Cleaning up the ways we get around in Minnesota

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership (@mattjdoll)

This week, we’d like to thank all the Minnesotans who have spoken up this summer to help clean up Minnesota’s transportation. Hundreds of Minnesotans contacted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to weigh in on Phase 2 of the state’s Volkswagen settlement plan, asking the MPCA to prioritize electrification of vehicles to meet our climate and pollution needs.

This plan uses money set aside by the multi-state Volkswagen settlement, in which Volkswagen was required to pay money to the states to fund clean transportation after it was revealed that the company cheated on its emissions test. The extra emissions released as a result of the cheating reached hundreds of tons of harmful nitrous oxide compounds in Minnesota alone, along with increased carbon emissions.

The funds are administered by state environmental agencies like the MPCA, and are used to upgrade and replace heavy-emissions vehicles and install electric vehicle chargers, especially targeting disadvantaged communities with heavy air pollution.

Unfortunately, the MPCA’s use of the funds in the first phase of the plan went in large part to new diesel vehicles – cleaner than the ones they replaced, but not what we need to confront climate change.

Right now, transportation is Minnesota’s biggest climate challenge. It’s our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, followed closely by agriculture and electricity generation – though electricity is rapidly becoming cleaner, while the other two major sources have stagnated. From what we know from climate projections, half-measures won’t get us where we need to go.

That’s why MEP and our partners, including MN350 and the Sierra Club, asked Minnesotans to share their priorities with the agency. Investing more in diesel vehicles now is a dead-end pathway, not a start to the transformative steps we need. Minnesota should be transitioning to an all-electric transportation system, including electric school buses, robust fast-charging infrastructure, and electric trucks. This will have the added benefit of completely eliminating transportation’s contribution to the air pollution that kills more than 2,000 people in Minnesota every year.

Though the MPCA comment period on Phase 2 has ended, we encourage Minnesotans to keep speaking up. More opportunities for input will begin, and in 2020, the Legislature will be considering how it invests bonding money in state infrastructure. Let’s make sure that Minnesota meets our climate obligations and moves us boldly toward 100% clean energy on our roads.

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