Future of Minnesota River, One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2008, Still Hangs in the Balance

Eight months after "Most Endangered River" listing, action still needed

December 11th, 2008

Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23
Patrick Moore, Clean up the River Environment (CURE), 320-841-1487
Lori Nelson, Friends of the Minnesota Valley, 952-881-9065 

Washington, DC — Eight months after American Rivers named the Minnesota River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ for 2008, decision makers have yet to kill a misguided proposal for a coal power plant that would require massive amounts of water to operate.

The proposed Big Stone II (BSII) project would suck 20 percent of the annual mean flow from the Minnesota River, and would emit massive amounts of greenhouse gasses and harmful levels of mercury into the air. Such conditions could cripple the river that brings millions of dollars into the regional economy, and could spell disaster for the wildlife that call the Minnesota River home.

“Not only would this misguided proposal be disastrous for the river, it would harm many people’s livelihoods, and be a gigantic step backwards in the fight against global climate change,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Each year, this coal plant would poison our air with the same amount of greenhouse gas as a half a million cars. How could anybody think that is a good idea?”

The fate of the river lies in the hands of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) which must release a certificate of need in order for the plant to move forward. The commission’s decision is expected by January 2009.

Minnesota Attorney General, Lori Swanson has received hundred of letters and e-mails asking her to use her power to protect the water in the Minnesota River. But her hands are tied without a request, required by state statutes, to pursue the issue from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. 

Given the likely imposition of state and federal carbon taxes, BSII would not be a cost effective way to produce additional energy. Further, according to attorney Beth Goodpaster of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Minnesota doesn’t need the power that would be generated by the BSII coal plant. Minnesota’s additional energy needs could be met through energy efficiency and conservation measures, and investment in an array of renewable energy projects.

“America is facing some serious energy problems in the 21st century, but to look backwards to 19th century ideas like coal to solve them is really irresponsible,” added Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers. “It’s time to invest in renewable energy sources that will make us more resilient in the face of global warming, not in old ideas from the past that could make us more vulnerable to it.”

“Minnesota is at a critical juncture in the formation of renewable energy and public water protection policy” said Patrick Moore from Clean up our River Environment (CURE) “These two issues converge with BSII — it is a national test case of where we will go as a state and nation.”

Scientists say BSII would pour more than 4 million tons of greenhouse gases into the air, as well as hundreds of pounds of mercury and other toxic gases. Mercury pollution from Big Stone I has already found its way into the Minnesota’s waters, and portions of the river have already been labeled as impaired due to contaminations. Building a second, larger coal plant could prove catastrophic the river.

The Minnesota River runs 335 miles from Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota-South Dakota border to St. Paul, Minnesota where it joins the Mississippi, doubling the mighty river’s flow. Almost a million people live in its watershed, and it’s the only river in the entire state to have a national wildlife refuge at both its headwaters and near its mouth.

According to sportsmen and resource conservation professionals, the Minnesota River is supporting a rebirth of wildlife not seen along the river for 100 years. The river is becoming a fast-growing Minnesota tourist destination because of its wild and undeveloped reaches. Tourism brings millions of dollars into the regional economy, much of which depends on a healthy Minnesota River.  


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.