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Coalition demands MPCA do more to stop farm runoff

Mineral mining leases cleared; state pushes back on Medicaid; Wal-Mart eager to capitalize on Best Buy cutbacks; Scott Walker developments; and more.

That voluntary stuff with farmers controlling their runoff into streams isn’t cutting it with a new coalition of clean water advocates. Warren Wolfe’s Strib story says: “The groups said the state Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) should force farmers to reduce pollution instead of relying on voluntary efforts to control field erosion that drains millions of tons of soil into rivers and lakes. Their comments came on the final day for public comment on part of a massive effort by the MPCA to improve Minnesota waters. After years of study, the agency has issued reports that pinpoint sources of sediment in the Minnesota, Mississippi and Blue Earth rivers — three of 81 watershed districts in the state, with more reports coming through 2018. These reports, however, set the stage for a much larger public debate over how to sharply reduce the pollution — and how to pay for it. … Under current law, ‘whether we can force farmers to change their practices on drainage ditches and things like that, well, that’s complicated,’ [the MPCA’s Gaylen Reetz] said.”

Dennis Lien’s PiPress story says: “The agency, [the group] said, should hold farmers in the Minnesota and Mississippi watersheds more accountable for cutting sediment runoff. Having them do so voluntarily isn’t good enough, they added. Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River, said the agency has authority to implement some type of ‘accountability framework’ for farmers. He also suggested prioritizing Legacy Amendment dollars to runoff projects that get the greatest pollution reduction per dollar, and said vegetative buffer, ditch and erosion matters could be enforced and managed better.”

To no one’s surprise, the go-ahead has been given for 29 mineral mining leases in northern Minnesota. At MPR, Stephanie Hemphill writes: “A new environmental review sets the stage for more drilling for precious metals in northeastern Minnesota. The Superior National Forest has approved a group of 29 applications to prospect for copper and nickel south of Ely, where a lot of mining exploration is already going on. The Forest Service report stresses that the new permits are only for exploration. ‘If there is an interest in any of the companies to continue and work towards actual mining, i.e. mineral development, that’s another stage of permitting and analysis,’ said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kris Reichenbach. But Betsy Daub, policy director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, is not reassured. ‘This is opening the door for intensive mineral exploration and development for the next 20 to 30 years,’ she said. ‘This is setting the stage.’ ”

The state is still fighting Big Gummint on that Medicaid billing business. Kevin Diaz at the Strib reports: “Top Minnesota health officials pushed back Tuesday against a congressional committee probing allegations that the state overbilled federal taxpayers for Medicaid services to cover losses from in other state-run public health programs. In a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson defended reforms implemented under DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, saying ‘our focus has been on changing course rather than investigating the past.’ Jesson’s letter was addressed to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee, which has been focusing on a $30 million payment to the state last year from UCare, one of four state Medicaid contractors.”

Wal-Mart smells blood. Thomas Lee of the Strib writes: “Best Buy Co. Inc.’s plans to close 50 big-box stores by the end of the year is creating, at least temporarily, a consumer electronics hole that Wal-Mart is eager to fill. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant has taken out full-page newspaper ads, including in the Star Tribune, urging shoppers to patronize Wal-Mart stores in markets where Best Buy stores will soon shut down. … The consumer electronics giant faces a dilemma, of sorts. In the long run, Best Buy needs to rid itself of unproductive retail space, analysts say. But in the meantime, Best Buy might see customers permanently defect to competitors like Wal-Mart as it shuts down big boxes and opens smaller format stores.”

In the newsroom at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Daniel Bice is continuing to follow the slowly unfolding John Doe investigation that may or may not bode ill for Gov. Scott Walker no matter how the June 5 recall goes. He writes: “After more than two years of raids, subpoenas and closed-door courtroom testimony, the John Doe investigation into activities during Gov. Scott Walker’s time as Milwaukee County executive is now faced with this: Determining the significance of a private email exchange in the spring of 2010 between Walker and his longtime campaign adviser John Hiller over a potential county real estate contract in which Hiller had a financial stake as deal maker. … Asked last month by a Journal Sentinel reporter if he could guarantee the public that the investigation would not touch him, Walker said, ‘Yes — unequivocal.’ He also vowed that he never used the secret email system while heading county government. … The John Doe investigation has led to criminal charges against six individuals, including three former Walker aides, a major contributor and an appointee. … Walker has transferred $60,000 in campaign donations to a defense fund this year, money to be used to pay his two high-priced criminal defense lawyers.”

Also, Walker’s denials that he was ever involved in efforts to recall Wisonsin Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl appear to be … fabrications. At “Uppity Wisconsin,” blogger Jud Lounbury writes: “In December of 1997, I started working for Russ Feingold’s re-election campaign as his Communications and Research Director. … My specific recollection is that Walker said, on multiple occasions, something in the vein of: We came up a little short with the recall effort, but that effort was not a wasted effort. History will remember it as the first step in Feingold’s 1998 defeat. … now Walker is making the absurd claim that he was not only not a leader of the recall Feingold / Kohl movement, but told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he didn’t even sign the petition, claiming that he has ‘no memory’ of signing the recall petitions … Oh, but it gets even better: The database of names that signed the recall petitions was supposedly destroyed by the 1997 recall organizers ‘years ago,’ leaving behind no evidence. Except there is evidence: when … the recall group was closing down their shop, they had some cash on hand.  To whom do you think they gave that money? Yep: Scott Walker.”

Not that that has done anything but invigorate his fund-raising. Scott Bauer of the AP reports: “Republican Gov. Scott Walker has raised about $31 million since he took office 17 months ago, including a remarkable $5.9 million in the last five weeks reported to Wisconsin regulators Tuesday.The first-term Republican reported his latest donations a week before he faces Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a recall election that is also a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race. The state elections board predicted Tuesday that turnout would be between 60 percent and 65 percent, nearing levels normally seen in a presidential election. Barrett, who was bound to fundraising limits of no more than $10,000 from any one donor, reported an impressive $3.4 million over the past five weeks. … Wisconsin law allowed Walker, as the subject of the recall, to raise unlimited amounts to pay for any debts he incurred over a nearly five-week period.
That has allowed him to rake in massive donations never before seen in Wisconsin … Walker reported raising $5.1 million between April 24 and May 21.”

What are the Top 10 plants that changed Minnesota? A U of M panel has come up with a list. The PiPress offers a photo essay. A couple of samples:

Corn. Valued at $7 billion annually, corn covers 7.3 million acres in Minnesota, making the state fourth in U.S. production. Yields have changed from 39 bushels/acre in 1959 to 146 bushels/acre in 2007, due to cold-hardy varieties produced especially for Minnesota. University of Minnesota introductions account for nearly 200 hybrids.

White pine: White pine forests once covered more than 3.5 million acres in Minnesota, but today cover less than 100,000. Prized for its strong, straight trunks, white pine built the cities of the Midwest and provided lumber for the ships of England as early as the 1600s. Today more than 1 million white pine seedlings are planted annually in Minnesota.”