Minnesota lawmakers renew push for clean energy

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, Governor Walz and DFL legislators unveiled a proposal to make sure Minnesota reaches 100% carbon-free electricity by the year 2040. If passed, it would represent an important effort to move Minnesota toward carbon neutrality in our fight against the climate crisis. While the legislation faces a challenging path in the Republican-controlled Senate, science makes it clear that our climate challenges compel us to move forward.

This legislative package includes requirements for utilities to switch over to renewable sources like wind and solar, investments in energy efficiency, and the retirement of fossil fuel generation. While Minnesota’s largest utilities, including Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power, are already taking major steps toward carbon-free generation, this push for 100% carbon-free would help hasten this transition and avoid dead-end pathways like coal plants being replaced by natural gas.

Targeting electricity emissions in this way is a welcome step, especially given the scope of our challenges. Minnesota is off track on reaching our emissions reduction goals, and we have limited time to get onto the path that will help avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change and allow our state and planet to heal. While President Biden is already making welcome moves to commit the United States to climate action, what we do in Minnesota is an important and necessary part of the overall effort.

However, slashing electricity emissions is only part of Minnesota’s challenge, and not the most significant part.

The largest current source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota is transportation. Most of that comes from commuter vehicles – SUVs, light trucks, and cars on the road. Reducing those emissions is a daunting task, but it can be done. Our state lawmakers and planning agencies should be expressly seeking to reduce the vehicle miles traveled by individuals driving alone in cars in several ways: through improved transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and land use that helps people live close to amenities. Meanwhile, the transition to electric vehicles and a charging network that works for Minnesotans must be rapidly accelerated.

The second largest source of emissions is land use: agriculture has a tremendous impact on the carbon we emit. There are numerous changes that we need to make in agriculture – transitioning from fertilizer-heavy monocropping, halting factory farms, and introducing new crops and methods – that can not only reduce and eliminate these emissions, but use our land as a natural carbon sink. Fighting the climate crisis will require not only cutting emissions, but giving the remaining carbon somewhere safe to go, such as Minnesota forests and farmland.

Finally, there’s an elephant in the room here in Minnesota: the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, the oil of which would cause more yearly emissions than the entirety of our state’s economy. While the state of Minnesota recently completed its permitting of this climate monstrosity, we were thrilled to see President Biden immediately cancel permits for the Keystone XL tar sand oil pipeline running through adjacent states. We hope to see him take similar steps to derail Line 3. Like Keystone XL, this under-construction pipeline is unnecessary, destructive, and extremely hazardous to indigenous communities.

The next few years will be the decisive moment in our history for securing the future of our planet and our state. MEP and our allies will be supporting the 100% clean electricity push at the State Capitol and other ambitious efforts to make sure Minnesota leads the way to a carbon-free economy.

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