NEWS DAY | MN says no to T-Paw for Prez / Xcel rate hike-cut / Paying for dirty water

Tim PawlentyT-Paw for Prez? MN says no A recent Minnesota Poll showed that Minnesotans wouldn’t vote for Governor Tim Pawlenty for president, reports Politico. Only 25 percent said that T-Paw definitely has their votes, while 43 percent said there’s no way they would vote for T-Paw for president, and another 25 percent allowed as how there might be some chance that they’d vote for him.

Only 30 percent of the 1,000 Minnesota adults questioned last week in a Star Tribune Minnesota poll said they would like to see Pawlenty run for president; 55 percent said they would not.

Xcel gets a rate cut Sort of. The Public Utilities Commission actually gave Xcel Energy a rate boost, reports the Pioneer Press, but a smaller increase than the one Xcel asked for and has been charging customers since January. So now  Xcel has to give back part of the increase paid by customers since January. Confused yet?

The $91 million increase knocked $65 million off the utility’s original request of $156 million and is lower than an interim increase of $132 million for 2009 that the commission granted in December. Minneapolis-based Xcel is Minnesota’s largest utility, serving 1.2 million customers.

Don’t worry – we have plenty of time to figure it out, since refunds to customers won’t actually happen until the first quarter of 2010. Among the items trimmed from the budget: prepayment of costs of the Prairie Island nuclear plant and luxury perks for Xcel execs.

How much is clean water worth? Clean water may be priceless, but the cost for fouling it has just been set at one dollar for spilling 25 gallons of manure into public waters. The MN Pollution Control Agency levied a total fine of $10,000 for a 252,000 gallon manure spill by Pater Dairy in Pipestone County, reports the Pioneer Press. The May manure spill closed the Split Rock Creek State Park beach for a period of time. And the manure spill is not the only violation by the large dairy operation:

The 660-head dairy also included a nearby dry cow feedlot, which increased the total number of animal units there beyond the threshold for requiring state and federal operating permits for large feedlots. The dairy has 60 days to decide whether to seek a permit or to reduce the number of animals.

While the MPCA is assessing the cost of manure spills in Pipestone County, and dragging its feet on cleaning up the big Excel Dairy mess near Thief River Falls, Congress is looking at subsidies for dairy producers. MPR quotes Congressmember Bernie Sanders of Vermont:

The goal is to get the money into the pockets of family-based dairy farmers all over this country who are fighting right now for their survival.

But the devil is in the details of the bill, and large producers have heavy clout. An earlier version of the bill directed that most of the $350 million would go to the Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC, program, which caps benefits after the first three million gallons of milk — “the annual output of perhaps 200 cows,” according to MPR. Objections by Big Dairy, both in California and elsewhere led to a “compromise” that lifts restrictions and leaves allocation decisions for $290 million to the Secretary of Agriculture.

World/National News

Senate Finance Committee says no to public option Committee chair Max Baucus, joined by other conservative Democrats, succeeded in voting down two public option proposals put forward by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Shumer of New York in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. Baucus claims that no public option will be able to get the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate and get to a vote in the Senate. (Other bills – notably the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 – eventually passed, despite filibusters.)

House Democrats, however, say that they will insist on a public option. That sets the stage for working out differences between House and Senate bills in conference committee. And what happens if Republicans in the Senate still refuse to allow a vote on the bill that comes out of the conference committee? They could hold up passage – and all Senate business – for a long time, but that would show them as the obstructionists they are, continually invoking quorum calls and using legislative maneuvering to block healthcare reform backed by a majority of the Senate, the House and the American people.

It might not come to that. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said on a radio show that a public option bill can pass in the Senate:

“I believe we’ll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor,” Harkin later added. “But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option.” …
“Bring it out there, let’s vote on it.”

State Department officer visits Cuba Bisa Williams, an acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, became the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Cuba since 2002, according to the New York Times. Her five-day-plus visit this week was officially slated as a discussion of resuming mail deliveries between the two countries, but also signaled a less-hostile stance on the part of the Obama administration.

“While neither side is saying what was discussed,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, “I believe that the president has authorized these talks because he has a plan for bridging the chasm between Cuba and the United States that has existed for 50 years.

Earlier this year, the administration also lifted some limits on remittances by Cuban-Americans to relatives on the island and eased travel restrictions strictly limiting family visits, which were imposed by the Bush administration.

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