The biomass wars: Fuzzy definitions and heated debate

Asking people what “biomass” means is like asking four drunken and blindfolded football fans to describe an elephant by touch. Not only will each of them describe something different, but sooner or later a fight is liable to break out. Everyone agrees that “biomass” has to do with burning some sort of fuel to generate energy, but the type of fuel can range from sustainably harvested tree waste all the way down to sewage sludge and methane gas, depending on who you talk to. Federal biomass programs have even funded studies on the burning of tires, not considered by most experts to be biomass. The problem is that each state sets its own definition of what biomass is, and that definition has historically been controlled by industry lobbyists, rather than science. Continue Reading

Northland Bioneers Conference aims to be a catalyst for green policy making

Organizers expect more than 600 people from the five-state area to attend the second annual Northland Bioneers Conference at St. Paul’s United Auto Workers Ford Training Center on November 2-4. The conference will feature more than 30 workshops on issues such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, sustainable agriculture, crafting messages for making change, and empowering multicultural youth leaders. Workshops will be facilitated by local volunteers, including politicians, eco-entrepreneurs, environmental and labor activists, and college students from the Higher Education Consortium of Urban Affairs (HECUA) environmental studies program. The conference, hosted by local non-profit Northland Sustainable Solutions, is a satellite of the national Bioneers group founded in 1990 in New Mexico. Continue Reading

Proposed green card recall would affect long-time permanent residents

Imagine the road rage that would occur if the Department of Motor Vehicles was to suddenly declare almost two million driver’s licenses invalid, giving drivers 120 days to turn them in, submit to a background check, and purchase their updated licenses for $370. This is the proposal that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is putting into effect for legal immigrants who have lived in the United States for 18 to 30 years. The proposed rule would invalidate their main form of identification, the permanent resident I-551 form, commonly referred to as a “green card.” A 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule change ended September 21. The federal government’s Immigration and Naturalization Services (now USCIS, part of the Department of Homeland Security—DHS) issued an estimated 1.9 million green cards without expiration dates to immigrants before 1989. After 1989 an expiration date was added, requiring renewal every ten years. Continue Reading

Green fuel or greenwashing?

Kandiyohi Development’s proposal for a biomass plant in the Phillips neighborhood has many supporters – including the Minneapolis City Council, Planning Commission and Empowerment Zone office – but its opponents raise serious questions about the project’s viability and environmental impact. Phillips, with almost 20,000 residents, is one of the oldest and largest neighborhoods in Minneapolis. Historically, Phillips also has been a place scarred with toxins left by the corporations that made the neighborhood their home. Its soil holds the city’s highest concentration of arsenic, the legacy of a former pesticide manufacturing site that stood uncapped for 30 years. Given that history, when a company announces plans to invest in the neighborhood and create well-paying jobs for residents by supplying environmentally-friendly energy to local businesses, it sounds like a dream come true. Continue Reading

Five arrested as supporters of striking workers occupy U of M Board of Regents meeting

Members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents made a hasty exit out the rear door this morning as more than 100 protesters stormed their monthly meeting at the University’s McNamara Alumni Center. As university police began entering the room to hold back the tide, Ty Moore of Socialist Alternative hijacked the meeting‘s agenda with the one question concerned the crowd. “I was wondering when there’s going to be a fair contract for U of M workers,” he asked the besieged regents. The meeting was brought to a screeching halt when five women sat down near the speaker’s podium in an act of civil disobedience and were quickly handcuffed by police officers. While regents and audience members fled the meeting room, the protesters read a statement saying they had interrupted the meeting to pressure University officials to offer a fair contract settlement to clerical workers of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Continue Reading

Minnesota union leaders denounce new Homeland Security/Social Security initiative

Unions and immigrants say a new enforcement tactic targets both. Last week a lawsuit by the AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, and various union locals resulted in a temporary restraining order against a new Department of Homeland initiative aimed at undocumented immigrants. The order, issued by a federal judge in San Francisco, halted plans for insertion of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warning in Social Security “no-match” letters. Over the course of this year the Social Security Administration (SSA) will send out roughly 140,000 “no-match” letters to employers informing them that specific workers are using social security numbers that don’t match with their names. The DHS warning would tell employers that they face penalties of up to six months of jail time and fines of $3,000 for each of their workers discovered to be employed under a false social security number. Continue Reading

Immigrant activists threaten boycott of Western Union

Western union fees for money transfers to families abroad are at issue. On May 9, Amina Dualle marched into the Western Union shareholder’s meeting in New York City with more than a hundred activists from across the country. They laid a demand on the table—they would give the company 100 days to re-invest in the immigrant communities that have become the lifeblood of the corporation’s business. If officials failed to comply, immigrant groups around the world were poised to announce a global boycott of the company until it agreed to work with their communities. As of yet, Western Union has remained mute. Continue Reading

Children march to end deportations

Gabriella Diaz, 8, and already a veteran of several immigrants’ rights marches says. “I get scared when I hear about other kid’s parents being taken away.”
Senator Norm Coleman’s house in St. Paul has been host to many protests over the years. Sunday afternoon, however, was possibly the first time that the protesters making fiery speeches on his front lawn were mainly elementary school children. They were part of a “children’s march” organized by local churches and immigrant rights’ groups to raise awareness of the issue of Minnesota families being torn apart by immigration raids. Continue Reading

Residents, Developers , and Church Members Clash over Affordable Housing

Some angry Tangletown residents oppose a proposed affordable housing development, which would provide rental housing to working families. “We need every one of us to be involved with affordable housing” said Minneapolis mayor R.T. Ryback during his 2002 election campaign. “We all need to be part of the solution.”
Five years and one re-election later, the mayor found himself surrounded by a group of angry neighbors at the June 21st meeting of the Tangletown Neighborhood Association. One after another they voiced their opposition to a proposed affordable housing development in their neighborhood. With voices that bordered on rage residents listed a host of reasons they were against the project. Continue Reading