Minnesota reclaims mantle of environmental leadership

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Monday evening, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned its 2023 session, having negotiated key budget bills in the final days. On Wednesday, MEP staff watched Governor Walz sign those budget bills on the steps of the Capitol, sealing this session in history as the greatest for Minnesota’s environment and climate efforts in history…so far.

MEP and our members went into this session in January with a long list of priorities. Some of them have been in the works for years, while others are the result of recent collaboration among allies old and new. And unlike any session in recent memory, most of them were signed into law. Minnesota took enormous steps forward toward protecting our people and planet this session and few, if any, steps backward. From water infrastructure to pollution protections, the Legislature got it done, even with tight partisan divisions in both Houses.

Our long list of how MEP’s priorities fared is coming soon, but we’ve identified 10 important steps forward, shared both in a video (viewable on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and YouTube) and here:

1. 100% clean energy standard: Passed early in the session, this law requires all electricity used in Minnesota to be generated from net-zero sources by 2040. In a state where natural gas and coal still account for much of our power makeup, that’s a huge step forward. The law will help utilities take advantage of Minnesota’s vast wind resources and the increasing affordability of solar.

2. Next Generation Climate Act: This standard goes further than the electricity standard, setting a goal in Minnesota law for the state’s economy to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with intermediate goals in the meantime. This goal will help guide the actions of state agencies and planners, encouraging sustainable development.

3. Clean energy funding: The Climate and Environment omnibus – a $2 billion budget bill – contains record levels of funding for clean energy. Among the investments are $115 million for matching federal clean energy dollars and $30 million for solar panels on schools and public buildings. The bill also provides $20 million – plus $25 million from the jobs bill – to create the Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority, which will invest in small clean energy projects that may not have access to traditional funding.

4. Lead service line replacement: As we covered in our last article, this law will put Minnesota on the path to replace every lead drinking water service line in public water systems by 2033. More than 100,000 families will no longer face the dangers of lead poisoning in their water when this law is fully implemented.

5. PFAS protections: Minnesotans will be protected from these cancer-causing “forever chemicals” in a variety of products beginning in 2025, and in all non-essential products by 2030. PFAS will also be banned from use in firefighting foam in almost all cases, and the Department of Agriculture will begin studying possible restrictions on PFAS in pesticides (MEP advocated for stronger action on that issue.)

6. Cumulative impacts: As we’ve written recently, the Cumulative Impacts analysis policy requires permit decisions for new or expanded sources of pollution in overburdened frontline communities to consider existing pollution. The Frontline Communities Protection Coalition, of which MEP is a member, was instrumental in achieving this step forward.

7. Pollinator protections: New rules on pesticide treated-seed, the power for four major cities to set stronger restrictions on pollinator-lethal pesticides than the state, and a ban on neonicotinoid and chloropyrifos pesticides on state lands will help protect pollinators and people.

8. Lottery reauthorization: Minnesotans will have the chance to vote in 2024 on renewing funding for the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund from state lottery proceeds. If passed, the ENRTF will feature a new community grants program that will help groups that have traditionally had difficulty accessing funds get support for their projects. MEP worked with key allies in negotiating the renewal legislation’s passage.

9. Transportation Omnibus bill: This budget bill is the greenest of its kind in history, creating a Twin Cities-area sales tax for transit and investing in passenger rail, bike and walk infrastructure, and much more.

10. Clean Water Infrastructure: The bipartisan bonding bill passed at the tail end of the session contains $500 million in funding for water infrastructure, the most in state history. That money will help to keep Minnesotans safe and our lakes and rivers clean.

Don’t take my word for it – hear from our members:

MEP advocates, coordinates, and facilitates action at the Capitol, but our strength comes from our member organizations – groups large and small working for change on a wide variety of environment and climate issues. Without their tireless efforts over numerous legislative sessions, these victories might never have happened.

Below are Legislative wrap-ups and blog posts from some of MEP’s member organizations. They, and we, have a lot to celebrate!

Clean Water Action Minnesota: Minnesota Passes the Nation’s Strongest PFAS Regulations
Climate Generation: Minnesota Legislative Victories and the Path Forward
Fresh Energy: Legislative Update: Forward-looking investments and sound policy outcomes
Friends of the Mississippi River: How FMR’s priorities for the Mississippi River fared this session
Land Stewardship Project: 2023 Minnesota Legislative Session Wrap-Up
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy: Minnesota legislature achieves historic wins for climate and environment in 2023
Move Minnesota: Transit Advocates Secure Nation-Leading Wins at the State Capitol
Sierra Club North Star Chapter: Sierra Club MN Legislative Priorities and Results: Celebrating 2023

And some news coverage from various publications:

Minnesota Reformer: New transportation law hopes to get Minnesotans moving
MinnPost: Minnesota Legislature passes energy bill with $2,500 EV rebates, ‘pre-weatherization’
Star Tribune: Minnesota lawmakers reach historic deal on environment, climate and energy

For previous columns, visit mepartnership.org/category/blog/. If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author at matthew@mepartnership.org.

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