Why No One Trusts Environmentalists

It didn’t start with global warming: environmentalists have been distorting (and sometimes fabricating) facts for a long time. As a result, most people have learned to view environmentalists’ claims with skepticism. Here is a case in point.

A group called Environment Minnesota started a petition campaign against Flint Hills Resources, which operates the Pine Bend refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota. Pine Bend is one of two refineries in the state. Environment Minnesota headlined: “Tell Flint Hills Resources to stop polluting Minnesota’s waterways.” The group made this striking claim in support of its petition drive:

Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend dumped 740,000 pounds of toxic releases into Minnesota’s waters in 2012, a significant portion of the 1.7 million total pounds of toxics dumped into Minnesota’s waterways that year.


Is it really possible that a single facility is responsible for nearly half of all of the toxins that find their way into Minnesota’s waterways? The source for this assertion is a report by–you guessed it–Environment Minnesota. At p. 53, this report says that, based on the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, the Pine Bend refinery discharged 739,982 pounds of toxics in 2012. Bear in mind that these are legal, permitted discharges, consistent with EPA regulations and deemed by the EPA to be safe.

But what do those discharges consist of? This table comes from the refinery’s EPA submissions. It shows that over 99% of the refinery’s toxic discharges in 2012 consisted of nitrates:

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Are nitrates toxic? In large enough quantities, perhaps. But as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes:

[Nitrates] occur in soil, in water, and in some foods. They are naturally occurring inorganic nitrogen ions. Nitrates are a natural part of the human diet.

Consequently, while discharges of nitrates are measured and reported, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has set no limits on their discharge.

Environment Minnesota claimed that the Flint Hills refinery accounted for 740,000 out of 1.7 million pounds of toxics discharged in the entire state of Minnesota. The 1.7 million pound number is also taken from EPA reporting, but, contrary to Environment Minnesota’s claim, it does not represent all discharges of toxics into waterways. Rather, it is the total for just 48 facilities, the only ones substantial enough for TRI reporting. This represents a huge problem, and it is a problem that Environment Minnesota is well aware of. The linked report states at p. 15:

Releases of nitrate compounds represented almost 90 percent of the total volume of toxic discharges to waterways reported under TRI. …

[F]ertilizer and other agricultural runoff (which are not accounted for in the Toxics Release Inventory) also account for a large volume of nitrate pollution.

That’s putting it mildly. And municipal water plants don’t report their nitrate discharges, either. In fact, industrial sources like the Flint Hills refinery are hardly worth mentioning when it comes to nitrates. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has estimated that in a typical year, 306 million pounds of nitrates enter the state’s surface waters. All industrial sources combined (not just the larger ones whose discharges are published by the EPA) account for only 3.9 million pounds. The overwhelming majority of nitrate comes from farms.

So, to recap: Environment Minnesota said that the Pine Bend refinery accounts for 740,000 pounds of toxics out of a statewide total of 1,700,000 pounds, or 44%. But it turns out that almost all of the refinery’s discharges–more than 99%–consist of nitrates. If we count nitrates on both sides of the equation, Pine Bend accounts for 740,000 pounds out of a total of approximately 311,000,000 pounds, or .002 of the total. It is this kind of childish statistical manipulation that has caused the public to distrust environmentalists.

The Left hates Flint Hills, of course, because it is part of Koch Industries. Environment Minnesota made a tenuous effort to tie Pine Bend’s legal, permitted discharges to its parent company’s lobbying and campaign contributions. The two are not related, except to this extent: when you are constantly under attack by deceptive groups like Environment Minnesota, which is funded by the far left, including the dark-money Democracy Alliance, you have no choice but to employ lobbyists who can explain the actual facts to legislators and regulators.