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Commentary: Don't ignore big burning issue

It was a pleasure to walk to City Hall last month and see solar panels being installed. And, unlike many nuclear plant "host communities," Red Wing actively objects to the growing, and seemingly permanent, storage of spent nuclear fuel within our city limits.

Red Wing has a diverse and talented council, a capable staff and quite a few good things going that residents can be proud of.

So why does Red Wing have so much trouble getting "garbage" right?

The city's 2014 lobbying agenda includes opposing "bottle bill" container deposit programs. Why? Red Wing should encourage, not oppose, increased recycling.

The city also plans to lobby for more metro garbage to be burned in Red Wing. We have two — or three, depending on how they are counted — garbage burners in Red Wing. The city-owned incinerator is obsolete and deteriorated -- the city admits it’s unfit to be used, and has shut it down. (Thank you!)

Xcel burns ground-up garbage in two converted coal units dating from the 1940s, using an air emissions permit that expired in 2009. Xcel's dirty old burners and expired permit means more health-damaging emissions than would be allowed for a new garbage burner.

Should the council hire a lobbyist to bring more garbage to Red Wing, to be burned in old incinerators with expired permits, exposing us to more lead, arsenic, mercury, particulates and other health-damaging pollutants, plus more traffic and diesel exhaust from trucks hauling in the garbage?

It's hard to imagine a worse idea, but read on:

The city and Xcel are also working on a Renewable Development Fund grant to buy Red Wing a garbage grinder so Xcel can burn even more garbage in Red Wing. The city would grind the garbage, Xcel would burn it, and we would all breathe the fumes together.

Ironically, the Renewable Development Fund is money paid in by Xcel in proportion to the amounts of nuclear waste (mostly spent fuel) it stores in Red Wing and Monticello. This highly radioactive waste is piling up with nowhere else to go.

So, Xcel is offering Red Wing increasing amounts of both nuclear waste and garbage incinerator ash and pollution. Is this how to make Red Wing a more desirable place to live and work? Talking greenness and "sustainability" is no substitute for the real thing.

Rep. Tim Kelly and Sen. Matt Schmit — shamefully — both wrote letters supporting this garbage grinder grant — letters almost identical to one written by the head of the Minnesota state incinerator lobby (read them yourself here: Perhaps Tim and Matt need more practice in thinking for themselves?

While spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars per year promoting and subsidizing incineration, a harmful activity, the city has cut library hours, stopped its newsletter, and curtailed other beneficial activities and services.

Now, and not for the first time, the city is promoting a "flow control" ordinance aimed at requiring all the garbage collected in Goodhue County to be hauled to Red Wing for grinding and burning.

Such a garbage monopoly would further increase incinerator pollution in Red Wing, would raise garbage disposal costs all over the county, and likely would harm existing businesses such as Gibson Sanitation in Cannon Falls and P.I.G. in Hager City.

Why should the entire county subsidize Red Wing's bad judgment?

Incineration is always harmful, not only to our air, water and land, but to government — it's an evil industry that pollutes our politics and warps officials' judgment.

Hennepin County has recently withdrawn a request to burn more garbage in downtown Minneapolis because residents organized and made it an election issue. Instead, Minneapolis will be asked to increase recycling.

Dumping and burning are not the answer in 2014. Red Wing needs to grow up, forget about incineration and focus on ramping up recycling rates which can, no doubt, be doubled.

Let’s make Red Wing a good example instead of a bad example.