By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
On Tuesday, February 11, the Minnesota Legislature will begin its 2020 regular session, which is scheduled to run no later than May 18. The shorter, even-year session is traditionally a bonding year, in which the Legislature will consider funding capital investment projects across the state.
With the need for urgent action on climate change ever more apparent, and the opportunity to build on last year’s progress on environmental successes, this will be a critical session for Minnesota’s future.
A divided Capitol and new faces
As with last year, the Capitol is divided, with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in control of the House of Representatives by a 16-seat margin, and the Republicans holding the Senate by a 3-seat margin, with the DFL Walz Administration in charge of the Executive Branch until at least 2023. And as of last weekend, the DFL Senate caucus has a new leader: Senator Susan Kent of Woodbury was elected the new Minority Leader, succeeding 10-year caucus leader Senator Tom Bakk. Additionally, there are two newcomers who won special elections to the House of Representatives: Republican Paul Novotny of Elk River, and DFLer Sydney Jordan of Minneapolis.
Divided government contributed to an unproductive session last year, especially on energy and climate issues, where little, if any progress was made. However, there were some positive steps: the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative obtained a major boost in funding for its clean agriculture research, the previous year’s raid on the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was reversed, and a new cost-share program to help homeowners convert lawns to be pollinator-friendly was created. Additionally, numerous harmful bills, ranging from criminalizing pipeline protests to gutting clean water protections, were blocked.
The divided legislature may stymie our efforts for Minnesota’s environment this session, but there’s reason for hope: with all 201 legislators up for reelection in November, they’re likely to feel constituent pressure especially strongly. The rising tide of voices for climate action could shift the balance.
Bonding year and a budget surplus
This year, the legislature will consider how much to invest in infrastructure and other capital improvements via a possible bonding bill, which allows the state to affordably borrow money for projects. As we wrote in January, the Walz Administration has released a strong clean water bonding proposal, which includes money for community water infrastructure, conservation crop acres, and resilience upgrades. MEP will support many of these projects, while strongly advocating for other bonding projects that help confront climate change, such as energy efficiency upgrades and clean transportation infrastructure. We’ll also urge that the Legislature consider how to make all bonding projects more climate-beneficial.
In addition to a likely bonding bill, Minnesota Management and Budget has forecasted a $1.3 billion budget surplus for the state government. Much of that money could be put to great use in boosting Minnesota’s electric vehicle use, renewable energy network, clean agriculture efforts, and climate adaptation.
Climate and energy proposals
As outlined in Walker Orenstein’s MinnPost article linked in this newsletter, the DFL and Republicans in the Legislature have differing ideas for how to approach our state’s changing energy future, and after last year’s completely unproductive session, there seems to be an appetite for action. Senator Dave Senjem, a Republican from Rochester, recently held hearings on a Clean Energy First bill, and DFLers are expected to unveil their own proposals soon. MEP will weigh in on different proposals throughout the session, but we must emphasize: we need action now, and it has to be bold enough to meet our climate needs.
50th Earth Day
On Wednesday, April 22, as the legislative session nears its home stretch, the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. This Earth Day will be an opportunity for many people to commemorate past efforts, take environmentally friendly actions, and reflect on the fact that we haven’t made the progress we’ve needed in the last 50 years. Earth Day will be a spotlight on the climate action we know we need.
MEP and our allies are working on staging and supporting not just one Earth Day event, but many, across the state, with a spotlight on a gathering in the Twin Cities. It will be an opportunity to show decision makers – at the Capitol, in Congress, in private businesses, in cities – that more delays are unacceptable, that the time for business as usual is over. More details on Earth Day will be available soon – keep an eye out for them in the Environmental Insider.
We encourage Minnesotans to keep in contact with their legislators throughout the session. If you need contact information for your legislators, check out the Who Represents Me? tool.