News Day: Big stink at the MPCA / Lies, mistakes and spreadsheets in St. Paul / “New wave” foreclosures / more

NOT in News Day today News about swine flu, Arlen Specter, the neverending Franken/Coleman saga, or the first 100 days of Barack Obama’s presidency. (Except to note that the ever-in-the-press Michelle Bachmann archly observed that swine flu seems to occur only under Democratic presidents. Only one problem, Eric Black points out: the other recent swine flu scare started under the decidely non-Democratic Gerald Ford in 1976.

Big stink at the MPCA Neighbors repeatedly driven from their homes by the stench from the 1,500-cow Excel Dairy near Thief River Falls are seeking to close it down. State and federal health officials have declared the dairy a public health hazard. Neighbors want the dairy shut down, citing past bad behavior. (This is not a small bunch of tree-huggers — the Marshall County Board also is also on their side.)

In a letter to the agency, Attorney General Lori Swanson said that Excel no longer deserves the privilege of operating a dairy because it has made false statements, ignored state orders, dismissed health concerns, and tried to litigate its way out of trouble by blaming others or claiming exemptions from rules. Swanson called the company’s strategy “an affront to the MPCA regulatory authority and the right of the surrounding residents to breathe non-putrefied air.”

After a seven-hour hearing, reports the Strib the MPCA board refused to shut it down. Instead, they revoked and immediately reissued the permit, with some new conditions.

Since the dairy didn’t comply with the old conditions, it’s difficult to see why that is any kind of solution. The membership of MPCA boards is heavily weighted in favor of industrial-scale agriculture. Now the only hope for neighbors is the attorney general’s lawsuit to shut down the dairy, now pending in district court in Marshall County.

Is Pawlenty a liar?House DFLers didn’t quite say that, according to the PiPress, but they pointed out “false information in a document given to reporters last week.” House Speaker Margaret Kelliher said the misstatements in the spread sheets were deliberate, inaccurately showing that the Senate had increased spending. MN Management and Budget comissioner Tom Hanson, the governor’s delegate to budget negotiations finally acknowledged errors in the documents. Discussion got a little heated, as Hanson tried to duck pointed questioning by DFLers, , captured live here by The Uptake. After the dust settled, all adjourned to a private meeting with T-Paw, smoothing over the whole episode. The PiPress said:

“I am a person who is willing to give just about anyone a second chance,” she said, “so I’m going to take the governor at his word that that document was premature and not ready for prime time and that it was not meant to mislead about the numbers in the Senate (budget).”

She and Pogemiller said they had a “productive” meeting with Pawlenty. (Lawmakers often describe meetings as productive, even when they aren’t.)

For more, follow the hearings and the legislature on The Uptake, all day, every day, and all night when the legislature stays in session past midnight.

MN Job Watch Hutchinson Technology will lay off another 300 workers, bringing the total to more 2,000 workers from December-June. That’s 45% of the company’s workforce. According to the Strib:

While Hutchinson executives were predicting their cost-cutting would help the company recover, they were sharply increasing severance benefits for top executives. …Hutchinson did not have an executive severance plan before and believes it needed one to retain top executives, said spokeswoman Connie Pautz.”

The Hennepin County Board is asking for furloughs, according to the Strib. They want 32 unpaid furlough hours from employees, and board members agree “to voluntarily return the equivalent of 24 hours of their own pay” — about $566 each.

Foreclosures: The new wave According to a couple of new reports, foreclosures of prime mortgages are rising, reports the Strib.

“As this recession has intensified, the face of this mortgage crisis has changed by 180 degrees,” said Scott Anderson, a senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co. in Minneapolis. Job losses and other economic-related fallout are behind many foreclosures now, he said.

Anderson said the new wave of people unable to pay the mortgage often is middle-class families that most likely have two incomes. One loses a job and all of a sudden they can’t afford their house. Or they are under water on their mortgage and can’t refinance.

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center says that in 2008 it was able to hep 55% of about 9,000 people who completed counseling to avoid foreclosure. Of these, 86% were able to remain in their homes.

More bad news in Brookdale Barnes and Noble is leaving Brookdale Mall, reports the Strib, joining an exodus that will leave the mall with a 50% vacancy rate after June 13.

National and world headlines

Politico: Single-payer health care advocates have a new strategy: “By pushing hard for single-payer health care, a robust public insurance option ends up looking like a compromise Democrats could accept.”

BBC: Two more car bombs in Baghdad kill at least 16 people, bringing the total to at least 150 people in two days.

NYT: The Senate finally confirmed Kathleen Sebelius as Secretarty of Health and Human Services.

Washington Post: The U.S. economy is shrinking at a 6.1% annual rate, according to preliminary first quarter estimates.

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