What do Gary Botzek (one of the coolist lobbyists in St. Paul), Al Franken, Mr. T and I all have in common? This year, our birthday falls on the official last day of the 2007 legislation session – today. And it seems to be shaping up as the best session for the environment in a long time. A final energy bill was overwhelmingly passed by both bodies and the House passed their dedicated funding bill over the weekend. Here are some details.
After four and a half hours of debate, the House passed their bill that would allow voters to dedicate a portion of the state sales tax to water, wildlife, parklands, and other items. This leaves today to work out the differences with the Senate and pass a final bill. This task will be made slightly more difficult by the fact that the lead authors of the House and Senate bills are both in leadership positions and will likely be giving the remaining budget bills their focus. However, there are many good legislators helping to drive this, so a great deal of optimism remains.
A compromise was reached over the weekend between the House and Senate on their two energy bills (sf 145 has the final language). It contains provisions on community-based energy development, energy efficiency, and global warming. The energy efficiency provision should mean that by the year 2025, Minnesota will be using 25 less electricity than we would be carrying on as we are now.
The Global Warming provisions tie in closely with an executive order the Governor issued creating a mitigation planning team. This bill provides the ultimate target of reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050. It also calls for the development of a cap-and-trade system (or something similar) for reducing state emissions of global warming pollution, to be implemented by August 1, 2009. If that system is not put into place by then, a moratorium goes into effect prohibiting new sources of global warming pollution from power plants – unless they are accompanied by new offsets of pollution. (In other words, the implementation of “section 5” is delayed to provide an opportunity for the creation of a reduction plan and if it doesn’t happen then the extra provisions kick in.)
It seems to me that it has been a good session for environmental protection. There were strong actions taken on renewable electricity, energy efficiency, and global warming. Minnesota became the first state to endorse the Great Lakes Compact. An electronics-waste bill that has been struggling for a few sessions finally passed – better than ever. A bill to reduce mercury in products passed late last week. And there are likely others that I’m forgetting right now.
The most disappointing aspect of the session comes down to money. Environmental issues were lower on the priority list for the DFL, as witnessed by Clean Water Legacy receiving only one-quarter of the identified need and efforts to improve biofuels left mostly unfunded. Certainly, the environment wasn’t on the bottom of the priority list and I’m certainly happy that they got that budget bill finalized already, but work certainly remains to be done. The successful passage of a dedicated funding bill sure would help.
The Next Generation Energy Act (SF 145 – which includes the Global Warming Mitigation Act, the Community Based Energy Development Act of 2007 and the Demand Efficiency Act) is another in what’s beginning to be a long list of aggressive, progressive, bi-partisan Minnesota energy initiatives. Beginning in 2005 with the nearly unanimous passage of that year’s Omnibus Energy Bill, then last year with the unanimous passage of the Governor’s Mercury Reduction Act of 2006, to this year’s 25×25 RES bill, and now the NextGen Energy Act, initially proposed by the Governor and now “owned” by both bodies, as well as the Governor. Kudos to all parties involved, but special recognition has to go to the chief authors, Rep. Bill Hilty and Senator Yvonne Prettner Solon, and to the Governor’s energy team, Ed Garvey and Mike Bull. A tremendous feat.
Indeed, Minnesota continues to demonstrate national leadership in creating a cleaner energy future. And we should all be proud of how bi-partisan, yet aggressive the final policies have been.
Congratulations to Minnesota’s conservation and environmental community for pulling off the most sweeping and visionary legislative agenda in the nation. If the dedicated funding ballot question survives the conference committee, there will be few if any states that can match the work of 2007. Please keep us informed on that last issue, Jon.
Happy birthday, Jon! Don’t forget there will be an attempt to override the transportation bill veto. The bill has excellent funding for buses and rail, a key to battling global warming, air pollution, and the destruction of open space in the Twin Cities region.