Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light – Arrowhead Regional Network

Citizens’ Climate Lobby
W.J. McCabe Chapter - Izaak Walton League of America
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Duluth for Clean Water
Duluth Clean Energy Team
Twin Ports Democratic Socialists of America

Our Revolution-Duluth

sent surveys to the candidates for representative in U.S. House District 8, the seat currently occupied by Rick Nolan. Below are the unedited responses of four of the candidates (Michelle Lee, Soren Sorenson, Kirsten Kennedy and Skip Sandman). Four other candidates (Pete Stauber, Jason Metsa, Joe Radinovich and Harry Welty) did not provides answers. The primary election is Aug. 14 and the general election Nov. 6.

1. Do you support current climate action commitments by cities, such as the City of Duluth, and by the State of Minnesota? If not, why not? If so, which ones do you support?


Michelle Lee: Yes I support any effort that will spark measurable results in reducing our collective carbon footprint. I am very proud of Duluth and it’s participation in the Climate Smart Municipalities project along with its effort to increase energy efficiency. I’m particularly keen on its efforts to educate citizens on energy conservation and environmental stewardship issues.

Soren Sorensen: I support the City of Duluth’s energy management plan. While the City of Duluth’s measurements show increases in greenhouse gas emissions from 2001 to 2005, current plans target goals of 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. It’s an aggressive goal for a city with cold winters and increasingly extreme weather events. I support converting the steam plant into a close loop system to conserve water, as well as reducing the use of coal and resulting greenhouse gas emissions. The State of Minnesota is also not on track to meet its overall goals despite achieving the 25% renewable electricity generation goal. 

Kirsten Kennedy: I am absolutely supportive of cities taking action to combat climate change. I was the first candidate to sign a pledge to combat climate change, North Branch is a Green Step City and I have made facing climate change key component of my campaign. I support Duluth’s initiative to reduce greenhouse gas by 80% and their investment in Minnesota Power’s solar plant as a prime example of commitments cities can and should be making around the 8th Congressional District. 

Skip Sandman: Yes to both, most local steps towards reducing energy usage will slow climate change and save money. Local opportunities and needs will be better understood by the inhabitants of those communities. When I am in congress, I will fight for federal funding and legislation to help our 8th District communities to implement local solutions to Climate Change.


2. If elected, would you join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives? Why or why not?


Lee: Yes.  Climate change or global warming is real. It is difficult to deny its impact.  My family has had a front row seat to the changes. Today wild turkeys roam near my home in Moose Lake.  Birch trees are dying back due to the warmer temperatures. Hardwood trees are taking hold.  100 year rains are now 10 and 20 year rains.  To believe that human activity has not accelerated global warming is folly.  I will sign on to the caucus, study the issue and seek ways to mitigate global warming.

Sorensen: I am open to it. The extra care required to win over to conservatives occasionally pays off. Because I have been a supporter of faith-based initiatives to conserve nature, eg. the Catholic Climate Covenant, I can speak to people of faith about religious imperatives to understand the creation and to be good stewards. I don’t support a worldview that government and taxation are bad, and won’t pretend to, in order to create taxes or fees to charge the true cost of using fossil fuels... a carbon tax need not be revenue neutral.

Kennedy: Yes, I would. I believe we have to have bipartisanship to create real and lasting change for our environment, and that we must be able to reach across the aisle and find our common ground. 

Sandman: Yes, Climate solutions need to be addressed and understood by both sides of the aisle.


3. In order to mitigate climate change, would you support a proposal for gradual carbon pricing? Why or why not?


Lee: I support the concept of gradual carbon pricing and any effort that would increase cooperation among nations to tackle the causes of climate change.  I believe that it has to start at the source of carbon fuel production with taxation and the costs of that added expense spread out as not to impact the working poor.  If there are built in rebates to help them meet additional expenses as a result of carbon pricing I would sign on to legislation.

I also believe we need to step up our reliance on renewable energy through education and tax breaks make solar and wind energy more affordable.

Sorensen: Yes. Much of the developed of the world already pays carbon taxes. In order for a carbon tax to be truly effective, in must also be designated to investments in public infrastructure that reduce emmeisions of help to sequester carbon through natural processes. 

Kennedy: Yes. The opportunity to implement a policy that is simultaneously sensible, flexible, gentle, and effective in advancing national and global goals of reducing climate change does not arise very often. Policymakers must seize it when it does and I would absolutely either propose and/or support such a proposal. 

Sandman: I will support carbon pricing.  I also propose direct disincentives to fossil fuel use such as a gradual raising of gasoline taxes and forcing pipeline companies to remove abandoned pipelines, see skipsandman.com. 


4. What actions will you take to honor treaties made with Native American tribes and protect the sovereignty of Native people facing environmental issues such as the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Line 3 project? 


Lee: Treaties must be honored. Sovereignty must be respected.  It is up to the reservation business committees and Enbridge to come to terms on this issue.  I have made a commitment to stand with and behind Native Governments in their decisions of self-determination in regard to pipelines.  Given the current climate in Washington, when the administration can roll back regulations with a stroke of a pen, ultimately it will be treaty rights and the sovereignty of our Native American Nations that will serve as a wall to protect the environment.  We must hold that wall for future generations. I will fight to protect treaty rights and the sovereign status of our Native American Tribes.

Sorensen: I will consult with Minnesota Chippewa Tribe officials, indigenous activist groups like Honor the Earth, and mass meetings of tribal members on reservations in district to achieve a mutual understanding of these treaty obligations are. I will ensure that constituent service sessions are regularly held on the reservations as well as in other part parts of the district to achieve geographical balance.

As a participant in the Enbridge public hearings , I respect that the tribes have a cultural assessment. I am inspired by the vision of sustainability that imagines the consequences of todays actions on the future generations that will inhabit his landscape hundreds or thousands of years from now. The radical transformation of our landscape from the conditions the treaties were negotiated in (1837 - 1867) to the modern land uses was not anticipated. 

Kennedy: It is not our place to decide what is best for Native Americans, but rather, we must sit down and ask questions and listen and learn from them what they feel is best for their nation. We must respect their tribal sovereignty as we would that of any foreign nation, we stand as allies with them, we co-govern and use our voices to move us all forward.

Sandman: As a Native myself, let me just say that the general population does not fully recognize the sovereignty of our nations. This attitude also applies to corporations. Once again, greedy white people will be looking to take advantage of us, use our land and abuse the rights of our people. I will demand a seat at the table, so I can stand for all people and use my powers as a member of congress to protect the sovereignty of our nations and the human rights of all peoples at all times. 


5. Congressional District 8 currently employs the lowest number of solar workers of all the congressional districts in the state. What would you do to help increase the number of good paying solar jobs available in CD8?


Lee: I support tax rebates for homeowners and businesses, expansion of training opportunities for those seeking careers in the solar industry and a concerted effort to attract investment in local manufacturing of solar panel systems.

Sorensen: We need to increase our public investment in solar panel manufacturing facilities, plus related trades education. If we are at all serious about our survival, this investment must at least match our public investment in hockey arenas! 

Kennedy: The solar power industry largely deserted Minnesota after the “Made in Minnesota” program terminated last year, but in North Branch, we worked to bring the largest solar energy facility in the Midwest to help XCel with their plan to generate a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It also offers a space for pollinators to congregate. As a lover of honey in my tea, protecting our natural pollinators is an important part of the impact that solar facilities provide. 

We must work towards a federal green jobs guarantee that includes a major push for solar development. 

Sandman: As long as providers of electrical energy in the 8th District are allowed to set the rates they charge their consumers based upon what it costs them, they have little incentive to move to green energy. In the long term, fossil fuels cost more. Public Utility commissions need to change the formula by which providers can charge to incentivize the development of green energy. 

Another obstacle to expanding the gathering of solar energy is the lack of the infrastructure to support it.  Storage solutions and an electrical grid that allows current to flow from where it is produced and stored to where it is needed are a priority. I will support funding for that. 


6. Glencore/PolyMet’s proposed copper sulfide mine’s direct job estimates have recently been reduced to 150-220 (from an original 400-plus), even before permitting. Discuss the risks and benefits of job creation vs. environmental impact.


Lee:  All existing sulfide mines pollute surrounding waters, have permanently polluted water with carcinogens and neurotoxins and destroyed thousands of acres of land.  PolyMet’s proposed open-pit sulfide mine would be no different.  It is guaranteed to permanently pollute a watershed that feeds our largest Great Lake and destroy thousands of highly biodiversity sites and wetlands in Superior National Forest.  PolyMet’s proposal places the people in downstream communities at unacceptable risk from catastrophic tailings dam failure. 

There is no proven large scale use of their proposed reverse osmosis treatment of the water that will be required for up to 500 years after the 20-25 year life mine closes.
 The 350 promised jobs are at risk of significant reduction as the result of ever increasing automation of mining processes.  By definition, the jobs created are not sustainable since they are tied to the 20-25 year life of the mine.
The creation of so few jobs which will add to a boom and bust economy is not worth the risk of permanently damaging a region dependent on its water and public lands to sustain an outdoor and tourism economy which employs thousands of people.

Sorensen: The past practice of privatizing profits from mineral leases and mineral extraction, and socializing the costs of mine reclamation must end. We could easily create jobs in well paid, union represented jobs in public sectors if there was the political will to put people to work removing invasive exotics or on infrastructure upgrades that would reduce energy consumption.

Kennedy: We cannot and should not create jobs without considering the potential environmental impact. That being said, we must also be willing to look in the mirror and say to ourselves “if not this, then what? What will and can we do to make sure that our communities on the Range survive and thrive? How can we help bring shovel-ready jobs, especially green jobs, to the upstream communities so they aren’t so tempted by this? What are our next ten words after ‘no Polymet?’ 

Sandman: To suggest there is a benefit to the Polymet proposal is absurd. When the dams fail, more jobs will be lost in tourism than gained in mining.  We could count the increased number of water filtration technicians and doctors needed to keep us all healthy, but I would hardly call that a benefit.

Let us understand that these companies are not coming to bring us good paying jobs. They are coming here to make money, the more money the better. They will never pay their workers adequately or take the necessary precautions to protect the environment. Glencore has a record of human rights abuses and busting unions. 


7. Do you believe that the Glencore/Polymet proposed copper sulfide mine project is too risky for Minnesota? Why or why not?


Lee: Yes,  copper nickel sulfide mining has never been done in a water rich environment without harm to our environment and the people who inhabit it.  It is folly to believe that we can mitigate the pollution that will come as a result of bad science, or BS, being used to promote these projects in Northern Minnesota.

Sorensen: Yes. I read David Glenn’s review of the proposal recently in Zenth News (June 27, 2018) and agree that the risk of methylmecurcury contamination is too great a risk to human health in the watershed, as is the risk from sulfates to wild rice.

Kennedy: Yes, it is too risky, as it is currently proposed. I do not believe that Polymet/Glencore have done enough to assure us that the risks of this new type of mining for Minnesota outweigh the benefits. 

Sandman: It is too risky, it is an affront to anyone who needs clean water. Many voters think that one of the two major parties will produce a champion that will defend clean water and that champion will win the election. The reality is that the proponents of Polymet will never vote for a water protector. In a two person race, a progressive water protector will lose. In a three person race, where the two major parties are represented by copper nickel minions, an independent water protector can win with 35 to 40 percent of the vote. 


8. Officials in the past have divided Minnesotans by conflating taconite mining and copper sulfide mining. How do you differentiate these two types of mining?


Lee: Since the day I announced my campaign I have never wavered in my opposition to the current proposals to mine copper, nickel and other precious metals near the Boundary Waters and within the Lake Superior Watershed. I have also worked extremely hard to educate my constituents about the differences.

Iron ore mining and copper nickel sulfide mining are two different animals.
Iron ore mining not only serve us in war time, it has continued to provide economic security for hundreds of hard working Northlanders and their families. The development of taconite, recovery of ore from mining waste and new methods of steelmaking are extending the life of this important industry.  At the same time, strides in automation alongside increased development of iron ore mines in other countries and the globalization of the steel market have significantly reduced the number of mining jobs.

Copper nickel sulfide mining will not only threaten water, our most strategic national resource….it will add to the boom and bust economy on the Iron Range.
 The risks to the health, environment and economy of the state’s iconic Arrowhead region are too great to allow this new-to-Minnesota type of mining.  We need to focus tax dollars on cleaning up toxic messes already made, recovery of metals already mined and the creation of jobs that will sustain the people and families that will call the Northland home for generations to come.

 Understanding our iron ore deposits are finite we must empower our communities to develop new industry suited for the 21st Century that will serve our people, protect the region’s fragile ecosystem and in a world where there are multiple warnings of an impending fresh water shortage, our fresh water is our future.  We must invest in green energy technology, support farm to table production and the creation of small businesses that are the engines of current economic growth.

 We start by building out broadband and high speed internet systems that connect our rural areas with the world.  State and federal grants are not enough.  During the Great Depression the Rural Electrification Act was created to serve our rural areas.  Adequate broadband and high-speed networks open the doors for increased educational access, increased telemedicine services and small business opportunities for those who live now and, those who want to live in small towns and in rural areas.

 Better we invest our time, talents and public treasure in establishing those networks and sparking the development of K-12 educational opportunities and  the expansion of technical school programs in concert with trades and labor unions.  We need to come together and envision 21st century economic development that will rebuild and sustain the vibrancy Range communities enjoyed at the beginning of the 20th century and the boom mining years that dotted the latter half of that century.

Sorensen: There are also peat mining and frack sand mines proposed and operating in our region, that are also somewhat troubling. Taconite is proven, copper sulfide mining is unproven in our area. All mines present challenges to human health and workplace safety. We must strengthen worker’s rights to fair wages, good benefits, collective bargaining and pensions. We need to ensure that mine workers and their families in the Range Cities have access to great education, fully staffed hospitals, and alternative streams of household income during the boom and bust cycles that regularly layoff and rehire mine workers. We need to support economic diversification across the region.

Kennedy: I think that the difference is apparent. It’s been clever wordplay by mining supporters to conveniently leave out “copper sulfide” when talking about the opposition’s position, and have created a false narrative. Taconite mining has been a bedrock of Minnesota for over a century. We know how to do it well and safely, although I would argue, not without environmental impact. Copper sulfide mining is an entirely new process for Minnesota. It does not have the history of being done safely or without environmental impact, which, I think, is the key differentiation.

Sandman: While the two are somewhat similar, there are significant differences in the amount of toxins that are produced.  Because of content in the ore body and the fine crushing necessary to free the copper from its ore, copper sulfide is more toxic.


9. What is your position on the government’s role to protect the “public commons”? By “commons” we mean natural resources such as air, water and public lands that are held as a trust by state and federal governments and are protected and made accessible to all members of society.


Lee: I was recently asked to define ‘environmental justice.” While I am sure there is a scientific explanation--I believe it is this;  every human on this earth should wake up every morning and breathe unpolluted air and have access to clean water.  Beyond those basic human needs we also have the need to recreate in a natural environment.  Whether in an urban or rural setting or within the  Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness our public commons afford the opportunity to recharge our souls and take pause to appreciate the wonders of nature.  Whether you are a millionaire or struggling to put food on the table our public commons must remain available to all.  We hold these lands in public trust. The public trusts its elected leaders to protect them for future generations. It is a commitment I will honor.  

Sorensen: The federal government has promoted enjoyment of outdoor tourism to boost our economy, instill national pride, achieve public health goals, and cultivate skills that boost our national defense readiness and disaster preparedness. Accessibility is laudable and should be supported when accessibility does not imperil protected species, detract from cultural value (e.g. the tranquility that is available in non-motorized portions of the BWCA), or endanger human safety. We mark trails to allow people to make informed decisions about their own tolerance for risk of injury and death, and we close off military reservations due to dangers like live-fire exercises and UXO. 

Kennedy: I believe it is government’s role to protect the public commons, and I will be a good and effective steward in Congress to protect them.

Sandman: Government should protect the public commons particularly from those who would abuse it for their own personal gain.