Gubernatorial candidates must think about energy

As the elections are only two weeks away, newly-elected politicians will soon be faced with big decisions on the environment and energy. One year from now, the Prairie Island nuclear power plant will have run out of storage space for its spent fuel rods. Coal is poisoning the state’s soil and waterways. As foreign oil prices rise, biodiesel and biomass power could become a new source of revenue and money-savings for Minnesota.

Since the Yucca Mountain project won’t be complete for years, the state will have to find somewhere else to put the radioactive waste piling up in the backyard of the Prairie Island nuclear power plant. The easy solution is to let the plant hold onto more waste, but the limit was not set arbitrarily; it was set with a view to the maximum risk the area can bear.

Furthermore, in the current world climate, nothing so potentially lethal should ever be left so unprotected. What if the Sept. 11 terrorists had instead aimed at a field of nuclear waste canisters?

Coal, perhaps the most popular source of power in Minnesota or anywhere, is a similarly poor choice. Acid rain has already contaminated too much of the ground and water in Minnesota. Mercury has poisoned some water so much that the fish in it are inedible. In a state where hunting and fishing are so much a part of life, this is unacceptable.

Additionally, coal imported from outside the state costs money that could be kept in state if other methods of power are pursued. Biomass power, for example, usually involves burning plant and animal byproducts, typically at far lower pollution levels than a coal-fired plant. A plant for alfalfa stems was proposed in Granite Falls in 1996; the leaves not burned are valuable as livestock feed or for use in pharmaceuticals. Minnesota farmers could therefore grow the product and use the leavings in a closed loop, keeping all the money in state.

In the same way, more money could be kept in state by growing more plants for biodiesel. Current events indicated the imperative need for the United States to lessen its reliance on foreign oil for fuel, and Minnesota could help this effort while generating additional revenue.

The next crop of state politicians needs to look at new ways to keep money in Minnesota and clean up the environment. Both can be done – and at the same, if politicians are willing to think outside the box.