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Tuesday Talk: How do we avoid environment vs. economics?

April 19, 2011 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

We’ve heard conservatives argue that any environmental regulation stifles economic growth and kills jobs. However, important legislation like the Clean Water Act and vehicle fuel standards have helped protect Minnesota’s natural resources without hurting long-term economic growth. In many cases, these policies helped the economic stability of other industries, like fishing.

As we move through a legislative session that seeks to roll back many of Minnesota’s environmental protections, what policies balance investing in clean technologies with long-term economic growth?

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  • Skip says:

    April 19, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Water, Oxygen & sustenance are needed for Human survival.

    Maintain clean Water for Future Generations.

  • John Crampton says:

    April 19, 2011 at 8:47 am

    You know we are in trouble when the GOP legislator in charge of the LCCMR says that Global Warming is a hoax.  These Republican legislators don’t give a rip about the environment or about future generations.  They look to Glen Beck and the Koch Bros. to tell them how to vote on environmental policies, and they have initiated some of the worst and most regressive environmental legislation that we have ever seen in this state.  They deserve to be run out of office at the first possible chance.  Too bad we don’t have recall like they do in WI and CA.

  • Dean says:

    April 19, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Energy is one area the Dems got it wrong.  Minnesota isn’t an island located in a tropical climate that can afford high energy costs.  MN government policy should be focused on energy efficiency and not forcing the use of uneconomic energy resources.  We now see the Republicans reversing the worst of the Dems absurdities and are sure to use this to their advantage in the next election.  The ban on the importation of coal-generated electricity is a good example.  It made no sense and was punishing the rural electric cooperatives with higher priced electricity.

  • Owen says:

    April 19, 2011 at 9:16 am

    It’s all about one thing…..... BALANCE.

  • KJC says:

    April 19, 2011 at 9:23 am

    We all need clean air, water and air.  Why should that even be “political?”  In the ugly politics-of-less our situation has been allowed to devolve into, everything seems to get framed in an nasty either/or debate… mostly pitting victims against each other.  Rather than? Starting with “this is something we all have in common” first.  When it comes to the necessities of life: clean air, water and soil, we’re all the same, aren’t we?
    Sadly, the whole economics issue comes in more because of the global trade front.  Businesses often cite “regulations” as one of their big reasons for moving jobs abroad (and out of our environmental protection zone.)  You do not want to see what the air, water and ground pollution look like in China.  It’s horrible.
    And in the very short-term, repeat in the very short-term, isn’t it cheaper to produce in ways that are reckless and bad for the environment?  But that’s a much longer-term concern, isn’t it?
    So here we are, trapped in the old short-term vs. long-term debate… only this time with the short-termers getting the power by aligning with governments that apparently don’t care.  THAT is our core issue to be dealt with.
    This is really as much a failure of our global trade agreements as anything else.  We shouldn’t allow our business, who must abide by regulations that we would agree are to all our long-term benefit, to be forced to compete against businesses that don’t (in those other countries.) 
    We haven’t been serious about this, and the business community saw the situation as a “move to where regulations are lax, or get buried by unfair competition” situation.  A couple decades of that… and only now, as the consequences hit us…are we even willing to have it come up on our radar?  This “economics vs. the environment” question isn’t new… but hasn’t our “unsaid” answer been something more of a “as long as it isn’t in my backyard” king of reply?  That short-sightedness brought, guess what, the consequences of short-sightness: we lost a lot of jobs to polluters.  If you check you’ll find that there’s more air pollution from China is Seattle, than there is produced locally.  When will we admit we allowed ourselves to be “played,” that we took ourselves off the hook with a “somebody else” was supposed to be handling this view… and they did… and now we don’t like the mess. This much I can guarantee: that the answer won’t be found in yet another short-sighted, narrow-framed, debate. 
    We’ve got to face those bigger issues, or we’ll be swatting ugly symptoms, unsuccessfully, forever.  Wish I had better news, as you can tell from my tone, I don’t like this any more than you do. 
    Happy Easter (as soon as tonite’s snow melts….)

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 19, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Coming from Northern Minnesota where the enviro-whachos have killed over 20,000 jobs in less than 20 years, and have sentenced thousands of acres of pine planted for us and our children to live off of to death by allowing these plantations to choke themselves to death. I have lost all respect for these tree hugging citiots who have no concept of forest management, as I hold a forestry degree. It is long past time to put an end to management of our forests via public opinion instead of sound forestry practices. We will see if the GOP has made any real differance, as Gov. Pawlenty sold us out to these self serving whaco’s through both terms.

  • James Anderson says:

    April 19, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Balance yes but not just the balance of two opponents! Minnesota needs to wake up to the much neglected field of Industrial Ecology, which contains Pollution Prevention but is far more dynamic and holistic and as often as not breaks the strangle hold of the Neo-classical economist’s curve where the environment is forever and always set against the economy.  Read, and read about the environment/economy “win-win” Porter hypothesis, named after Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School. Check out the “Journal of Industrial Ecology”; edited by the Yale school of Forestry and published by MIT. Minnesota needs to recognize that insistance on the absoluteness of the oppositional Neo-classical curve is a blinding positivist ideology, and incorporate industrial ecology into policy and development.

  • Ginny says:

    April 19, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    What I would give for a Teddy Roosevelt right now. He along with John Muir, a national figure, helped create Yosemite national park. At the time it was being used for logging and farming.
    Not everything is economic. Saving wilderness and wild places is requisite for saving ourselves, our souls. Going into the wilderness is a spiritual experience, and if we don’t touch pristine nature now and then, we suffer. We get the kind of people who are running things now.
    Mining in the northern part of Minnesota, next to the BWCA and sure, despite company assurances, will most assuredly foul the water and create roads through the wilderness. Who would go then? And these jobs would be only short term anyway.
    But I believe there are bigger things involved in preserving wilderness than economic reasons. Go see for yourself. You will come back a changed person.
    (I just watched part of a program on Muir on PBS last night, which made me yearn for another trip to the BWCA.)

  • vpo says:

    April 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Wind and solar and conservation offer great opportunities for us to invest in MN instead of importing energy and sending our dollars elsewhere.  Also possible to export the energy and/or the products and services developed to provide the energy.  This employs Minnesota’s workers and strengthens Minnesota’s economy.

  • RealistII says:

    April 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    No honest evaluation of Minnesota’s investment in wind energy will look rosy for the people of the state.  First there’s the cost factor.  Wind generation costs $0.08-0.09/kw and federal subsitities reduce the cost to $0.06/kw.  The problem is the electric grid prices power at the cost of natural gas generation - $0.035- 0.040/kw.  So wind isn’t really competitive at this time. 

    And second their is the matter of how the Democratic controlled legislature wrote the laws controlling wind generation.  Our largest local utility was prevented from bidding on the installation and development of wind farms until recently.  So 95% of the wind generation is owned by others and largely by out of state companies.  Had our local utility been allowed to own wind generation, the rate payers could expect cheap electricity after the twenty years when the equipment is fully depreciated.  That wouldn’t happen how so the wind power will remain prohibitively expensive. 

    Of course the very low capacity factor of wind generation (25%) means every MW of wind must be backed up by 1 MW from a base load unit.  It makes one wonder how the people of the state are benefiting from all the unnecessary expense.

  • Ginny says:

    April 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    As I wrote in another post, economics (short term) are not our only consideration. Many of the alleged limitations could be overcome, if we start investing now in clean energy. It will also create long-term jobs plus endow us with cleaner energy, air, water, and lungs. We’re paying for that pollution now. (Come visit my neighborhood and talk to the kids with asthma.) We are also paying in our importation of foreign oil which now has us at war in 3 different countries. Count the BILLIONS that’s costing us.
    Unrealistic? Maybe. But we’ll never be free of foreign entanglements and wars unless we start funding alternate clean energy that keeps us healthier and wealthier—and maybe wiser.

  • Dean says:

    April 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    The economics of renewables are an important consideration to a state that’s deep in debt.  The last I looked the MN budget was several billion short and our infrastructure needs weren’t being addressed.

    The following Spanish study on the economics of renewables (wind and solar) indicates renewables are a job killer.

    The paper claims you lose 2.2 jobs for every one created with renewable energy projects.  And from what I’ve seen in MN, we’ve no reason to believe things are any different on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

  • Jess C. says:

    April 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Minnesota has an excellent opportunity to become a leader in the emerging field of bioplastics. The world will keep drilling for oil as long as plastic products require petroleum; however, if plastics transition to requiring materials such as cornstarch, vegetable oil and other biomass, Minnesota can add another facet to its already impressive green innovation record - and create new, local jobs and businesses at the same time.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 20, 2011 at 3:30 am

    Dean and RealistII have a very good handle on the reality of our present situation with wind. It is especially diconcerting when you realize that Germany and China are the top producers of large wind turbines now so every dollar we spend for this overpriced energey goes to help someone elses economy. I am presently working on marketing a wind turbine that will produce electricity well within that 3.5-4.0 cents per kilowatt hour. Looking at present investment costs per watt of $3-8.00, my machines are looking at $.75- 1.25 per watt which greatly reduces the 25 year payback even without federal subsidies. Furthermore this design with alterations will also work in deep ocean currents. We are also sitting on top of one of the largest heat machines in the world, the Yellowstone super volcano. We have the availability from this one geothermal source to electrically power the entire nation with very cheap steam power, while hopefully delaying the eruption that is allready about 40-60,000 years over due. We have had many choices for a long time but so long as we allow the giant energy conglomorates and the super rich to dominate and control the effort we will never be energy independent.

  • RealistII says:

    April 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Bill and Jess appear to have the right plan for addressing the environment vs. economics problem.  If Bill’s wind generation design proves workable, it would shift the economics of wind significantly in favor of the renewable.  There still would be the issue of low capacity factor but that can be addressed by some form of storage.  Pumped hydro on our North Shore would be a viable option but no one is proposing that today. 

    Jess’ bioplastics proposal is one the state should be pursuing.  We’ve got the ag base for the feed stocks.  But I’m not sure how our university stacks up with regards to organic chemistry research.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    RealistII, the storage issue is allready available and their are choices. There are at least 4 companies including 1 American Co. that are producing electrolisis units right now for converting water into it’s constituent elements. Anouther choice is molten metal storage, that has allready been done with lead. With lead you get a tempature range from 650 to 1200 or so and lots of nasty vapor issues. I propose steel as a heat storage medium because then we have a temp. range from 2500 to 4500 degrees Far. and as a side line you have an electric steel furnace. This creates the ability to manage and reuse this heat in a tremendous variety of ways. Along with steel metal casting and extruding goes aluminum, copper, brass, and bronze as well as ceramics and glass aplications. Annealing of metal and Glass, two heat related cycles for converting water into hydrogen and oxygen are available using temps down to 300 degrees as well as steam turbines for electrical production. Greenhouses and water storage become the final use. These technology also helps deal with a tremendous waste problem we now have built into our electrical grid called “Power Factor” or easier to understand, energy we produce that is now shunted to creat a balanced load and thereby not used productively. All this energy could go into hydrogen production right now. Hydrogen storage is easily done using existing propane technology, and converting propane powered generation units to run an hydrogen is also realaitively easy. A Dainish Co. has allready produced hydrogen dispensing equipment for Iceland. The only question is, how long do we have to wait?

  • RealistII says:

    April 22, 2011 at 8:04 am

    Any method of storing the output of wind generation will result in some loss.  Pumped hydro returns about 60% of what is originally supplied.  Hydrogen systems that depend on the electrolysis of water are going to be less efficient since the electrolysis processes alone is about 60% efficient.  If the hydrogen and oxygen were then used in a metal oxide fuel cell the that process might be 60-80% efficient.  Combining the two steps would likely not return 50% of the input power.  The molten metal storage would need a thermodynamic cycle for power conversion and those top out at about 50% with steam. 

    The bottom line is that for wind power to be fairly compared to the fossil alternatives, its storage losses must be included.  Of course that totally changes the economics.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 24, 2011 at 11:52 am

    RealistII, your on the right track but let’s get some figures straight. The newer electrolisis units now equal or exceeed your pumping at 60%. the problem with pumping is that the best electrical conversion back that your going to get is about 75-80% bringing the overall efficiency back around that 50% figure overall. Conversion of electrical to heat storage in either water or metal can be achieved in the 85% range. While your figures for steam conversion back to electricity are correct as is the conversion of hydrogen via fuel cell (80%), you are missing 2 high temperature Hydrogen generation proceses. They are the Zinc/Zinc Oxide cycle and the Sulfer/Sulfer iodine cycle both of which are more efficient than electrolisis. The technology is there but the one least looked at is the recycling and reuse of heat. We come from a wast heat mentality, the concept of using that heat to do more than one thing before we discard it into the atmosphere totally escapes most people. There is also the technology of the liquid alluminum battery that becomes posible with a heat storage source. One more thing to remember is that 50% of what we were not going to get otherwise is still pretty good recovery.