President Joe Biden just signed into law the bipartisan infrastructure bill. About $680 million will be sent to Minnesota to support clean water initiatives.
We already know the percentage of our lakes, rivers and streams that are considered "impaired" under the Department of Natural Resources' assessment. What we have not seen is a comprehensive statewide study of all our water resources including lakes, rivers, streams, aquifers and the tributaries that feed into the entire system. A full assessment of the state of Minnesota's waters is needed.
As a kid, I happily swam in almost any body of water in our state. Today, I'm not sure anyone should be swimming in any body of water. Not only have we made most of them unhealthy for humans, but as we continue to pollute our waters, we will eventually turn them into stinking cesspools where no living creature, including fish and frogs, can survive.
We can make choices now to change course. Minnesota should use some of these funds for a comprehensive study of our waters. We elect political leaders to make vital decisions about our future, and protecting our water should be a priority concern for all political leaders. Having sound, complete data and facts, made fully available to the public, would allow our political leaders to create public policy based in science. Such public policy would also hopefully protect, improve and permanently make safe our most important natural resource — the water we need to live.
However, what we may well see is both parties trying to take advantage of these funds. Lobbyists for certain industries will undoubtedly seek to get their hands on them, eventually resulting in suboptimal outcomes for all of us. We must become far more vigilant and hold our elected leaders accountable for achieving outcomes that benefit citizens rather than special interests.
At a minimum, no industrial-scale projects that could harm our waters should move forward in Minnesota until we have completed this detailed study and know exactly how much clean, fresh water we still have left in our state.
We still have time to save ourselves. We should use that time wisely.
Jon R. Olson, Webster, Minn.
Every few years another rationale for developing new nuclear power plants is presented. And each time we're told the new design is safer than ever before and that it solves the problem of the day. The latest iteration is in the commentary by John Windschill ("Without new thinking, climate policy can't succeed," Opinion Exchange, Nov. 12). He tells us the zero carbon emissions of a nuclear power plant are an undervalued solution to climate change. It's true, an operating nuclear power plant generates just a fraction of the carbon emissions of a fossil fuel plant. It is the clear leader in large-scale, low-carbon electricity production. The problem with nuclear power is the public's perception of safety and risk. Windschill addresses these issues in a way that sidesteps the real concerns.
Most people have a poor understanding of risk. Car accidents kill and severely injure thousands of people each year in Minnesota and Wisconsin, yet we continue to drink and drive, skip seat belts, use our cellphones and drive too fast. The risk is rationalized away as something that happens to somebody else. At the same time, we lock our doors, install cameras and alarm systems and buy guns to stem the perceived risk of rising crime in our neighborhoods. To ask us to understand the realistic risk of a nuclear power plant is not easy in this environment.
Atomic power has the unfortunate history of being born out of the development of the atomic bomb, a weapon of mass destruction. For a long time we thought we were (and maybe still are) just minutes away from total destruction. Now, we're told that if a terrorist can't obtain enough material for a nuclear bomb, they may still use it as a dirty bomb to contaminate an area for multiple generations. To help prevent this, the reactor complex and the highly radioactive waste stored at our local nuclear power plants is guarded by a robust security force with extensive paramilitary training.
It's also true that, to date, relatively few people were killed directly or indirectly by nuclear power operations. The commentator cites reports of no direct deaths at Fukushima and limited deaths of plant workers at Chernobyl. He didn't mention that at Chernobyl 335,000 people were evacuated, and 156,000 were evacuated at Fukushima. The regions around both these plants are still too hazardous for people to return, if ever.
Here lies the crux of the issue with nuclear power today. The public doesn't know that the new plant designs championed by Bill Gates and others can't melt down like Fukushima (and nearly at Three Mile Island) or suffer a steam explosion like Chernobyl. What they do know is they don't want a potential dirty bomb disaster from a nuclear plant accident or failing waste container contaminating their neighborhood or town for generations.
To regain the public trust, the nuclear industry must retire the existing plants (because they tell us they're not as safe as the new designs) and develop an acceptable solution to recycle waste. The industry also needs to better explain what it means by "risk" and "safety" and how the new technology is different, and safer, than current designs. Only then can nuclear power have a role in the carbon-free future.
Roy Forsstrom, Pepin, Wis.
The writer is a retired energy industry consultant who also served as a nuclear reactor operator in the U.S. Navy.
As a longtime observer and participant in Minnesota conservation issues, I want to thank and congratulate Steve Thorne on his Nov. 12 commentary, "Minnesota's long wrong turn on natural resources." As a longtime friend of the DNR, I would offer that not all the blame for the problems Thorne properly illuminates can be laid on current leadership of the DNR. Many factors have contributed to the decline of strong, forceful voices in leadership in the executive branch of state government.
It is hard to imagine former governors having to abide a state Senate of the opposite party holding their department head appointments hostage to the political talking points of the day. When a party with nearly half control of the government is dominated by members who are virulently anti-government, I am afraid we cannot expect too much from our conservation and anti-pollution agencies. Nonetheless, I agree with Thorne that we need much more forceful and boisterous voices speaking up for the long-term protection of Minnesota's extraordinary natural bounty within state government.
Tom Salkowski, Buffalo, Minn.
For two weeks governments from around the world gathered in Glasgow to discuss possible solutions to the accelerating devastating problems wrought by global climate change.
Near the end of the conference, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed serious doubts about these world governments achieving the carbon-cutting pledges needed to effectively deal with the acknowledged "climate emergency." These governments know what must be done but due to the usual money-based priorities they refuse to do them.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg got it right when she recently addressed a youth climate summit in Milan, calling the world's governments' past pledges to fix the climate problems a lot of "blah, blah, blah." No action, just a lot of "blah, blah, blah." And now we have more "blah, blah, blah."
I fear we're going to "blah, blah, blah" ourselves out of existence.
Doug Williams, Robbinsdale
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