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Minnesota: An Ocean Protection Ally

By Annie Reisewitz

Kettle River scene near Sandstone, MN by Paul VanDerWerf.
Kettle River scene near Sandstone, MN by Paul VanDerWerf.

Minnesota might not be the first state that comes to mind where you think of sandy beaches, but the home of 10,000 lakes has more shoreline than California, Florida and Hawaii combined. And a bill introduced this year in the state legislature could help make headway protecting ocean waters downstream from the damaging effects of used motor oil.

Members of Minnesota House of Representatives recently introduced a bipartisan bill to require the use of bio-based motor oils in passenger vehicles, such as cars, light trucks, and vans, that meet federal standards for biodegradability, and that are certified to meet existing motor oil standards. H.F. 3125 garnered unanimous support in the House Committee on Agriculture Policy.

The law phases in bio-based motor oils in the state over several years, and offers some good news for our oceans. The greatest source of petroleum pollution in the ocean is carried there through rivers and streams from improper disposal of used motor oil and urban street runoff.

Minnesota’s waters flow in three directions: north to Canada’s Hudson Bay, east to the Atlantic Ocean, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. It borders Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, and its famed Lake Itasca initiates the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Therefore, what happens upstream in this Midwest “ocean” state has a direct impact on ocean life downstream.

Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked 23rd for the worst traffic congestion out of more than 100 American metropolitan areas analyzed in the INRIX’s 2015 Traffic Scorecard. The Twin Cities commuters spend an extra 47 hours in rush hour traffic every year, the report says.

These slow but steady silent oil spills from congested highways wash toxic pollutants it into its lakes, rivers and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, taking the oil from other states and riverboats along the way.

Bio-based motor oils offer greenhouse gas and sustainability benefits that will lessen the impact of motor oil pollution. Unlike conventional petroleum-based motor oils, they are renewable, non-toxic, biodegradable and recyclable, and will not bioaccumulate in marine organisms. They are also recyclable along with petroleum-based oils in the current collections systems already in place. Additionally, they have been proven to provide a 3 percent fuel economy gain, which helps commuters at the pump.

With nearly 40 percent of the pollution in U.S. waterways from used motor oil, Minnesota is an important ally in the effort to protect our oceans.

The legislative session was shortened due to construction on the state capital, but members hope to take up the bill again in the next legislative session.

 

About the author:

Annie Reisewitz is a communications and marketing consultant for environmental and green technology initiatives. She manages the Silent Oil Spills public awareness campaign.