Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota lawmakers approve a new office of restorative justice for youth

A woman in a blue shirt smiles in front of a gray background.
Malaika Eban is Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center, a non-profit law firm based in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Malaika Eban

A public safety bill heads to Governor Tim Walz’s desk after lawmakers in the Minnesota House of Representatives passed it just after midnight. The governor tweeted Tuesday morning that he planned to sign the bill into law.

Like other big spending packages lawmakers have been debating as the session grinds to an end, it is a collection of funding and policy proposals, including new gun restrictions and money for courts.

Legal Rights Center Executive Director Malaika Eban joined MPR News guest host Emily Bright to talk about efforts to improve the state’s juvenile justice system — among them, a new state office to promote restorative justice programs for young people.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.

Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] (SINGING) One, two, three, four.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

EMILY BRIGHT: It's Minnesota Now. I'm Emily Bright in for Cathy Wurzer. A public safety bill is headed to Governor Tim Walz's desk, and it includes efforts to improve the juvenile justice system. The bill will create a new state office. We'll learn more.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

A trash incinerator in downtown Minneapolis keeps the lights on in the North Loop, but under a new renewable energy law it's no longer considered clean energy, putting its future up in the air. More on that. And with the warmer weather, allergies are out in full force. A doctor tells us the science behind allergies and how we can feel better. All that, and of course, the song of the day, and the Minnesota Music Minute all coming your way after the news.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

LAKSHMI SINGH: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Lakshmi Singh. President Biden meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other congressional leaders this afternoon in an effort to work out a deal to avoid a default on the nation's debt. Here's NPR'S Asma Khalid.

ASMA KHALID: The White House and Republicans have been at a standoff over raising the debt ceiling. Republicans have been demanding major spending cuts. The White House says the obligations to pay down existing debt is a separate issue from the budget. A source familiar with the discussions says potential areas of common ground could include things like permitting reform, but the two sides remain far apart on other issues, such as new work requirements for Medicaid and food assistance. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued a letter yesterday reiterating the urgent need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling or the government could default on its debt as early as June 1st. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: The Treasury Department is announcing sanctions against a top Russian-speaking cyber criminal. The hacker is well known on dark website forums for breaking into systems and selling access for ransomware attacks. NPR'S Jenna McLaughlin has details.

JENNA MCLAUGHLIN: The US government has frequently criticized Russia for failing to prosecute cyber criminals operating from within their borders. One key example is a Russian-speaking hacker who commonly goes by the username Wazawaka, and who has been exploiting systems and selling his services on dark website forums for years. One example was the breach of Washington DC's Metropolitan Police Department. Brian Krebs, an independent cybersecurity journalist, was the first in January 2022 to reveal the hacker's real name, Mikhail Matveev. Now, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has added Matveev to its list of specially designated nationals, putting cyber related sanctions on his accounts. Now, it will likely be harder for him to travel. Jenna McLaughlin, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: The Department of Justice says it is charging a former Apple engineer with attempting to steal autonomous systems technology. Matt Olson, who leads the DOJ's National Security Division says the stolen code is alleged to be trade secrets used by US companies to develop self-driving cars and advanced automotive manufacturing equipment.

MATT OLSON: These cases demonstrate the breadth and complexity of the threats we face as well as what is at stake.

LAKSHMI SINGH: According to an April indictment unsealed today, the suspect, Weibao Wang took a US-based job with a Chinese company in 2017 a year after he was hired by Apple. Officials say the former Apple engineer fled to China shortly after federal agents searched his home in 2018 and uncovered large quantities of Apple-related data. The Dow is down nearly 200 points, a roughly half a percent. It's NPR News.

SPEAKER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. Other contributors include Bank of America offering access to resources and digital tools designed to help local to global companies make moves for their businesses. Learn more at bankofamerica.com/bankingforbusiness.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

EMILY BRIGHT: Around Minnesota it's warm with sun filtered through smoke across parts of Northern and Central Minnesota. Smoke blowing in from Canadian wildfires has triggered an air quality alert for a swath stretching from Duluth and Hinckley West to Detroit Lakes and Morris. The air is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups this afternoon. Much of the state today will reach the low to mid-80s. Cooler near Lake Superior. At noon, it's a sunny 70 degrees in Rochester, 59 in Grand Marais, and outside the Anne Bickle Heritage House in Glenwood, Minnesota it's 72 degrees.

I'm Emily Bright with these Minnesota news headlines. The Minnesota River in Mankato has risen nearly two feet in the past day as the river heads for second crest this spring. Torrential rains over the past week have filled the Minnesota River Valley with the river still relatively high from the spring snowmelt. The river is expected to crest in Mankato in the next few days up about 12 feet from last week. Craig Schmidt is with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen and says the warmer weather should moderate the flooding compared to earlier in the spring.

CRAIG SCHMIDT: These will be less for a number of reasons. Of course, we don't have any frost in the ground. We're now greening up, so you're seeing all the trees and grasses are growing. So they're helping to pull moisture out of the soil. So it'll retreat fairly quickly because of all the growth and everything that's going on right now.

EMILY BRIGHT: Still, the storm runoff is expected to push up river levels in Saint Paul by as much as six feet in the next week prolonging the closure of riverside roads and parks. Minnesota lawmakers are primed to make a big financial push on electric vehicle charging stations to unlock federal aid. A top lawmaker on transportation issues says a not quite final funding package will include $13 million. It would leverage about five times that amount in federal money. DFL Senator Scott Dibble says a buildout of charging stations along key corridors will ease range anxiety around electric fueled cars.

SCOTT DIBBLE: 99.9% of your trips are just daily trips around town, to and from work, family, chores, et cetera, and you don't need to worry about these long distance trips very often, but people really do think about and worry about, OK, what about if I were to drive up to Thief River Falls, or Duluth, or down to Albert Lea, and what's going to happen if I run out of juice? And are there electric charging stations along the way? And so this will do a lot to address that concern.

EMILY BRIGHT: The broader transportation funding plan remains hung up over revenue sources to finance long-term road construction.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

A public safety bill is headed to Governor Tim Walz's desk after lawmakers in the Minnesota House of Representatives passed it just after midnight. The governor tweeted this morning that he planned to sign the bill into law. Like other big spending packages that lawmakers have been debating as the session grinds to an end, there's a lot to it, including funding for courts, prisons, and violence prevention.

Today we're going to focus on efforts to improve the juvenile justice system. The bill creates a new state office to promote restorative justice programs for young people. Malaika Eban is the new Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center, a nonprofit law firm based in Minneapolis. And she's here with me now. Hello, Malaika. Welcome.

MALAIKA EBAN: Good afternoon. Thanks so much for having me, Emily.

EMILY BRIGHT: I'm glad you could make it. So for those who aren't familiar, briefly, what is restorative justice?

MALAIKA EBAN: Absolutely. So restorative practices, restorative justice is a way of thinking about repairing harm and deepening relationships between community members. When used in this context, as we're discussing the youth justice system, what we're talking about is ways of intervening when young people have broken the law or created harm in communities. That's really centered on finding solutions to their needs, but also to the broader community, victims, and as well as other folks who are involved.

EMILY BRIGHT: Thanks. So I wanted to talk to you about a Star Tribune investigation that found that since the 1990s, the state has shifted away from punishment toward rehabilitation for juveniles overall. And their report found that many of the nonprofit programs responsible for that rehabilitation are underfunded and with poor oversight. Does that ring true for you?

MALAIKA EBAN: There is absolutely a need for deepened investment in restorative practices, especially community-based programming across the state. The Star Tribune investigation and a lot of data that we know, both from speaking to community practitioners and from young people as well, is that, depending on where you live in the state, even depending on where you live in the metro area, your access to restorative practices varies greatly.

EMILY BRIGHT: Mm.

MALAIKA EBAN: And so we're really excited that the state has the opportunity to invest now and moving forward in this state level Office of Restorative Practices to help address this.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah, do you think that creating this state office and providing more funding will fix this problem?

MALAIKA EBAN: Absolutely. The way that this office has been structured as it's outlined in the bill is really exciting and really rings true to some of the core principles of restorative practices, which is, ultimately, that it really needs to be community driven. And so, while this office will have oversight and have funding, the idea, really, is that it's Investments in local jurisdictions to develop their own programs.

And so the community themselves and juvenile justice stakeholders can come together at each local level and determine where are these resources best allocated? Is it prevention? Is it after harm has occurred? Is it as a form of diversion from the court system? Only really local communities know that, but this office will have a major line of sight to be able to see what's happening across the state and share learnings amongst programs as well.

EMILY BRIGHT: In your experience, what makes restorative justice work?

MALAIKA EBAN: Certainly, for young people, restorative justice just makes sense because it is the way that-- it taps into the way that young people learn and what adolescent development tells us they need in order to move on from mistakes that they've made or poor choices that they've made. Restorative practices are really about centering on relationships. And what we know, from working with young people, anyone who has ever talked to a teenager, knows they are much more driven and focused on their relationships with peers or trusted adults, more than just following a simple rule. And so using restorative practices to really tap into the strength of relationships that young people already have and creating new and more positive relationships if they don't have them is really the best form of accountability. It's in those opportunities to talk with other people who care about them to come face to face with people who have been impacted by the harm that they've created. That's really where change happens much more than continuing to rely on punitive solutions.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah, absolutely. So how do you measure success?

MALAIKA EBAN: There is actually a lot of robust research on how restorative practices, programs can be evaluated and can continue to grow there is an Institute within the University of Minnesota, who's been researching restorative practices, programs across the state for years. And so we look at some traditional measures, young people's well-being indicators, connection to resources. We do use some of those more traditional justice system metrics around recidivism, but often, too, what we really focus on is the perceptions of the people who are involved in those processes. The young people themselves, their caregivers, victims who might be a part of programming as well, really, to individualize the evaluation to see is what we're doing right now this intervention and the plan we've created for this youth, is it working. And if not, then how do we continue to adapt and change, so that we can find what works best for them.

EMILY BRIGHT: Now I have to bring up, especially with violent crimes, victims and their families often want to see stricter penalties for the person who hurt them, even when that person is young. I know there's always this tension between retribution and rehabilitation in the justice system. So what do you say to people whose lives have been changed, who are angry, who want to see retribution?

MALAIKA EBAN: It is really a tough balance. We know that young people can and do create really big harm in our communities. And ultimately, restorative practices can be a solution and provide what people need.

In restorative processes, we always start by asking the people involved, what is it that you want. And sometimes, yes, what we do hear is retribution. But ultimately, our youth justice system in Minnesota is intentionally designed to be focused on rehabilitation because there is this underlying belief, both as a value, but also as a vision, that what young people need is an opportunity to change and grow. And that no young person in Minnesota is irredeemable.

And so you know, I think that there are countless stories of people, especially people who've been impacted by harm, who have been reluctant to go through a process or to be in deeper relationship with that young person who created that harm, but ultimately come out through it with a deeper connection and more closure and more well-being as a result. And so continuing to hold the truth of the harm that has been created is very real, but we also want people to imagine, if it was their kid, what they would want, and ultimately, think of what they need, what they might want, and down the road.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah, one final question-- we could talk about this for so long, but another piece of the public safety bill creates a program that will allow adults to cut 17% off their sentences for participating in education and mental health programs. Now, critics call it a get out of jail free card. They said it would threaten public safety. What are your thoughts on this?

MALAIKA EBAN: Absolutely. The MRRA, as it's called, the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act, is really just about thinking more intentionally and wiser about our investment in public safety. It's a major opportunity to get people who have earned the right to be released back into our communities and get them opportunities to really plug back into the supportive resources that ultimately keep us all safe. The plan would create individualized plans for each person. And I think it's a really good investment. As a community, we are excited about the bill being passed and are looking for strong implementation of the initial vision of the act. The commissioner has said that this won't be implemented for a few years now.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK.

MALAIKA EBAN: And that means that there are going to be thousands of people who are just continuing to stay in our jails and wait. So we're hoping that the implementation moves quicker.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK, there's so much more we could talk about. Thank you for your time, Malaika. I appreciate your expertise.

MALAIKA EBAN: Thanks for having me.

EMILY BRIGHT: We've been talking with Malaika Eban, Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center, a non-profit law firm based in Minneapolis.

[MUSIC - AVA LEVY, "NOT UR CLOWN"]

It's time for a Minnesota Music Minute. This is Minneapolis musician, Ava Levy, with her single, "Not Ur Clown."

(SINGING) My screams went unheard. My mind unobserved. You clawed your way out. I was bored. I'm alone now.

Upside your down. I'll still be your clown unraveled and worn. Split me into what I'm for. Naked and hungry on the floor. I'm not--

What a lovely sound she has. 12:18, this is Minnesota Now. I'm Emily Bright in for Cathy Wurzer. The hazy sunshine and patchy smoke from Canadian wildfires that spread across a swath of central Minnesota this afternoon has triggered an air quality alert for sensitive groups today. It's a forecast that puts the air we breathe very top of mind, but even with clear skies, this time of year can lead to misery for people with seasonal allergies.

Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen is a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic and host of the podcast Millennial Health. She joins me now to explain how allergies work and what people can do to mitigate their symptoms. Dr. Allen, welcome back to Minnesota Now.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

EMILY BRIGHT: So tell me, what are some signs that you could be experiencing seasonal allergies?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: The people who have it, they know.

EMILY BRIGHT: I know.

[LAUGHTER]

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: So that stuffy or runny nose, those itchy, watery eyes, this congestion, some people even have really bad headaches, honestly, the sneezing, some people get rashes or hives. And then one of the worst ones for individuals who have asthma, they have aggravated asthma symptoms.

EMILY BRIGHT: Is there any way to know if someone is experiencing allergies versus a cold or COVID-19? I know that's certainly been an issue the last couple of years.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Yes, because so many of the symptoms overlap, right? But with allergies, you will not have a fever, so that's a big one--

EMILY BRIGHT: OK.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: --with COVID, or influenza, or-- so you'll more than likely have a fever, at some point. And people with allergies, it's they know they have allergies, so it's a history. You know, they're like, every spring, doc, I go through this, or I can--

EMILY BRIGHT: Mm-hmm.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: This is what I get in clinic, yeah.

EMILY BRIGHT: Are allergies genetic?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: So the tendency to develop allergies is often hereditary, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're destined to get it because your parents had it.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK, when do people usually develop allergies, and do they change with age?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Yes, so that varies. So one of the really big things are exposures, right? So the things that are causing these symptoms in the first place and in Minnesota versus grass pollen, tree pollen, which is what we're dealing with right now, and weed pollen, the most common here being ragweed-- and so exposures to those allergens, I think, is a big, in terms of the timing. But as we get older, our bodies change, and so does our immune system. So this is your immune system almost overreacting. The people who have allergies would not say it's overreacting, but it is your immune system, essentially, causing a really big reaction to something that's essentially harmless, right? So your body changes and your immune system changes with time. So you may lose your tolerance to potential allergens, but you may also build immunity to things that used to bother you.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, that's positive to hear. One of my producers wanted to know, why are allergies worse on some days than others?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Because of the way in which it spreads, right? So you have to think it's easily spread when it's hot out, it's dry, and it's windy, right, for that pollen to blow. And so those days are really bad days. So that's when keeping track of the pollen count--

EMILY BRIGHT: Mm-hmm.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: --on your weather app is probably going to be helpful for those with really bad allergies.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah, that's a really handy app, so it's certainly unpleasant, but are spring allergies ever dangerous?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: They're not pleasant, and they can be quite a nuisance to deal with, but very rarely does it become a life-threatening issue for most people, but it truly is uncomfortable and unpleasant for most.

EMILY BRIGHT: So anecdotally, I've heard some say it feels like allergy season is getting worse or at least longer due to climate change. Have you noticed that?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Ooh, that's the million dollar question.

EMILY BRIGHT: Try to get one of those in each interview.

[LAUGHTER]

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Good one. Good one. I do have a lot more patients, who, honestly, come in, and they've been feeling a little more miserable this year, quite frankly, but I don't know if I could say if that's the case or not.

EMILY BRIGHT: So do you have any tips for allergy sufferers to help mitigate their allergy symptoms?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Yes, I do. All right. So the first, you absolutely need an app to help you keep track of the pollen count. Like, this is limit exposure. You've got to limit your exposure. And then you've got to keep the trees around your home trimmed, keep the grass short, and the lawn free of weeds. so the areas directly related to your home, you want to decrease the amount of pollen that can be released in your direct environment. So that's why that's helpful. I know we are all so happy to be out of our mask, but believe it or not, they do help--

EMILY BRIGHT: Mm-hmm.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: So if you are really struggling with allergies and it's a matter of going outside or not going outside, I think the mask will be helpful. And then consider keeping your windows closed and maybe using the air conditioner, if you must, to keep, again, the pollen from getting in. And you may need to consider a filter in your home, depending on how much this impacts you.

EMILY BRIGHT: Those are all really, helpful clear ideas. What should people do if they think they might be allergic to something new?

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: So you want to at least give it-- so as long as it's not a life-threatening allergy, right, so your throat isn't closing, you're not drooling uncontrollably, your tongue isn't getting swollen, and you're have a difficulty breathing, right, those are issues that you go straight to the emergency department or you call 911. So if it's not a life-threatening issue, and you just have the runny nose, the watery eyes, all the annoying things, I think can try some over-the-counter treatment. So things like nasal saline rinses, even antihistamines, and there are many different brands out there, and even eye drops can be really helpful too. So I think that's at least worth trying if it's not a life-threatening issue.

EMILY BRIGHT: And so I wanted to talk before you go about allergy tests that you can get done at the doctor's office or I know there are other versions too. How helpful are those? And yeah.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Yes, they can definitely be helpful. The truth is, the average person, honestly, doesn't need allergy testing. I think, the average person, your symptoms will be fairly well controlled with the antihistamines, the saline nasal rinses, and the eye drops. And this is my spiel in clinic for all of my patients who come in with this, but if we're getting to the point that we have a life-threatening allergies, and now we're moving out of the seasonal allergy realm, right? These are food allergies or medication allergies, then I think there's a real role here for allergy testing. And your primary care doctor can refer you to an allergist for that.

EMILY BRIGHT: Gotcha. Well Dr. Jay, I know you're busy. Thank you for your time.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: Yes. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

EMILY BRIGHT: Take care.

JAY-SHEREE ALLEN: OK.

EMILY BRIGHT: Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen is a physician at Mayo Clinic and host of the podcast Millennial Health.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Support comes from By the Yard, sustainable outdoor furniture made in Minnesota. Furniture you can enjoy all year round as it's built to last through all weather. Dining sets, Adirondacks and more available at their retail stores or bytheyard.net.

EMILY BRIGHT: Let's check in now with John Wanamaker for a news update. Hi, John.

JOHN WANAMAKER: Hi, Emily. All eyes on the White House, where President Biden is expected to meet with congressional leaders this afternoon as time runs out to reach a deal on the national debt limit. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said that the US could run out of money to pay its bills in as little. As two weeks Republicans are seeking large spending cuts, and the GOP controlled House passed a bill last month that rolls back several aspects of President Biden's green energy legislation.

Adding to the pressure, President Biden is scheduled to leave for Japan tomorrow to attend the Group of Seven meeting. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine. That's according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who says he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend. And they each agreed to host an African leader's peace mission in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively.

The head of the artificial intelligence company that makes ChatGPT told Congress today that government intervention, quote, will be critical to mitigate the risk of increasingly powerful AI systems. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman testified at a Senate hearing that he supported the formation of a US or global agency that would license the most powerful AI systems and have the authority to ensure compliance with safety standards. His San Francisco-based startup released ChatGPT late last year. Lawmakers expressed concerns about the ability of the latest crop of generative AI tools to mislead people, spread falsehoods, violate copyright protections, and upend the job market.

The police chief in Farmington, New Mexico says it appears an 18-year-old man, who shot and killed three people and wounded six others, fired at random as he roamed a neighborhood. The man was killed Monday within minutes of officers responding to the report of shots fired. A Farmington police officer was wounded, treated at a hospital, and released. A state police officer also was wounded and remains hospitalized in stable condition.

The police chief, Steve Hebbe says it appears the man fired at least three weapons, including an AR styled rifle as he roamed a quarter mile through that neighborhood, randomly shooting at homes and cars. Police are trying to discover a motive. This is NPR News.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, thank you, John. It's 12:28. I'm Emily Bright in for Cathy Wurzer, and this is Minnesota Now. Thanks for joining us.

Well, you can thank trash for keeping the lights on in Minneapolis' North Loop. An incinerator there called the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, known colloquially as the HERC, has been burning trash to create steam since the late 1980s. That makes energy for its neighbor Target Field in some of the neighborhood.

But under a new Minnesota law, the HERC is no longer considered renewable energy, and that puts its future in flux. Andrew Hazzard is an environmental reporter for the Sahan Journal, and he's been following that story. Andrew, thanks for being here.

ANDREW HAZZARD: Thank you for having me.

EMILY BRIGHT: So how does a facility like the HERC work, and what sets it apart from an ordinary landfill?

ANDREW HAZZARD: So the HERC is what's called a waste-to-energy incinerator. Basically, the HERC burns trash, so local trash companies, cities, they will bring massive amounts of dump trucks full of trash into the HERC. The HERC will then gather all this trash and kind of pick it up using this big crane thing that sort of looks like a pick a stuffed animal game at an arcade, bring it over, and burn it. And by burning that trash, you create a lot of steam. Using that steam, that can be used to heat things. It can also be used to be converted into energy. As you mentioned, the HERC powers Target Field. It also supplies enough energy for about 25,000 homes. But by burning that trash, you also create a number of pollutants. So the main difference between a real landfill is that the volume of the waste immediately gets reduced, right? But by doing that, you are burning plastic, and food waste, and, whatever and that sends particles into the air, which cause concern for a lot of people.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah. How much energy does a facility like this create compared to other forms of renewable energy?

ANDREW HAZZARD: It does not create that much energy in the relative sense. This creates enough energy for about 25,000 homes. This would not be anything close to what you might see out of like a traditional power plant, or a large wind farm, or anything like that. It's a relatively minor part of its overall value. The county really sees this as a waste management tool, and energy producing is secondary to that.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK, so is there any advantage to an incinerator over a landfill, environmentally?

ANDREW HAZZARD: That is actually a question that is well up for debate. Right now, the EPA is revising what is called its waste hierarchy. It's kind of like a food pyramid type situation, but for how bad is this solution for the environment to manage our trash, if that makes any sense.

EMILY BRIGHT: Mm-hmm.

ANDREW HAZZARD: So there is kind of a split difference on this. Landfills can be bad. They produce methane. They can potentially contaminate groundwater, if they're not properly contained. Incinerators produce these airborne pollutions, and then they also produce this highly concentrated toxic ash, which does, in fact, need to be landfilled, though in a far smaller volume.

And basically, incinerators were seen as this way to get toward energy independence during the peaks of the late 1970s. And this was one of the solutions that was proposed. In recent years, that's been relooked at with the knowledge that we have about air pollution. And so now, it's sort of up for debate, but it's a bit of a who's the tallest person in Munchkinland situation, where there's no real winners there for the environment.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK, so refresh us on that carbon-free energy bill Governor Walz signed in February. What's inside that bill?

ANDREW HAZZARD: So a number of things are inside the 100 Percent by 2040 clean energy bill. One of them is provision that no longer lists the HERC as renewable energy source. Minnesota has seven incinerators in the state. They're all waste-to-energy facilities. They were all previously subject to renewable energy, which means they could have renewable energy credits.

The Minneapolis delegation in the legislature has fought for years to take the HERC off of that list, other incinerators as well, but they included a provision that said incinerators in an environmental justice community as determined by income levels and diversity statistics would no longer be considered renewable energy. Therefore, the HERC is no longer considered a source of renewable energy. And that's important because experts say that brings it more in line with reality, right? Like, renewable energy comes from water power. It comes from wind power. It comes from solar power. It comes from these things that keep on giving. Burning trash, which is mostly plastic scraps, or food waste, that sort of thing, that's a really hard sell as a renewable form of energy.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah, so it sounds like the HERC was singled out in the bill because of its location. Is that correct?

ANDREW HAZZARD: That is correct, yes.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK.

ANDREW HAZZARD: This has been something that environmental justice advocates in Minneapolis and in the Twin Cities area have fought against for a very long time. And basically, they were able to get this provision included in this bill.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah, I want to get to that environmental pushback. So what are the concerns of the people who live around this facility who are pushing against it?

ANDREW HAZZARD: Well, the concerns are that it's a major producer of different pollution sources, including carbon dioxide, including nitrogen, including mercury, including lead, and when these substances go into the air and we breathe them in, they can have negative impacts on our health. They lead to increases in asthma, increases in heart disease. And there are neighborhoods that are adjacent to the HERC on the north side of Minneapolis that have high numbers of low income residents, high numbers of residents of color in those neighborhoods, also have some of the highest occurrences of asthma in the state and other pollution-related diseases. And so that's a big concern. That this is a pollution source that is close to these areas that is contributing to people, who are already disproportionately bearing the burdens of pollution.

EMILY BRIGHT: Have there been pushes over the years to reduce the amount of pollution they emit?

ANDREW HAZZARD: Yes, there have been. There has been several fights over the HERC, really, since it started in the late 1980s. And to be fair, they do have procedures in place. They have filters in place to try and mitigate the amount of pollution that is coming out of the HERC. There are a number of techniques that the county uses to try and, basically, filter out some of these particles. But at the end of the day, it is still a polluting facility. And it is still a source of concern for many people in the area.

EMILY BRIGHT: So what does that mean for its continued operation?

ANDREW HAZZARD: Well, right now things are a little bit in flux. Hennepin County is currently working through a zero waste plan. Basically, a plan to get the state's largest county to divert 90% of its waste from landfills and incinerators, right? And so the goal is to recycle more, recycle better, to do more organics recycling and composting.

EMILY BRIGHT: Mm-hmm.

ANDREW HAZZARD: But there are also changes that will need to be made that are far outside of the county's control, such as different packaging laws, cultural changes in how much that we consume in this country, and how we consume, and how we throw stuff away. But what's happening with the HERC right now is the question of whether this 2040 law sort of creates a deadline for the HERC. And right now, the county has been very hesitant to put any sort of official deadline, or plan to officially phase out the HERC, or close the HERC in the near future. That has not happened yet.

I did hear from Hennepin County Board chair Irene Fernando, who represents this area, that she expects to be able to announce something about future plans for the HERC within the year. But this is a big question, and this is a facility that manages 45% of the waste in Hennepin County. And so I think they want to have a sure plan in place because no one wants to be the politician--

EMILY BRIGHT: Right.

ANDREW HAZZARD: --who's responsible for any kind of trash backup or build up in their communities.

EMILY BRIGHT: Andrew, this has been a fascinating conversation. Thank you for your time.

ANDREW HAZZARD: Thank you very much for having me.

EMILY BRIGHT: Andrew Hazzard is an environmental reporter for the Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota. You can read his reporting at sahanjournal.com.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

It's that time of the show when we throw open the doors to DJs around the state to share a little music with us. Today's song of the day on Minnesota Now comes from KMOJ general manager and DJ, Freddie Bell. Let's see what he has for us today.

FREDDIE BELL: Harry Belafonte the award-winning entertainer, who fueled an international Calypso craze in the 1950s, with his version of "The Banana Boat Song," and whose long career in show business paralleled his offstage role as a civil rights activist and globetrotting humanitarian has died in New York. He squeezed so much into his decades-long career that it was difficult to fathom it all. He passed away as a result of congestive heart failure.

There are so many favorite songs from Harry Belafonte. His 1956 album, Calypso, which included "Jamaica Farewell and "Day-O," his version of "The Banana Boat Song," was the first album to sell one million copies and chart at number one for a staggering 31 weeks. And here it is right now.

[MUSIC - HARRY BELAFONTE, "DAY-O (THE BANANA BOAT SONG)"]

(SINGING) Day-o, day-o, daylight come, and we want to go home. Day, is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day-o. Daylight come and we want go home. Work all night on a drink of rum.

Daylight come and we want to go home.

Stack banana 'til the morning come.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Come Mr. tally man, tally me banana.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Come Mr. tally man, tally me banana.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Lift 6 foot, 7 foot, 8 foot bunch. Daylight come and we want go home. 6 foot, 7 foot, 8 foot bunch. Daylight come and we want go home.

Day is a day-o.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Day is a day, is a day, is a day.

Daylight come and we want go home.

A beautiful bunch of ripe banana.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Hide the deadly black tarantula.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Lift 6 foot, 7 foot, 8 foot bunch.

Daylight come and we want go home.

6 foot, 7 foot, 8 foot bunch. Daylight come and we want go home.

Day is a day-o.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Day is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day--

Daylight come and we want go home.

Come Mr. tally man, tally me banana.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Come Mr. tally man, tally me banana.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Day-o, day-o.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Day is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day-o.

Daylight come and we want go home.

Harry Belafonte with "Day-O," who passed away too soon at the age of 96. From 6 'til 9, mornings on KMOJ FM, I'm Freddie Bell.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.

Volume Button
Volume
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News