex and so time-delaying it’s killing businesses,” said Cornish, a fifth-termer from rural Good Thunder.
Cornish asked for hearings in committees overseeing agriculture and the environment and said he has received a commitment for a hearing, probably before the end of January, from Rep. Denny McNamara, chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
–The Mankato Free Press
L. Tahoe boat inspection rules praised
A watercraft inspection program prevented the introduction of aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe in 2010, according to regional officials.
Watercraft inspectors managed by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, in cooperation with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, performed more than 8,000 boat inspections during the 2010 boating season, officials revealed this week. A total of 19,000 watercraft launches occurred with Tahoe-specific inspection seals.
Of those 11 watercraft containing aquatic invasive species were intercepted and decontaminated, officials confirmed.
“We’re very happy with the watercraft inspection program thus far,” said Patrick Stone, TRPA’s senior wildlife and fisheries biologist and lead for early detection monitoring of invasive mussels. “Investigations conducted around Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake and Echo Lake confirmed that quagga and zebra mussels have not established in our lakes. These results are a credit to the inspection program.”
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune
L.A. poised to capture urban runoff
It is one of the Southland’s enduring contradictions. The region that laid pipe across hundreds of miles and tunneled through mountains to import water also built an extensive storm drain system to get rid of rainfall as quickly as possible.
That’s exactly what happened recently, when tens of billions of gallons of runoff that could lessen the region’s need for those faraway sources were dumped into the Pacific. Enough water poured from Los Angeles streets to supply well over 130,000 homes for a year.
As Southern California’s traditional water supplies diminish under a variety of pressures, all that runoff sheeting across sidewalks and roads into the maws of storm drains is finally getting some respect.
“This isn’t wastewater until we waste it,” said Noah Garrison, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who co-wrote a 2009 paper on capturing and reusing storm water.
The report concluded that the region could increase local supplies by an amount equal to more than half of Los Angeles’ annual water demand by incorporating relatively simple water-harvesting techniques in new construction and redevelopments. These include installing cisterns and designing landscaping to retain runoff and let it seep into the ground.
Los Angeles is poised to adopt an ordinance that takes a step in that direction. Most new and redeveloped commercial, industrial and larger apartment projects would have to be designed to capture the runoff generated by the first three-quarters of an inch of rain. New single-family homes would have to install a rain-harvesting device, such as a rain barrel or a hose that diverts water from gutters to landscaping.
–The Los Angeles Times
Biologists try scents in battling lampreys
In the never-ending battle to prevent blood-sucking sea lamprey from wiping out some of the most popular fish species in the Great Lakes, biologists are developing new weapons that exploit three certainties in the eel-like parasites’ lives: birth, sex and death.
Researchers are beginning the third and final year of testing lab-refined mating pheromones — scents emitted by male lampreys to attract females. They’re also working on a mixture with the stench of rotting lamprey flesh, which live ones detest, and another that smells of baby lampreys, which adults love. If proven effective, the chemicals will be deployed across the region to steer the aquatic vermin to where they can be trapped or killed.
Early results appear promising. Yet no one expects the lures and repellents to finally rid the lakes of the despised invader and enable fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada to end a battle that has cost more than $400 million over five decades. Especially when a single spawning female lays up to 60,000 eggs.
–The Chicago Tribune
Washington State cuts environmental funding
The bad economy can be hard on the environment as well as people.
Earlier this month state lawmakers, faced with declining revenue from taxes and fees, reduced the state Department of Ecology’s budget by $5.8 million. They’d already reduced cut $38.9 million from the agency’s budget earlier this year and in 2009, as the effects of the Great Recession set in. Next year, even more could be taken out as Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing more trims.
Environmentalists say the cuts are “heartbreaking” and will make it difficult to clean up waterways and other areas, but others say the cuts are necessary in a time when education and health care funding is also being slashed.
“As the (income) dollars shrink, what we can provide shrinks,” said Erik Fairchild, the agency’s budget policy manager. “It’s less public health protection, less environmental protection, less field presence, less technical assistance (and) reduced loans and grants” for projects such as sewage treatment plants.
Ecology department operating budgets were on the rise before the economic crisis hit in late 2008, increasing from $402 million for the 2005-07 budget period to $457 million for 2007-09 and $440 million in the current budget.
–The Seattle Post- Intelligencer
Huge copper mine planned in Arizona
When former miner Roy Chavez heard about plans to develop the nation’s largest copper mine near Superior, Ariz., he thought it might be the salvation of the economically struggling town where he’d grown up and served as mayor.
But as he learned more about the proposal to tap an ore body more than 7,000 feet deep with a method known as “block cave” mining, he changed his mind. Now he fears that the project would be environmentally destructive and limit Superior’s ability to develop tourism and other industries.
“Mining is the nature of the beast in this area. I support the industry and the livelihood it provides,” said Chavez, who comes from a mining family and worked in the Magma Copper mine nearby until it closed in 1996. “But there’s a situation here with this project that just doesn’t sit well with us.”
–The Washington Post