Some of our most well-known and recent projects…
Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA)
Prairie Island Nuclear Storage
Take Back the Night
Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA)
MPIRG's most famous and most popular issue is its battle to preserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). The state's sole wilderness area, it is a one-million acre area that includes hundreds of pristine lakes and is a remnant of the once-great northern U.S. conifer forests. Beginning in 1972, students petitioned, lobbied, rallied, and, for six years, committed lawyers to defend the BWCA. The litigation revolved around whether the U.S. Forest Service could allow private companies to cut trees in the BWCA without first completing an environmental impact statement (EIS), as required by the newly passed National Environmental Policy Act.
MPIRG's first suit, filed in 1972 in federal district court, quickly won a temporary injunction banning the Forest Service from allowing logging, with its accompanying road building, without first preparing an EIS. The Forest Service appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the decision was upheld. The Forest Service quickly wrote an EIS that, not surprisingly, recommended timber cutting be allowed. Again MPIRG sued, this time alleging an inadequate EIS. Presenting expert witnesses, including a Forest Service scientist, MPIRG was able to prove deficiencies in the EIS, and the judge agreed. Again the Forest Service appealed. By now it was 1976 and this time the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Forest Service. It was MPIRG's turn to appeal, and, securing another temporary injunction, MPIRG requested a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. In late 1978 the appeal was denied and the decision dissolved that injunction.
After six years of litigation, ten thousand pages of legal documents, the sustained efforts of three MPIRG lawyers and six yearly changes in the MPIRG State Board, the legal battle was over. During those six years of legal work, many of Minnesota's citizens had read and heard enough about the BWCA that polls consistently showed the public wanted the BWCA protected. By 1978, when the appeal was denied, MPIRG, with a broad coalition of citizen groups, had formed the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, drafted legislation to create a permanent wilderness area and was lobbying the U.S. Congress in support of it. The bill passed in mid-1979.
MPIRG continues to watchdog the BWCAW. In 1989 MPIRG was one of seven environmental groups that sued the Forest Service to close three motorized portages which violated of the BWCA Wilderness Act. In 1995 and 1996 Congress began debating proposals to reopen the motorized portages, expand motorized travel, exempt resorts from any permitting requirements and place management of the BWCAW under local control.
Polls show overwhelming opposition to these proposals in every region of the state and among all demographic groups, including Northern Minnesotans, hunters, snowmobilers and those who own motorboats. MPIRG has mobilized hundreds of people for public hearings, generated thousands of petition signatures, staged several large demonstrations (including a "21 Canoe Salute"), lobbied Congress directly and signed on as a stake-holder to an alternative dispute resolution process that holds out hope for continued sensible management of the BWCAW.
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Prairie Island Nuclear Storage
In 1991, NSP applied for a permit (certificate of need) from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to store high-level radioactive waste in 48 "dry-casks" at its Prairie Island nuclear plant, located on the bank of the Mississippi River, near Red Wing and the Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe. The facility was scheduled to run out of storage space for its spent fuel in 1995. The administrative process for the permit, however, began in 1989 when NSP agreed to have an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for the project by the Environmental Quality Board.
MPIRG became involved with the proposed project in 1990 and the issue united MPIRG's students and staff in a multi-faceted campaign that became widely regarded as the most significant environmental issue of the 1990s. MPIRG submitted comments on the Draft EIS in 1990 and its argument—that siting a federal repository was no where in sight and that storage therefore had to be considered permanent—became the central issue of the debate.
The first stage of the PUC's administrative proceedings was coordinated by Administrative Law Judge Klein. In 1991, MPIRG began mobilizing opposition to the proposed storage. MPIRG established and staffed the Prairie Island Coalition Against Nuclear Storage, a coalition of the state's 18 leading environmental organizations, and during 1991 and 1992, provided PICANS with research, fundraising assistance and legal representation.
MPIRG conducted the first major survey to measure public opinion on the dry-cask storage technology. (It found overwhelming opposition, 75%, among those students surveyed.). MPIRG also passed resolutions at colleges and universities, collected 8,000 petition signatures, and generated hundreds of letters opposing the request. MPIRG submitted all of this, along with its legal brief, to Judge Klein at a public hearing in St. Paul. In addition, MPIRG had mobilized hundreds to attend the hearing with 137 of 160 people that testified opposing the request.
On April 10, 1992, Judge Klein recommended to the PUC that the permit be denied. He found the facility would not be temporary and a permanent facility must, under legislation passed by MPIRG in 1984, be expressly authorized by the Legislature. Judge Klein found that public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to the project and that the 5,000 plus comments "reflected a degree of rationality and seriousness that warrants giving weight to their statements." MPIRG represented PICANS throughout the PUC's review. On August 10, 1992, the PUC issued its order, overruling Klein's recommendation and granting NSP a limited certificate for a 17-cask facility.
In November, MPIRG appealed the PUC's order to the Court of Appeals which, in 1993, supported Judge Klein's recommendation. The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld this decision, forwarding the issue to the Legislature.
In 1994, MPIRG, as part of the Minnesotans for Nuclear Responsibility coalition, lobbied the Legislature. MPIRG organized a 500 person rally at the State Capitol, including 200 students, early in the session and a 5,000 person Earth Day rally, at the end of the session. Ultimately, the Legislature approved a 17 cask facility, but expressly limited it to 17, implemented a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants and required NSP to plan for a shut down of the plant in 2002 and to make significant investments in renewable energy resources.
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MPIRG conducted its first annual toy safety survey to alert consumers to the perils of defective and hazardous toys in 1972. The report, which received national recognition, was one factor in the Food and Drug Administration's creation of a citizen's board to evaluate toy safety and lead to the eventual passage of the Minnesota Toy Safety Act in 1973—the strongest toy safety bill in the nation.
The report found 234 different toys which were considered dangerous in 41 stores in the Twin Cities. In addition, 11 toys banned some months earlier were still being sold in several stores. As a result of an extensive public awareness campaign, banned and some other dangerous toys were removed from shelves by retailers and in May the FDA seized 12 more. A report later that year found that some dangerous toys had been redesigned or were being sold in fewer numbers, but 26 banned toys were still being sold at 21 stores as well as 250 other dangerous toys.
In 1973, MPIRG filed a lawsuit to compel the federal government to adopt regulations to take unsafe toys off store shelves. This was also a factor in the creation of the FDA citizen board. Discovering the difficulty in trying to force a federal agency to set and enforce safety standards, MPIRG wrote and lobbied successfully for the Minnesota Toy Safety Act which, while generally following federal regulation, put the enforcement power in the state government.
A study was conducted in 1974, using the first list of banned products, to determine compliance with regulations. MPIRG was encouraged to find that only 6 rather than 14 banned toys and only 77 rather than 125 dangerous toys were found, but felt that the state was not using the strong powers it was granted.
Enforcement of toy safety standards improved dramatically in 1978 and 1979 as the state began exercising its powers by developing generic safety standards which MPIRG supported. This allowed for long-range generic standards versus banning on each individual toy which posed a safety threat.
MPIRG has conducted massive consumer research and education campaigns from 1972 to the present. It holds press conferences each year in the Twin Cities and Duluth just before the Thanksgiving Holiday (the busiest shopping day of the season) and receives wide spread media attention.
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Take Back the Night
Starting in 1998, students from MPIRG Twin Cities colleges and universities, along with local community leaders, have worked together to end sexual harassment and violence through Take Back the Night. Take Back the Night strives to unite the diverse voices in the discourse surrounding sexual and domestic violence. Take Back the Night brings people of different ages, cultures, genders, beliefs, national origins and sexual orientations together to unite those who wish to make our relationships and communities healthier and safer, celebrate survivors, demonstrate that violence and exploitation will not be tolerated, provide information about services/support networks available to help victims, and raise awareness of sexual violence and assault on campus and in the Twin Cities.
Significant parts of Take Back the Night:
Rally: The rally happens at the beginning of the evening, and features individuals who speak on the topic of ending violence in the community. Local organizations that work for women’s rights, safety and advocacy are invited to attend and set up a table with information about their services.
March: As part of the worldwide movement to "take back the night," women, men and children walk without fear through the night and reclaim the streets of Minneapolis, which for many are the source of fear and violence.
Celebration: After the march, participants reconvene to celebrate the important act they just carried out, and celebrate the bravery and courage of individuals who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence and now are coming forth as survivors, sharing their stories and forming community. The celebration also features musical performers.
Survivor testimonials: The Speak Out, which occurs during the celebration, serves as a safe place for survivors of sexual violence to come forward with testimonials, often sharing their experiences for the first time.
Past Take Back the Night rallies have featured Patty Wetterling, founder of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, Minneapolis School Board Member Peggy Flannagan, Women’s Activist Sheila Wellstone, State Senator Mee Moua, and State Representative Neva Walker.
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In 2004, MPIRG joined the Voting Rights Coalition, a group of unions, citizen action groups and community organizations to fight any and all efforts to make it more difficult to vote in Minnesota. The Coalition’s goal was to ensure that all citizens who were eligible to vote could do so easily and without intimidation.
In the 2004-2005 legislative session, the legislature passed many of the Coalition’s top priority issues as part of the State Government Finance Omnibus bill, including: requiring challenges to be in writing, under oath and based on personal knowledge, requiring challengers to be MN residents, allowing employees from residential facilities to vouch for residents, allowing Tribal IDs to be used for same-day registration, strengthening the protection of address information, requiring officials in polling places to wear badges indicating their position, clarifying that election judges cannot serve as challengers, clarifying that an election judge's primary responsibility is to conduct a fair and impartial election, not to advocate for their political party, and clarifying the language on voter registration cards and the Voters Bill of Rights related to voting eligibility for people under guardianship and ex-felons.
During the 2005-2006 session, the Coalition again was successful and passed a bill that included the following: Prohibited intentionally deceiving others about the time, date, place or eligibility criteria for an election, clarified that cell phone bills are valid utility bills for same-day registration purposes, ensured that IDs issued by Tribal governments may be used for same-day registration (in combination with a utility bill), instituted an address confidentiality program for battered women and required a post-election audit to verify that electronic ballot counters worked accurately.
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MPIRG began its Fair Trade Campaign in 2004. Students identified that while Free Trade, exemplified by regional trade agreements such as NAFTA, has opened countries up to international trade by eliminating tariffs and trade restrictions, this trade liberalization has resulted in positive results that are seen only by a fortunate few. While multinational corporations experience high levels of profit, farmers and artisans in developing countries, unable to compete with the giants of the international market, are forced to sell their products at prices below the cost of production.
MPIRG’s campaign began on college and university campuses with Fair Trade teach-ins, bazaars, debates and movie nights. Student response to Fair Trade was overwhelming. In late fall of 2005, MPIRG completed a poll of over 1,500 students. Over 90% said that it was very or somewhat important for places like coffee shops and restraints to provide Fair Trade products near campuses. Nearly 80% said they would purchase Fair Trade products if they were available, and 82% said that it was very or somewhat important for their college or university dining service to provide students with Fair Trade meal options.
In its second year, the campaign focused on securing Fair Trade and local food policies at MPIRG’s campuses, through food service providers, in conjunction with administration and student government in order to serve Fair Trade at all official meetings and at cafes and restaurants both on campus and near campus. The campaign also reached out to the broader community, producing Fair Trade maps to help the community locate shops and cafes in their neighborhoods that serve Fair Trade, and forming the Twin Cities Fair Trade Alliance with local faith based communities. The campaign has seen several large victories; students at the University of Minnesota worked with Morris Dining Services to make the switch to all Fair Trade coffee and tea in their on-campus coffee shop, the Turtle Mountain Café. Carleton College also won a campaign to switch all of the coffee on campus to Fair Trade, and held several campus outreach events to make sure that all Carleton students know about the switch and understand the implications. The Fair Trade Campaign will continue into the 2006-2007 academic year.
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