NEWS DAY | Coal loses, from Big Stone to Ashland / MN tops nation in civic participation / Two more reasons to go veggie / Visiting Burma

vote_thumbElections today! Today is the day! For information on where to find your polling place in Minnesota, click here. For information on Ranked Choice Voting in Minneapolis, click here. For articles about specific races, click here.

Coal loses, from Big Stone to Ashland The Star Tribune reports that developers of the $1.6 billion, coal-powered, Big Stone II power plant in South Dakota have abandoned the project.

Developers had obtained all the necessary permits, but were not able to line up financing. Some also expressed concern that future federal regulations, though they claimed that the overall effect of building Big Stone II would reduce pollution, because it would also mean improvements to the existing coal-fired plant. Developers said increased capacity was needed to meet increased electricity demand, but they were not able to sell the plant’s lanned output.

Mark Hanson, a Montana-Dakota spokesman, said the plant’s output had been scaled back to about 550 megawatts. The remaining partners had agreed to take about 350 megawatts, but other takers for the remaining 200 megawatts could not be found on short notice, Hanson said.

Environmentalists had opposed the project, pointing to contributions of coal to global warming, reports MPR, despite the claims of industry that new industry practices reduce the environmental harm with “clean coal” or “cleaner coal.”

Coal-burning power plants remain a major source of air pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average coal-fired power plant produces 2,249 pounds of carbon dioxide, 13 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and six pounds of nitrogen oxides for each megawatt hour of electricity.

In another energy-related story, the Pioneer Press reports that Xcel Energy has been given the go-ahead to convert a coal-fired plant in Ashland, Wisconsin to biomass gasification technology.

Converting the last remaining boiler from coal to wood would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter, according to Xcel.

The Bay Front plant is expected to use tree harvest leftovers, such as treetops, logging slash and damaged or underused trees, Xcel said.

We’re No. 1 Minnesota leads the nation in civic engagement, according to America’s Civic Health Index, a project of the National Conference on Citizenship, reports MPR. The report is based on a survey of participation in volunteering, neighborhood participation, charitable giving and other civic activities, as well as voting. Minnesota has led the nation in voter turnout from 2004-2008. Among the measures:

– About 60 percent of Minnesotans donated at least $25 to charitable organizations (ranking third nationally).

– About 60 percent of Minnesotans volunteered (ranking fourth nationally).

– About 38 percent of Minnesotans participated in regular or sustained volunteering from 2006 through 2008 (ranking third nationally).

Two more reasons to go veggie One more ground beef e-coli story: AP reports that the Centers for Disease Control found  contaminated ground beef responsible for two deaths and 28 illnesses. The ground beef in question came from Fairbank Farms of Ashville, N.Y.

Fairbank Farms recalled almost 546,000 pounds of fresh ground beef that had been distributed in September to stores from North Carolina to Maine. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recall notice, dated Saturday, said the possibly tainted meat had been sold in numerous ways, from meatloaf and meatball mix to hamburger patties.

For a longer story about ground beef dangers, see October’s New York Times report.

Another AP story today focuses on mistreatment of animals in a Vermont slaughterhouse:

A Vermont slaughterhouse ordered closed Friday after video showed calves kicked, shocked and cut while conscious had its operating license suspended three times earlier this year for similar conduct.

Don’t read this story at the breakfast table.

Burma: Engagement? The U.S. policy of engagement in Burma (Myanmar) has sent two high-ranking diplomats for a two-day visit. They will talk with both government and opposition representatives, including a meeting with jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. NPR reports:

The United States has long imposed tough political and economic sanctions meant to force Myanmar’s generals to respect human rights, release imprisoned political activists and make democratic reforms.

Washington has said it will maintain the sanctions until talks with Myanmar’s generals result in change.

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962, and Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. She was elected Prime Minister in 1990, but the military did not allow her to take office. BBC quoted opposition leaders:

“We see this visit as the start of direct engagement between the US and Burma government,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD), told AFP news agency.

“But we do not expect the exact and big change from this meeting. This visit is just a first stage.”

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