Loggers’ lawsuit should name governor, legislature as well

One of the legs is about to be kicked out of the three legged stool of taconite, timber and tourism.
Following a late-night move by the Minnesota state legislature and a signature by Gov. Mark Dayton, the state’s wood chipping operations were sold to the lobbyist-driven Xcel Energy.
This was back room politics pure and simple now covered up by altruistic sound bites on how the deal will save money for Xcel’s customers. Hogwash.
The company was in a world of hurt in 1994 when it was trying to find a way to dispose of nuclear waste that no one wanted.
A deal was reached where Xcel could store spent nuclear fuel casks at its Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Station in Red Wing in exchange for a plan to use biomass to generate electricity. Bad was exchanged for good, nuclear waste for logging jobs and clean renewable energy.
Land managers loved the idea of being able to log trees that were no longer marketable with the logger chipping the product and hauling it to plants in Hibbing, Virginia and Benson.
For 11 years, the system worked flawlessly. Then the political winds shifted and Xcel found enough votes to renege on the deal it had agreed to. Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake and the politicians came around like ravens to a deer kill.
Xcel was looking for a way to save a buck and get out of the deal. They cooked up some numbers and without much or any public input, the last-minute undoing of one of the state’s biggest environmental trade-offs was tossed aside as the clock ticked toward midnight in St. Paul.
The last hope was for Dayton to veto the omnibus jobs and energy bill and save the day. But despite some intense post-session lobbying, Dayton caved in and signed the bill, killing off biomass energy production in northeast Minnesota.
So when you hear the politicians crow about the money and electric rates, keep in mind what they won’t tell you. A 20-year nuclear waste deal was thrown out the window by one of the (literally) most powerful companies and its lobbyists. And the nuclear waste that was traded for logging jobs and clean renewable energy? Those huge casks of radiation? Still there.
But nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to own up to breaking a 20-year deal after 11 years. Nobody wants to tell loggers who collectively invested millions of dollars in equipment that come this spring they are out of luck.
And certainly nobody wants to tell the families of the logging workers why their bread winner is out of a job. Maybe they can at least get a loaf of bread at the Food Shelf. Because St. Paul just doesn’t care.