Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
When the U.S. Congress maintained professional dress code appearances, it at least pretended to project an aura of competent ability to represent our best interests. Recent polls have rated its members' accomplishments at something far less than stellar, to say the least. Now is certainly not the appropriate time to dress down beyond even business casual, allowing a fashion modeled and so blatantly displayed by Sen. John Fetterman ("Relaxed Senate dress code makes it acceptable not to follow suit," Sept. 19). This disrespect for members' elite status, high compensation, critical workloads and the public representation to us and the world is unacceptable. The work of Congress is not a casual day at the beach!
During my professional career, I wore a suit most every day, always prepared to meet with other professionals dressed appropriately. The offices were always cold year-round, so wool suits felt comfortable and provided all the pockets I needed to get through my workdays. I never felt right on those casual summer Fridays when business casual tested the limits of appropriate dress.
Why do we even have to talk about this frivolous distraction so unbecoming of Congress? Judges wear their robes; religious leaders wear their garments; doctors, nurses, soldiers and law enforcement wear their uniforms. We should expect our representatives to simply dress appropriately and produce the better results expected of them; they need to portray something other than Senator Slob!
Michael Tillemans, Minneapolis
MPCA skips the 'control' part
What's wrong with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency? From recent news articles, it appears to be incompetent and failing the people of Minnesota. The Sept. 18 Star Tribune article "State groups sue to pressure EPA to regulate feedlots" highlights the failed attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency and MPCA to regulate the disastrous effects of large animal feedlots. Years ago, my in-laws farmed in Renville County, and the stench from the hog lagoons was so strong that some were forced to close their windows and stay inside. Now, over 30 years later, the problem persists, and has now progressed to the point of polluting the water.
On Sept. 3, the New York Times published an article "Big Farms and Flawless Fries Are Gulping Water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes." For those who did not see the article, here is a summary. A North Dakota company (R.D. Offutt Farms) comes to Minnesota, rips up our pine forests, plants potatoes, poisons the environment and drains our limited and vital water supply, all to produce perfect French fries that make us sick and obese, spiking our health care costs.
In kindergarten, I remember playing a fun game called "What's wrong with this picture?" You know, a bicycle without handlebars, the dog driving the family car. Most of them were pretty easy. And yet, the solution to the critical issues mentioned above has apparently baffled the MPCA and others for decades. Hmm. What's wrong with this picture? I'm pretty sure my 8-year-old grandson could give you a good answer.
Bob Cramer, Burnsville
In his Sept. 14 commentary "We're going to need a bigger grid," state Rep. Jaime Long wrote that building new power lines could take years. I'd like to respond in all sincerity with an idea to help make sure Minnesota's clean energy transition is accomplished quickly rather than delayed by this potential bottleneck. Changing state law to help community-based ownership of distributed and strategically dispersed renewable energy development would provide a solution.
We should take an approach of strategically sizing and siting new renewable power generation to fit within the footprint and the capacity of most, if not all, substations. A network of substations interconnected with the existing lower-voltage system would then eliminate the need for new high-voltage transmission lines within the foreseeable future and enable existing high-voltage transmission to serve only the densest energy loads.
A great example we already have of this approach is Minnesota's community solar program where over 800 megawatts have been built, much of it integrating into existing grid capacity and at prices comparable to utility-owned solar.
However, the incumbent utility management won't likely get serious about optimizing generation on the low-voltage side of substation transformers until the law requires them to do so. Developing distributed and dispersed generation with community ownership makes total sense from an economic democracy and local self-reliance perspective. But it would curtail the market share of the incumbent utilities who have a track record of trying to fend off competition.
Monopoly utilities tend to have a bias toward the assumption of renewable power being more central-station-type wind and solar farms developed in remote locations and are excited about getting energy consumers to pay for this new high-voltage transmission line infrastructure, which they need to preserve their market share.
In situations where there is no way around needing new transmission with the MISO grid operators, the state Legislature should repeal the "right of first refusal" law to encourage the competitive development that best serves clean energy needs.
Lee Samelson, Minneapolis
The writer is an Energy Democracy staff member.
AUTO WORKERS' STRIKE
Earth to CEOs: You didn't do it alone
Workers are eminently justified in their wage demands in a pair of current and imminent major labor strikes with potentially severe economic consequences here in Minnesota.
The effects of the unified work stoppage at the Big Three vehicle manufacturers in Detroit by members the United Auto Workers (UAW) are likely to trickle down here as the workers seek a 40% wage boost spread over a four-year span ("UAW, Big 3 hold their ground in strike," Sept. 18). Management's position that the line workers and other unionized employees do not deserve it is made hollow by their executive compensation packages, which range from the low $20 million mark annually to a height of $29 million yearly for General Motors CEO Mary Barra. They have received significant pay boosts, as if they need them, in the past few years while workers' wages have been flat.
The executives, led by Barra, have cavalierly retorted to claims of inequity that their own unconscionable pay packages are attributable to "performance," referring to the success of their companies and their profitability.
Who do they think contributed to those achievements? Gremlins and goblins?
The Barras and others of her ilk and 1% caste would be well-advised to avoid fluttering their feathers while lining their nests without acknowledging the value of their working men and women who provide the grounds for that success.
Closer to home and with more direct impact, the meatpackers at Hormel in Austin, Minn., who seem poised to strike also, are seeking an increase in their compensation, which pales in comparison to the compensation of its CEO James Snee, whose $9.5 million seems like a real bargain next to the largesse for the auto executives. It happens to be nearly 25 times the salary now earned by Jeffrey Ettinger, his predecessor at Hormel, as acting president of the University of Minnesota.
The Hormel workers, too, warrant greater respect and an accompanying hike in compensation that reflects it.
Marshall Tanick, Minneapolis