Capitol Update for May 18, 2007

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This week’s update from lobbyist John Tuma:

Lost “leggins, mockinsons, socks, etc…. no trivial misfortune.”
. . . Lt. Zebulon Pike

One of my favorite individuals in Minnesota history is Zebulon Pike and it is not because he was apparently as challenged as myself in the skill of spelling.  The reason I admire him is because of his persistence and his bold leadership in an unforgiving landscape.

In 1805, long before young Lt. Zebulon Pike discovered the “peak” which bears his name near Colorado Springs, he was assigned his first major expedition north up the Mississippi from St. Louis to lay claim to the territory from the St. Peter’s River (now known as the Minnesota River) to the source of the Mississippi.  He left with a detachment of 19 men in August, and by September had already acquired the parcel of land from the Sioux Indians that would make up Fort Snelling.  The island below Fort Snelling still bears his name.  He arrived in the area around Little Falls in late October where he erected a temporary fort.

Not content to wait out the winter and with a desire to confront some of the British traders, he set out on foot in December with a small detachment of his men.  Nearly one month later, after staggering through miserably cold and wet weather during which he penned the above journal entry, he and his men stumbled nearly frozen to death through the open gate of the Big Sandy Lake Northwest Company stockade late at night.  Pike could barely stand on his swollen, frozen feet. 

Despite being American soldiers visiting the British fur trading post in an unforgiving wilderness there to inform the unsuspecting British hosts that they were now on American soil, they were treated with great hospitality.  He reported that the trading post was very civilized with all the comforts of a modern residence of the East.  Despite the impressive oasis surrounded by an unforgiving wilderness, he still had the courage to shoot the Union Jack off the flagpole and replace it with the American flag.  Pike boldly informed the superintendent that he would be required to pay duty to the United States of America.

Surely after he left the hospitable fort and the surprised British agents, the old Union Jack probably went back up on the flagpole since the British agents never did pay any duty for quite some time.  American dominance over this region was not established until Fort Snelling was built some 15 years later on the very location that Pike had the foresight to acquire.  Nonetheless, it was his foresight and courage that blazed the path for the future of Minnesota. The 2007 Legislature was faced with some significant challenges in this last week as we worked to blaze a visionary trail to claim a brighter environmental future for this Minnesota territory.  As the last week of the legislative session winds down, the policymakers are faced with two major environmental initiatives yet to be finalized: dedicating a portion of the sales tax to conservation and clean water, and the Next Generation Energy Act.

Dedicated Funding.  Although it seems like old news now, taking place after my last report, the Senate did have its final vote on the floor for dedicated funding on Friday of last week.  Like Lt. Pike shooting the Union Jack off the flagpole, the Senate sent a strong message that they are ready to lead Minnesota into that brighter future of improved habitat and clean water.  The bill passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin of 52 – 14.  The majority of both caucuses supported the provision.  This vote far exceeded our expectations.

This last week the author of the House version of the dedicated funding proposal, Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm), probably felt a little bit like Lt. Pike wandering lost in the Minnesota wilderness in December of 1805.  The dedicated funding bill (HF2285) faced what we knew to be its toughest challenge in the House Tax Committee this week.  The trip through the House Tax Committee did not disappoint in our predictions of being its toughest challenge yet.  The author’s first attempt on Monday resulted in the bill being taken off the agenda due to lack of time and what we perceived to be a dispute within the DFL caucus.  In the second attempt on Tuesday, the bill was tabled because there were not enough votes to pass it out of committee.  Finally, on its third attempt, the House Tax Committee provided barely enough votes to pass the measure 12 – 10.  It was only DFL members who supported the provision in Tax Committee, despite bipartisan support in all other prior committees.

On Thursday night, the bill moved quickly through the last of its committee stops, the House Rules Committee.  The dedicated group of lobbyists working on the initiative, led by Scott Moen and Christine Almeida, has been working tirelessly to count the votes for its passage off the floor.  As of now, it looks as if there will be sufficient votes to pass the bill off the House floor by a good margin.  In addition to the hard work by chief author Sertich, if the expedition for passage of this dedicated funding package is successful, a great deal of credit will have to go to three very hardworking legislators: Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL -Minneapolis), Rep.  Rick Hansen (DFL- South St. Paul) and Rep. Frank Moe (DFL -Bemidji).  They have worked tirelessly behind the scenes securing support for the bill as it has moved through the process. We expect a final vote on the House floor sometime Friday or Saturday.  That will have to be followed by a very quick conference committee so that the measure can pass before the constitutional deadline for the end of session on Monday at midnight.

Next Generation Energy Act.  The House of Representatives had its final vote on the Next Generation Energy Act (SF145) on Friday of last week.  The legislation passed by an overwhelming margin of 92 – 37.  The defining vote in the House was over the provision in the bill we know as “Section 5”.  The overall thrust of the global warming mitigation act is to establish economy wide standards for all major global warming pollution sources and identify the methods to make significant reductions in those sectors by 2050.  The goal is an 80% reduction in these pollutants.  In order not to make the problem any worse before we actually get the full economy wide reduction plan in place, the House bill has a section (section 5) that would immediately regulate electric utilities, our biggest global warming pollution emitters.  Section 5 says that if the utility is going to build a new global warming pollution power plant (coal plant) to supply electricity to Minnesota, it should offset those new emissions by reducing emissions from other verifiable sources.

The vote to remove section 5 was defeated, but only after assurances to limit section 5 to only future coal plants and not to those seeking permits at this time.  Those coal plants with permits presently in the works would be exempt under a landmark deal the Clean Energy Minnesota team reached last week with the state’s leading labor unions, including those with ties to electrical utilities and construction.  The labor unions agreed that Minnesota should have a future that is not based on coal burning power plants producing more global warming pollution. 

With the bill’s passage out of the House, a conference committee is now formed to work out the differences in the House and Senate versions.  The Senate version has no section 5 provision and working out this difference will be a major part of the conference committee.  The conference committee will also deal with another major portion of our Clean Energy Minnesota program that calls for aggressive improvements in electricity efficiency.  The cleanest energy in the world is energy we do not create. 

The conference committee in the Senate: Chair Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL – Duluth), Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL – Minneapolis) Sen. Gary Kubly (DFL – Granite Falls), Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL – Eagan) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R – Fairmont).  The House conferees: Chair Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL -Finlayson) Rep. Maria Ruud (DFL – Minnetonka) Rep. Aaron Peterson (DFL – Appleton), Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL – Lindstrom) and Rep.  John Berns (R – Wayzata).  The Clean Energy Minnesota team feels very good about the set of conferees who will work on the bill during these last days of session.

A major concern arose Thursday evening when the Governor provided a statement to the conference committee indicating that section 5 of the House language was “unacceptable”.  He stated “this language threatens the reliability and cost effectiveness of the state’s energy supply by placing a moratorium on nearly all new transmission lines and generating facilities.”  This section actually does not place a moratorium on those facilities, but only requires the new electrical generation to simply offset global warming pollution with reductions in other areas.  The Governor’s threat of a veto flies in the face of his earlier statements after the passage of the renewable energy standard.  He stated then, “Minnesota’s electric utilities should prepare for future by offsetting carbon emissions from new fossil-fuel generation sources.  As we look to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we should not make the situation worse while we try to make it better.”

It’s unfortunate to see the Governor backtracking on his position.  We expected much bolder leadership from this governor who claims to be “green”.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen more green talk than green action as relates to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities.  If Lt. Pike would have shown this kind of leadership, he would have never left St. Louis and would have spent the winter of 1805 – 06 talking about his desire to claim Minnesota for a national future as opposed actually doing it.  Let’s hope our “green” Governor has a change of heart in the next couple of days.  Maybe the Legislature will have the same courage and foresight that Lt. Pike demonstrated by choosing to push forward to a future with real global warming pollution reductions for Minnesota.

One Response to “Capitol Update for May 18, 2007”

  1. Dave Dempsey

    It’s dismaying to read that the Governor has backed down on requiring carbon offsets for new greenhouse gas pollution; and disappointing after his earlier apparent leadership on this issue.


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