Styrofoam banned in Minneapolis…again

A recent overhaul of an existing recycling ordinance in Minneapolis means that food and beverage vendors have until April 22, 2015 (Earth Day) to stop using containers made of expanded polystyrene or EPS foam. The material – which is most commonly known as Styrofoam – is difficult to dispose of sustainably: it turns into a toxic ash when burned, and takes centuries to deteriorate when landfilled, where it often breaks into smaller pieces animals mistake for food. It is also challenging and unprofitable to recycle, since it is often contaminated by food and is comprised largely of air. Continue Reading

Dayton approves civil forfeiture reform

Minnesota’s civil forfeiture laws, which empower police to seize assets they believe to be connected to criminal activity, have long been a source of contention. Not only do they enable the seizure of property regardless of a case’s outcome in court, and regardless of whether or not the property is owned jointly by another innocent party; they also arguably produce an incentive for officers to make multiple low-level arrests since law enforcement agencies get to keep approximately 70% of the proceeds derived from asset seizure. Continue Reading

More than clemency needed to end justice disparities

In recognition of the extent to which outdated laws and sentencing measures have disproportionately impacted African Americans, the Justice Department recently announced new clemency guidelines designed to commute the sentences of eligible inmates. Eligibility depends on a variety of factors: prisoners must be low-level, non-violent offenders with no ties to organized crime, and no significant criminal history other than the charge for which they were convicted. Additionally, they must have been convicted under laws that have since been modified to include shorter sentences, and they must have served at least 10 years of their sentence with good conduct. Approximately 2,000 of the more than 200,000 inmates in the federal prison system may qualify under these terms. Continue Reading

Shortsighted cuts could hurt community health advancements

The Community Transformation Grant (CTG) program was initiated in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an attempt to address health disparities, help control health care spending, and create a healthier future. To this end, federal funds from the Affordable Care Act were allocated to select communities across the U.S. to help support community-level efforts to reduce chronic diseases by expanding efforts in “tobacco-free living, active living and healthy eating, and quality clinical and other preventative services.” Minnesota fared well in the selection process: the state was awarded $4.7 million per year (including $1.1 million for Hennepin County) for what was supposed to be a five-year program.

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The 5% Campaign makes headway

Last year, the Minnesota House passed a health and social programs budget that allowed for the first wage increase nursing home and long-term care workers had seen since 2008. While this represented an important step in ensuring care workers are fairly compensated, the bulk of the increase was directed toward nursing homes, leaving only a very small amount for the many services that aim to assist people with disabilities and older adults within their own communities.

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OPINION | Improving bike-safety along Franklin Avenue

The Twin Cities feature hundreds of miles of bike lanes, boulevards, and paths, and Minneapolis is often lauded as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. But the city faces a number of challenges when it comes to creating and maintaining bike-safety on its streets – especially because many of those streets fall under the jurisdiction of multiple agencies. Coordinating much needed initiatives to improve conditions for cyclists and pedestrians therefore requires cooperation at the municipal, county, and state level.

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OPINION | Important concerns remain unaddressed for PolyMet

As Minnesota precedes in evaluating PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mining project, a number of pressing issues still need to be resolved with respect to how much – and what kind – of financial assurance would be necessary to mitigate long-term environmental impacts. This became clear at a recent House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee hearing.Under Minnesota law, PolyMet must offer some form of “financial assurance” during the permitting stage to ensure it can cover the costs of mine closure and any ongoing treatment or environmental remediation required as a result of mining operations. The process is designed to protect taxpayers from having to shoulder those costs, and is crucial given the possible duration of associated impacts – up to 500 years, according to the project’s environmental impact statement.During the hearing, Committee members heard testimony from the DNR, PolyMet, and members of the public, many of whom were representing organizations. Attitudes toward financial assurance seemed to fall into one of three camps: those who supported the financial assurance process, those who rejected it outright, and those who didn’t feel they had enough information about the project to decide either way.Mining and construction industries representatives argued that Minnesota’s financial assurance process is sound, that the DNR should be trusted to determine an acceptable level and type of financial assurance, and that technology can prevent and mitigate environmental damage from mining activities, which would ultimately be financially beneficial for the state.On the other end of the spectrum, some representatives from environmental organizations and a few private citizens noted that no amount of money (either in the form of financial assurance or profit from the mine) could render acceptable the long-term environmental devastation that would be wrought by hard-rock mining. One testifier stated it was “patently absurd” to assume any mechanism put in place today could address costs incurred 500 years from now. Continue Reading