Dan Kraker, MPR.org / 100.5 FM
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission meetings were never known for their high drama. They were deliberate, dense and, to most casual observers, kind of boring. Then came Line 3, the Enbridge Energy project to replace an aging oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. Suddenly, lots of Minnesotans wanted to know about the PUC, and wanted the PUC to know them. The Line 3 debate brought waves of boisterous, overflow crowds, protests and press conferences, pushing the PUC's five commissioners to a place they had rarely been before — the public spotlight.
Many people who've spent time around the Great Lakes take for granted that Lake Superior is the largest, coldest and clearest of the lakes. Not anymore. While Lake Superior has not gotten any dirtier, lakes Huron and Michigan have gotten significantly clearer in the past 20 years or so, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Great Lakes Research found. Anecdotally, scientists knew water clarity was improving in those lakes. But it hadn't been quantified.
Each day for decades, five pipelines have quietly pumped more than 2 million barrels of Canadian crude oil below northern Minnesota's forests, lakes and rivers to refineries around the Upper Midwest. It's a network that for years saw little public scrutiny. The lines were built in an era with no federal environmental law requiring studies or public hearings, keeping opposition to a minimum.
With great fanfare, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed an audacious, bipartisan law on May 25, 2007 called the Next Generation Energy Act, which pledged to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions a whopping 80 percent by 2050. "The nation has been asleep at the switch," Pawlenty said at the time. "But here in Minnesota we are kick-starting the future by increasing our nation-leading per capita renewable fuel use, boosting cost saving measures and tackling greenhouse gas emissions."
Residents and officials eager for a new siding plant to open in Northeastern Minnesota are going to have to wait a bit longer. Louisiana Pacific — which last year announced the purchase of a former mill in Cook, to expand its thriving engineered wood siding business — now says it will first convert a mill the company operates in British Columbia to make siding.
ALONG THE GUNFLINT TRAIL — Bruce Kerfoot will never forget standing on his dock on Gunflint Lake, just south of the Canadian border, watching the fire rage on the opposite shore. "My mouth was wide open," he recalled. "With flames a couple hundred feet high, moving at about 25 to 30 miles an hour, and a 30,000-foot smoke plume that you could see from International Falls. The sound of it was like a roaring locomotive."
Longtime mineworkers on the Iron Range often say they're used to the ups and downs, the booms and the busts of the notoriously cyclical mining industry. "I've been laid off seven times from Keetac in 17 years," said Tony Drazenovich, 47, of Grand Rapids. "That's a lot of layoffs." But most of those layoffs from the taconite iron ore mining and processing facility in Keewatin were short, he said. And that's what he anticipated for this one, too, when he was laid off in May of last year.