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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

October 9, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 6

Despite years of costly effort, Minnesota River remains threatened

A billion dollars of effort and decades of heightened concern haven’t been enough for the Minnesota River, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported last week. “Overall, the Minnesota River is unhealthy,” the agency sadly concluded after its most comprehensive assessment to date of the state’s namesake waterway, drawing from 10 years of data from 139 monitoring sites along the river’s 338-mile course.

“Sediment clouds the water, phosphorus causes algae, nitrogen poses risks to humans and fish, and bacteria make the water unsafe for swimming,” the report summarized. While acknowledging the value of recent efforts at river protection by governments and private citizens, the report says water quality remains compromised.

Why so little progress? As if on cue, the skies opened with an answer. Hours after the report’s release, unseasonably heavy storms dumped more rain on portions of the Minnesota River’s watershed region than they typically receive in a full month.

Water volume is up in the river and its tributaries, and that’s working at cross purposes with efforts to keep sediment and nutrients out. Heavier-than-usual precipitation — a predictable consequence of rising greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere — is one reason more water is flowing. Another: Farmers have drained water away from their fields and eliminated wetlands to boost crop production. That matters much in the Minnesota’s basin, where 80 percent of the land is used for agriculture.

The report does not hesitate to point to agriculture as it discusses the need for more remedial action: “Since that’s the majority land use, that’s where most of the work needs to be done.”

It’s also where politically charged resistance to government-imposed environmental regulations runs high. Unhappiness in farm country with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s push for a buffer-strip requirement along public waterways likely contributed to DFL losses in the last election.

Compliance with the buffer-strip law has been good, the state reported last week, with buffers in place along 94 percent of public waters. But buffer-strip opponents still consider the 2015 law a state land grab and argue that it affords too little room for adaptation to individual circumstances. Some argue that before city-dwellers demand sacrifices from farmers, they should do more to stem their own water contamination.

That’s been happening, the report said. A number of cities and towns in the watershed have invested in wastewater treatment upgrades at considerable cost to local taxpayers and with millions of dollars in state support. The report credits those improvements with progress on phosphorus levels — the report’s one positive note amid rising nitrogen and sediment levels in the river. Water treatment upgrades are not finished, and need to proceed. But the report says it’s increasingly clear that municipal water treatment won’t be enough to keep public waterways healthy.

Community leaders in ag-dependent southern Minnesota have been understandably hesitant to press their farmer-neighbors for costly changes for the sake of cleaner rivers and streams. But river remediation tactics can benefit farmers as well as the environment. Applying chemicals to cornfields in the summer, when plants can absorb them quickly, can both produce better yields and minimize water pollution. The MPCA report notes that building soil health is good for both farmers and water quality. University of Minnesota researchers are developing cover crops that prevent erosion as they sequester the nutrients that are an asset in the soil but a liability in the river. If that research develops cash-producing cover crops, so much the better.

The MPCA report’s sobering message is that without more help from agriculture, the Minnesota River and its tributaries will continue to lose aquatic life, lose recreational value, and pose an increasing risk to human health and community prosperity. The river’s deterioration needs to be understood as a risk to all who live near it, no matter their livelihoods.


St. Cloud Times, Oct. 6

Reframe gun debate to be about people

As much as a majority of Americans support more sensible laws governing guns, expect the political realities governing Washington to easily squelch any serious discussions about making sensible changes.

No matter the body count (and injury count) last week in Las Vegas. No matter how many will die in the next U.S. mass shooting, which statistically is expected to happen today. No matter how long this madness keeps up, don’t expect federal laws to help stem it anytime soon.

If anything, under this Republican-controlled government, expect laws to become more gun-friendly. Think broader permit-to-carry powers, plus remember President Trump already overturned a rule barring gun ownership for some who have been deemed mentally impaired.

To be clear, new laws alone cannot curb America’s epidemic of mass shootings. And by no means should they overwhelm the Second Amendment. However, as the bodies pile up, it’s crystal clear to common-sense Americans that they are but one part of a solution America must craft soon:

How can we identify people who pose risks and then make it difficult for them to possess weapons capable of firing massive amounts of ammunition in seconds?

That’s why this board — along with most Americans — sees a good starting point being the long-proposed plan to require background checks for all gun purchases online and at gun shows. It’s not the perfect answer alone. But it is a needed addition to existing laws.

Similarly, with an estimated 300-million-plus guns in the U.S. now — none of which were confiscated by a certain former president in the past eight years — federal lawmakers need to ramp up resources for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

This agency essentially oversees firearms dealings and ownership, yet news reports since 2010 have noted it is woefully lacking resources.

The Detroit Free Press reported in 2016 the ATF has just 811 agents assigned to investigate industry operations, a number that has not changed much in the past 15 years even though there are 139,000 licensed gun dealers. And as The Washington Post has noted, the result is some gun shops can go eight years without an ATF review.

Can you imagine the outrage lawmakers would show if restaurants or airplanes were reviewed only once every eight years?

As for new laws, initial reports about the Las Vegas massacre already have revived debates on banning automatic rifles and accessories that can turn semi-automatic weapons into automatics. It is encouraging some Republican leaders (and powerful special interests) are willing to examine such accessories.

This board stated in 2015 that’s worth a discussion, given rapid gunfire is common to so many mass shootings. Congress from 1994 to 2004 banned certain semi-automatic assault weapons and magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Did it help? Hard to say, but back then America was not averaging one mass shooting a day, either.

Speaking of bans, the U.S. Supreme Court late in 2015 did let stand a Chicago suburb’s ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. The justification was the community simply took reasonable steps to protect all residents while still allowing individuals to own guns, whether for protection or recreation.

With federal lawmakers so paralyzed on this issue, perhaps more local control needs to be another factor in any solution.

Remember, though, the priority of any legislative package is to identify people who pose risks, not inanimate objects.

Maybe if federal lawmakers could reframe this issue in that context, they could actually do something to curb an epidemic their lack of action has only made worse the past decade.


Post Bulletin, Oct. 6

Lynx are among Minnesota’s greatest champions

The Minnesota Lynx won their fourth WNBA championship Wednesday, holding off the Los Angeles Sparks in a nail-biting, winner-taker-all classic at Williams Arena.

But there were no losers in that arena. The Sparks, who knocked off the Lynx last year in another thrilling championship series, played fantastic basketball on Wednesday, rallying time and time again. Every time the Lynx threatened to blow the game open, L.A. would make a run, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot until Minnesota’s Maya Moore finally hit a spectacular, off-balance, 15-foot runner to effectively seal the deal for the Lynx.

The 14,632 fans who packed The Barn to the rafters were treated to 40 minutes of remarkable basketball, as were fans who watched on ESPN. The Lynx-Sparks game got higher ratings than any WNBA game since 2003, despite being up against a winner-take-all National League wild-card baseball game.

The quality of play was no accident. Lynx owner Glen Taylor and Sparks owner Magic Johnson have invested heavily in the WNBA. It’s one thing to give lip service to the idea that women’s professional sports can succeed, but it’s quite another to create organizations that are dedicated to excellence both on and off the court. Want proof? This year, with the Lynx forced out of Target Center due to ongoing renovations, Taylor spent $1 million on temporary air conditioning at Williams Arena for the playoffs.

Of course, to Lynx fans, the most important decision Taylor ever made was to acquire Lindsay Whalen in 2010.

Whalen already had put Minnesota basketball on the map. She led Hutchinson High School to three consecutive state titles before taking a formerly moribund Gophers squad into national prominence and a berth in the Final Four. The Lynx moved mountains in an unsuccessful attempt to draft her in 2004, then made a franchise-changing trade in 2010.

The rest is history. On any given night, Whalen might not be the best athlete on the court, nor score the most points, but she makes her teammates better and is utterly fearless when the game is on the line.

She’s not a great women’s basketball player — she’s a great basketball player. The Lynx aren’t a great women’s basketball team — they’re a great basketball team. Coach Cheryl Reeve isn’t a great female coach of a women’s basketball team — she’s a great basketball coach.

It’s worth noting that while the Lynx and Sparks were dazzling fans on Wednesday, much of the national sports media’s attention was focused on an NFL player, Cam Newton. No, the Carolina Panthers didn’t play that day, but Newton made headlines in an extraordinarily stupid way.

When a beat reporter for the Panthers asked the quarterback a question about a receiver’s route-running habits, he responded with a smirk: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

Yes, that happened. An NFL quarterback openly and publicly laughed at the notion that a female reporter could know enough about football to ask a good question.

Late Thursday, Newton issued a well-delivered and much-needed apology, but the irony shouldn’t be ignored. In the not-so-distant past, more than a few football fans believed that while black athletes could play wide receiver, running back or defensive line, they couldn’t play quarterback at an elite level. Newton has helped to debunk that bias and stereotype — yet on Wednesday, he perpetuated the idea that women can’t speak and write intelligently about men’s sports.

Well, we might not be particularly well-versed in the intricacies of pro basketball or football, but we know this: When Newton played in the Super Bowl, he played scared. When he fumbled late in the game, he backed away from the ball, rather than risk injury by diving on it. But at any given moment Wednesday in Minneapolis, there were 10 athletes on the court who were willing to throw themselves at every loose ball, even if it meant they would fall from the arena’s raised floor.

Of such stuff are champions made.

Not female champions. Champions.

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