An environmentalist’s guide to the new legislature

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

While the U.S. House of Representatives has had what might generously be called a rocky start, the new Minnesota Legislature has gotten rightto work. With new faces, new committee leaders and new legislation, the time is ripe to get things done at the state Capitol.

Working with our members and allies, MEP has crafted a set of Collaborative Priorities for 2023 that will guide our legislative advocacy efforts. Our full list of policy ideas is long, but we focus on three overarching priorities: robust and just climate action, people and planet-centered public institutions, and environmental justice for all Minnesotans. From solar panels to safe drinking water pipes to habitat restoration, we’re calling on the new Legislature to go big on protecting our future.

Perhaps the most vital part of our effort is mobilizing and lifting up the voices of ordinary Minnesotans who care about clean air, safe water, and healthy communities. We’ll be publishing action alerts throughout the session. But to kick off the year, we’d like to offer this guide to this year’s Legislature to all interested Minnesotans. We strongly encourage our readers to contact your Senators and Representatives on any issue that concerns you – we’ve heard time and again that constituent voices are highly important to elected officials, and can sway their views on critical issues.

Legislative Leadership

Speaker of the House: Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Center
House Majority Leader: Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis
House Majority Whip: Athena Hollins, DFL-Saint Paul

House Minority Leader: Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring
House Deputy Minority Leader: Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska

Senate Majority Leader: Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis
Senate President: Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis
Senate Minority Leader: Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks

Agriculture Committees

House Agriculture Finance & Policy
Chair: Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center
Vice Chair: Kristi Pursell, DFL-Northfield
Republican Lead: Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck

Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development
Chair: Aric Putnam, DFL-Saint Cloud
Vice Chair: Robert Kupec, DFL-Moorhead
Ranking Minority Member: Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake

Food and farming are of huge importance in Minnesota, which has the fifth-largest agricultural economy in the nation. Unfortunately, the sector is also one of the three largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. This cycle’s Agriculture committee members should take a close look at how we can reduce farming’s climate impact while supporting farming communities and Minnesotans’ livelihoods. Fortunately, MEP and our allies have plenty of ideas about how to move forward.

For more than two decades, MEP has successfully focused on winning investments in regenerative agriculture. We’ve won historic funding for the Forever Green Initiative, a University of Minnesota program that develops new crops that protect water, promote healthy soil, and can help reduce climate and pesticide pollution. We’ve also helped secure state dollars for the supply chain investments needed to bring these crops into the market. Last year, with bipartisan support, these investments and other agriculture wins were among the few bright spots of an otherwise unproductive legislative session.

This year, we hope to continue building on these investments and moving forward on other programs that support farmers and the lands and waters we depend on. That includes programs that help new farmers – often the most likely to embrace sustainable agriculture practices – start farming successfully. We’ll also push for more state support for farming practices that can help our climate, including soil healthy techniques.

In addition to these proactive measures, we’ll be supporting a statewide animal unit cap to restrict the growth of higher density feeding operations, which are major contributors to water, air, and climate pollution in our state. 

Capital Investment Committees

House Capital Investment
Chair: Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis
Vice Chair: Liz Reyer, DFL-Eagan
Republican Lead: Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City

Senate Capital Investment
Chair: Sandra Pappas, DFL-Saint Paul
Vice Chair: Susan Pha, DFL-Brooklyn Park
Ranking Minority Member: Karin Housley, R-Stillwater

The Legislature’s Capital Investment committees are focused on the state’s infrastructure – the roads, bridges, buildings, and water systems on which our economy relies. The committees work to identify areas of need and craft bills to pay for repairs and upgrades, usually using state bonds. That allows Minnesota to pay the tab for these upgrades over the course of multiple years at low interest rates. The committees’ work is especially crucial for smaller communities that may have difficulty paying for their own water infrastructure or other large projects.

Traditionally, the Legislature works to pass a “bonding bill” in even-numbered years, but as was a common theme in 2022, no bonding bill moved forward last year. With unified state government, the Capital Investment committees should have more success this year. But anything they pass will need at least some bipartisan support: bonding bills must pass with a 60% majority in both chambers.

MEP hopes that, rather than repeating 2022, the 2023 Legislature will emulate the bipartisan achievement of 2020. That year, they passed more than $300 million in money for water infrastructure – a huge step forward for Minnesotans and the waters we depend on. This year, we’ll be asking for at least another $300 million for water investments to keep the good work going and help access federal matching funds. This will include money to replace lead drinking water pipes that threaten many Minnesotans’ health.

Climate and Energy Committees

House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy
Chair: Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka
Vice Chair: Larry Kraft, DFL-St. Louis Park
Republican Lead: Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent

Senate Energy, Utilities, Environment, and Climate
Chair: Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato
Vice Chair: Tou Xiong, DFL-Maplewood
Ranking Minority Member: Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton

House Sustainable Infrastructure Policy
Chair: Erin Koegel, DFL-Spring Lake Park
Vice Chair: Brion Curran, DFL-Vadnais Heights
Republican Lead: Mary Franson, R-Alexandria

Minnesota has a good record of setting high goals for emissions reductions, exemplified by the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 and Governor Walz’s Climate Action Framework released last year. But we don’t have a great record of meeting our emissions reduction goals. Even as wind and solar energy ramp up and coal plants retire, we’re not close to meeting the goals we’ve set. As the fastest-warming state in the country, we can’t afford to fall behind – we should be leading the climate action charge.

We’ve been encouraged by promises from this year’s Legislators to pass historic climate legislation, and we’ll be calling for lawmakers to not only pass strong goals and standards, but to use state dollars to make them a reality. In the Climate and Energy Committees, this will include both reducing the energy we consume through efficiency upgrades for homes and businesses and cleaning up the energy we produce by accelerating the uptake of wind and solar power. Fortunately, recent federal laws like the bipartisan infrastructure act and the Inflation Reduction Act have made plenty of federal matching dollars available for Minnesota to go green.

We also support new laws that help our state make more equitable and climate-friendly decisions when it comes to big projects. For example, the state Environmental Quality Board recently directed state agencies to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions that would be incurred or saved through the adoption, construction and annual operation of proposed projects during environmental review. That change should be made part of state law to prevent it being easily rolled back in the future. With companies like Chevron, Enbridge, and PolyMet doing their best to promote their brands as “green,” this calculation would at least help give the public the facts and increase pressure to deny climate-harming proposals that harm local communities.

Environment and Legacy

House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy
Chair: Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul
Vice Chair: Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis
Republican Lead: Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa

House Legacy Finance
Chair: Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul
Vice Chair: Samakab Hussein, DFL-Saint Paul
Republican Lead: Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley

Senate Environment, Climate, and Legacy
Chair: Foung Hawj, DFL-Saint Paul
Vice Chair: Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth
Ranking Minority Member: Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids

We’re very happy that the Senate Environment, Climate, and Legacy committee has a broad jurisdiction that includes the Department of Natural Resources, the Pollution Control Agency and the Board of Water and Soil Resources. The Senate took the initiative to recognize that climate change results from and affects multiple parts of our society and multiple committees will be able to address this critical issue. 

Simply put, MEP will have three broad goals when it comes to the Environment and Legacy Committees: moving forward on environmental justice and protecting our natural resources and communities, passing environment and legacy budgets that invest in climate action and habitat, and securing the future use of state Lottery proceeds and passage of the recommended Legacy funds.

The list of new policies MEP hopes to pass this year include restrictions on toxic lead, PFAS and pesticides, protections against sulfide mining, and many others too numerous to list here (you can find them in our Collaborative Priorities). But there are a couple worth highlighting in this article as core to our work.

The Cumulative Impacts Bill is a key priority of MEP and environmental justice leaders. It would require MPCA to evaluate the long-term, compounding impacts of pollution from projects undergoing permitting on communities that will be impacted by the project. Historically, communities of color and low-income communities have suffered the worst pollution in our state, being subjected to toxic industries and interstate highways, among other sources, in their neighborhoods. If the state is serious about environmental justice, we need to ensure that these deep-seated harms aren’t made even worse by new, harmful projects.

We also hope the legislature will reverse one of its worst decisions from 2015 – the elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board. The Citizens’ Board was one of the few tools that ordinary Minnesotans had to conduct citizen oversight of polluting projects, which are too often advantaged by state permitting laws. It had the power to make final MPCA decisions, like require tighter conditions for project permits or deny them entirely.

After the Board used its power to demand a full environmental impact study for a massive dairy operation, the Legislature abolished it over the objections of then-Governor Mark Dayton. Since then, many have wondered whether the MPCA would have made the same decisions on permits for the Line 3 pipeline or the PolyMet mine if it still answered to citizen oversight.

In addition to environmental policy, we hope to see the Legislature leverage our Legacy Funds to invest in our natural resources, just as they did last session. And they should look to the future by ensuring that re-authorization and a boost in funding for the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is on the 2024 ballot for voters to approve.

Transportation Committees

House Transportation Finance and Policy
Chair: Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis
Vice Chair: Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee
Republican Lead: John Petersburg, R-Waseca

Senate Transportation
Chair: Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis
Vice Chair: Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven
Ranking Minority Member: John Jasinski, R-Faribault

Transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the state of Minnesota, and unfortunately, it’s among the hardest to fix. Most of these emissions are driven by personal vehicles, especially in the Twin Cities Metro region. Thanks to many decades of prioritizing these vehicles over dense land use and public transportation, carbon emissions have ballooned, especially with the consumer trend toward bigger vehicles. That’s an especially big problem for low-income and diverse communities, where air pollution and traffic hazards tend to hit the hardest.

All that is to say that the Transportation Committees have their work cut out for them, and what they achieve will be a big factor in Minnesota’s claim to climate leadership.

The number one thing we hope they accomplish is reinvesting in our transit systems, especially Metro Transit. In the midst of pandemic disruptions to ridership and nationwide hiring challenges, agencies have cut or reduced frequency on many routes, creating a vicious cycle where ridership reduces further due to poor service. The Legislature can help fix this by ensuring a dedicated source of transit operating funding through a small metro-area sales tax. Legislators should also ensure that Minnesota can access matching federal funds for upgrading and electrifying transit infrastructure around the state.

MEP will also strategically engage in discussions on an updated low carbon fuel standard. While this standard could support growth in electric vehicles or sustainable low carbon Forever Green-developed crops like camelina or pennycress, it could alternatively be an environmental negative if it boosts corn-based ethanol.

The big picture

These committees aren’t the only avenue for environmental policies to move forward. We hope and expect for bills to be heard in other arenas, like the Health and Taxes committees, as environmental issues touch every aspect of life in Minnesota. And if you have an environmental issue specific to your community that you think the Legislature should address, your district’s legislators are often open to discussion.

We encourage our subscribers to follow this session closely, and make your voice heard. We need all hands on deck for our people and our planet.

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

Line 3 penalties are a small step toward accountability

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, Attorney General Keith Ellison and agency and tribal leaders announced $7 million in penalties against Enbridge, the builder of the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, for its breach of vulnerable aquifers in Northern Minnesota during construction.

The Attorney General also charged the company with a misdemeanor for the release of water from the aquifer near Clearbrook, though this charge will likely be dropped after Enbridge pays additional money for wetland restoration. In total, Enbridge will end up paying roughly $11 million for the damage it caused during the Line 3 construction process, although some of this may be returned to Enbridge if not used for restoration work.

These aquifer breaches have caused serious damage to the surrounding ecosystems. The aquifers feed valuable wetlands called calcareous fens, which can dry up without a steady source of groundwater. After Enbridge essentially burst the aquifers open, it let them gush for months without being restored – and for quite some time, without the DNR’s knowledge.

While the LaSalle aquifer breach appears to have stopped, two other breaches continue to modestly flow, still causing the aquifers to lose valuable groundwater.

MEP has extensively covered these aquifer breaches in our blog and in two webinars last September and in January. We and the people of Minnesota owe a great debt to the Indigenous water protectors and geologists who drew attention to these harms. It’s through their efforts that any measure of accountability has moved forward.

When MEP learned about the breaches, which violated Enbridge’s permits to construct and operate the pipeline, we wrote to Governor Walz along with our allies to ask that he suspend those permits. We’ve been on record opposing the pipeline on climate and environmental justice grounds for years, but in this case, we asked only for a suspension so that the violations could be fixed and fully investigated. Unfortunately, no suspension was forthcoming.

While we appreciate the efforts of the Attorney General, the state, and tribes to secure these penalties, the amount that Enbridge will have to pay toward environmental efforts and restitution is frustratingly small. $11 million is a useful amount for ecological restoration, but it’s small potatoes to a company like Enbridge, which made more than $5 billion in net income in 2021.

In part, the small scope of these penalties are a product of state law. Under rules set decades ago to encourage pipeline construction, companies like Enbridge are assumed to be good-faith operators, deserving of all the time and leniency in the world as long as they “fix” their mistakes. Enbridge’s old Line 3 caused the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history in 1991 – a spill that could have threatened vast swaths of the Mississippi River and poisoned the drinking water of millions downstream. In response, the company shut off the pipeline an hour after it was notified, paid for the cleanup, and otherwise went about its business as usual. Of course, they would later use the spill that happened on their watch as justification to build their new tar sands pipeline.

In an era of climate change and rapid ecological destruction, the laws written with oil companies’ interests at heart aren’t working now for Minnesotans. When the Department of Commerce said that the new Line 3 was not needed and should not be built, the Public Utilities Commission rubber-stamped its certificate of need anyway. When several Anishinaabe tribes and thousands of Minnesotans said that Enbridge’s construction permits would result in major harm to Minnesota and its water resources, state agencies approved them. When it was clear that construction was damaging vulnerable ecosystems beyond the point of restoration, Enbridge was given a slap on the wrist.

Minnesota needs new laws and a new paradigm for looking at polluting projects like Line 3 that holds corporations accountable and does not put profit over people. Things like clean water, native species, a livable climate, and Indigenous treaty rights to hunt and gather resources in Northern Minnesota should not be treated as tradeoffs to be sacrificed for a foreign pipeline company’s gain. How much better off would our state be if our laws treated Minnesota’s future, not fossil fuels, as our number one priority?

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.

Midterms will chart the course for our environment

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Four weeks from now, the nation will vote in the highly consequential 2022 general elections. MEP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, meaning that we do not take sides in elections or support candidates for office. But we do strongly believe in the democratic process and in ensuring that voters are well-informed about how that process affects our environmental issues.

We know that many of our subscribers are door-knocking, phone-banking, and otherwise asking friends and neighbors to make their voices heard, so we’ve put together this primer on how each elected position has an impact on our efforts to fight climate change and secure environmental justice for all. Make no mistake: even the seemingly smallest local positions can have a big influence on the lands, water and air that give us life.

State Legislature

Both the Minnesota Senate and the House of Representatives are up for election this year, running in newly drawn districts thanks to the 2020 census and redistricting process. In both chambers, the majority party holds power by a slim majority, meaning that control could be decided by thin margins of votes.

MEP focuses the bulk of our advocacy efforts on the Legislature because of its broad influence on the state’s environmental policies and investments. 2023 will be a “budget” year, when the Legislature and the Governor have to decide how to prioritize funding for state agencies and efforts for the next two years. They’ll also have the opportunity to propose new policies that could better safeguard Minnesotans’ health and natural resources, or roll back longstanding protections. Many of our most groundbreaking policies, like the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, have come out of the Legislature.

For the past few years, the divided Legislature has made little progress in moving our state’s environmental protections forward. It also hasn’t moved us far backward, but with a deepening array of interconnected crises and inequities in our climate, water, and communities, a lack of progress is not acceptable.

As we wrote in our Legislative wrap-up, there were some bright spots in 2022, especially on regenerative agriculture and constitutionally dedicatedt funds for water and outdoors. MEP also supported and celebrated the Legislature’s passage of more than $300 million in clean water infrastructure bonds in 2020. But key policy advances – and lots of spending on climate action – didn’t make it across the finish line. For example, the “cumulative impacts” bill would have created new protections for environmental justice communities – areas home to people of color and low-income families that tend to suffer a disproportionate burden of adverse human health and environmental effects, such as pollution. Like many good ideas, it wasn’t passed into law.

In addition to carrying the hopes and fears of Minnesotans concerned about the environment in legislation, the Minnesota Senate also has the power to remove agency leaders from office. The Senate has controversially used that power to remove or force resignations from several agency leaders in the past few years, notably Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley for the department’s opposition to Line 3 and Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop due to disagreements on Clean Cars rulemaking.

U.S. House of Representatives

Minnesota’s eight U.S. Representatives are up for election this year, and the outcome of these elections will help determine how and whether the nation meets the needs of the moment to help address climate change. Recent bills, like the Infrastructure and Jobs bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, have had a major, largely positive impact on our climate and have provided resources to invest in environmental justice communities. Pressure from House of Representatives members also helped block the “side deal” permitting legislation that would have reduced the community voice on energy infrastructure projects, including fossil fuel pipelines.

The next House will continue to have big national impacts and could help determine the future of key environmental issues in Minnesota including policies to promote regenerative agriculture and transit expansions, safeguards for vulnerable watersheds like the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior, and protection of our water from harmful PFAS chemicals.

Governor

Minnesota’s Governor is responsible for appointing Commissioners to state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, and Department of Agriculture. The qualifications and views of the individuals appointed can have a big impact on how these agencies act on contentious issues before the legislature and in administrative actions like rulemaking. MEP and our partners often ask these agencies to support legislation or adopt rules that will protect Minnesotans from hazards like lead, mercury, and other pollutants.

The Governor also fills vacancies on the state Supreme Court, which often has the last word on environmental cases. And, among many other significant jobs to fill, the Governor appoints new members of the Public Utilities Commission, the body that often decides whether to allow construction of projects like new energy plants or fossil fuel pipelines, as it did with controversial Line 3 project.

While the Legislature is an independent branch of government, the Governor’s priorities and positions carry significant weight at the negotiating table when House and Senate leaders hash out differences in their policy and budget bills. 

State Attorney General

Minnesota’s Attorney General is often described as the “people’s lawyer” due to the job’s key role in consumer and environmental protection. Among other responsibilities, the Attorney General’s office is often the best-equipped public entity to take on corporations that put Minnesotans at risk. The 2018 3M settlement is a major example: a lawsuit launched by the Attorney General’s office secured $850 million – the largest environmental settlement in Minnesota history – for clean drinking water after 3M polluted the water of the East Metro with PFAS chemicals for decades.

State Auditor

While the State Auditor position is primarily a financial watchdog for the state’s many levels and units of government, the Auditor also serves on the State Board of Investments, helping to determine where to invest Minnesota’s state pension and other funds. In that role, the Auditor helps to determine whether Minnesota funds go to smart long-term investments or short-term, harmful booms like coal and oil – see MinnPost’s in-depth coverage of this issue.

Secretary of State

Minnesota’s Secretary of State doesn’t have much direct impact on the environment, but does carry the vital responsibility of ensuring that Minnesota’s elections are conducted fairly and openly. In too many places in our nation, voting rights are under threat from voter roll purges and restrictions, especially in communities of color. A democracy where all Minnesotans can make their voices heard is vital to ensuring that our common values are protected, so it’s critically important that the Secretary of State protect our access to the ballot box.

County and Municipal Races

County and city leaders play an enormous role in local land use and transportation decisions. Aided by professional staff, they oversee parks, road construction, zoning decisions, water systems, and numerous other moving parts in their jurisdiction.

Most of Minnesota’s counties, including the five most populous – Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Anoka, and Washington – are electing county commissioners and other county offices in November. These commissioners may determine, for example, whether to build new bike or pedestrian infrastructure, how to manage stormwater, or where to build new housing or amenities. They can also chart a course for climate action, as Hennepin County did with its plan in 2021.

Many Minnesotans are also electing local Water and Soil Supervisors, who are responsible for overseeing these resources on private land in their district. They manage the monitoring of water and soil, take actions to keep it clean, and secure funding to invest in resources in their district.

Use your voice

We urge Minnesotans to research candidates and races beyond those listed here – other elections include school boards, county attorneys and sheriffs, and judicial seats that vary by area, and to confirm their registration and make a plan to vote using the Secretary of State’s website. Given the overlapping challenges we face, none of us can afford to sit these elections out.

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.

One Water: Where all water is valued

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EJCC is an entirely black and brown leadership base of environmental and social justice change agents, working cooperatively to understand and address the environmental justice overburden in their communities

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Earlier this month, the MEP team had the opportunity to participate in the US Water Alliance’s One Water Summit in Milwaukee, where representatives from communities, utilities, and organizations from around the country met to discuss our shared interest in clean water for all.

For our team, the Summit was an opportunity to act on MEP’s values and strengthen our partnerships. MEP and its partners are working to build collective power to secure a healthy environment for all Minnesotans. MEP’s Director of Advocacy and Inclusion, Cecilia Calvo (third from left in above photo), participated as part of a delegation from the Environmental Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC), a Twin Cities initiative working for environmental and economic justice, especially in communities of color. Steve Morse attended as part of the State Revolving Fund Advocates Working Group delegation. 

Key takeaways

By now, most Americans likely have some understanding that our water supplies, especially in vulnerable communities, are under threat. The state of Mississippi’s refusal to invest in its state capital city’s water systems, exacerbated by flooding, has led to Jackson residents still facing unsafe water. That crisis has drawn comparisons to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, another predominantly Black city that suffered years of deliberate underinvestment by state government.

That kind of underinvestment will be especially harmful in the face of emerging threats like climate change and PFAS – Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. This widespread, cancer-causing class of chemicals are a major problem for Minnesota communities like Bemidji and Washington County. At the One Water Summit, Cecilia attended a panel on PFAS that touched on recent efforts to bring corporate accountability for the pollution. “I found myself feeling increasingly frustrated during this session at why the producers such as 3M and Dupont are being allowed to continue to put these dangerous chemicals into our water, essentially putting profit over human health,” said Cecilia.

For Steve and Cecilia, the other key takeaway was a closely related issue: centering community voices in major water and environmental policy decisions. As the Jackson water crisis illustrates, policymakers have a history of ignoring or bypassing community concerns for political reasons, intertwined with structural and environmental racism. A just response to climate change and environmental pollution requires listening to and learning from the communities who directly experience the effects of pollution and climate disruption where they live, work and play. 

Here in Minnesota, drinking water threats like lead in water pipes, nitrate in wells, and PFAS in aquifers tend to hit hardest in communities least equipped to mitigate them. New pipes and wells are expensive ways to deal with these invisible but very real hazards, but the alternative is families drinking unsafe water.

MEP is proud of our part in the effort to mitigate these costs. In 2020, we forged new alliances and helped secure passage of more than $300 million in water infrastructure bonding for communities across Minnesota. The federal bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 will also make a big dent in these costs for communities – as long as the state ensures the money reaches its destination and matches federal funds so that water upgrades are affordable for all.

But on a more fundamental level, we need to listen to communities who are most directly impacted by environmental harm and ensure these communities have a voice in developing the solutions to protect the future of their drinking water. The EJCC, for example, met with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Katrina Kessler at the One Water Summit. Members hope to build on that relationship and others like it to ensure that agency decisions aren’t imposed on communities from the top down, but include real dialogue, input from communities and openness to change every step of the way.

Well owners in rural Minnesota, families suffering from PFAS in the west Metro, and residents of Jackson, Mississippi didn’t have a say in whether their water supplies would be contaminated, but their stories will help create the solutions.

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.

Climate Action Framework shows promise

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On September 16, Governor Tim Walz’s administration released Minnesota’s Climate Action Framework, an outline for for government agencies, companies, and communities to ensure our state does its part to fight climate change. It covers six major goal areas to target for cutting emissions and improving public health: clean transportation, natural and working lands, resilient communities, clean energy and efficient buildings, healthy lives and communities, and a clean economy.

The Framework identifies needs and actions, it is not a complete plan or policy in and of itself. But it’s a welcome sign that our state government is treating the climate crisis with the necessary gravity. As one of the fastest-warming states and an agricultural and industrial powerhouse, Minnesota has a lot to gain from helping to solve climate change and a lot to lose from failuring to do so.

This Framework, spearheaded by the Governor’s Climate Subcabinet, relied on hundreds of hours of meetings and comments from thousands of Minnesotans on ways to reduce emissions. MEP members and staff were among those consulted, with MEP Executive Director Steve Morse serving on an advisory committee for the natural and working lands policy area.

As the Climate Subcabinet researched and wrote the plan, our coalition identified several potential issues with the process and the outcomes and wrote to the Walz Administration to express our concerns. We also asked our subscribers to weigh in on the Framework’s issue areas via surveys, and we appreciate the many who did so.

Our first concern was ensuring that the facilitators conducted an open, inclusive, and impartial process based on science and input from Minnesota’s frontline communities who are most impacted by climate change and environmental pollution. While no process is perfect, we appreciate that the Walz Administration engaged many organizations based in Minnesota’s communities of color and the 11 tribal nations within Minnesota.

Another primary issue we raised to the Walz Administration involved the Framework’s goalposts. Ambiguity or too little ambition wouldn’t get us where we need to go to reduce emissions. We argued that that Frameworkn had to address the internationally-recognized IPCC climate goals, which were initially not identified as the guiding star for the document. In our view, this was a no-brainer – if the state of Louisiana could focus on the IPCC goals in their plan, Minnesota had no excuse. We’re happy to see that, the final document does prominently reference these goals: achieving a 50% reduction in emissions (compared with 2005) by 2030, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Our next request was for the framework to identify both immediate and long-term steps to reduce Minnesota’s emissions. We’re glad to see that this plan lays out numerous actions that the state, communities, private entities, and individuals can take in the next months, years and decades.

In some areas, we would like to see more specific measures. In the clean fuels section under transportation, for example, the framework is ambiguous about what advanced clean fuels may include. Ethanol, for example, is not a climate-friendly fuel, despite longtime state support for it as an alternative or supplement to gasoline. We hope the state will clarify these ambiguities going forward and rely on sound science to make its decisions.

We also asked the Subcabinet to commit to the one thing needed for all these worthy goals and actions: accountability. Minnesota has made and missed climate and environmental goals before due to a lack of ambition or investment. Our state has taken actions, like approving the Line 3 pipeline, that undercut our stated values. We need to ensure that there is a clear pathway and  mechanisms to enforce our goals and keep us on track. While we recognize that the Framework is only one step, we hope to see the Walz Administration commit to action behind this and call for the Legislature to do likewise.

Every great undertaking starts with a plan – or a blueprint, as we titled our 2022 Briefing Book – and we’re encouraged by the Walz Administration’s Framework as a broad foundation for action. The good news is: the goals in the Framework are achievable.

We have the technology to generate reliable, clean power – much more cheaply now, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. We have tested and are continuously-improving methods to transport people and goods without choking our communities with emissions. We have cutting-edge agriculture solutions to make Minnesota’s farmland an ally in the fight against climate change and pollution. Now it’s up to the state and  to all of us who live here to take bold action to protect our common home and people.

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.

Possible rail strike highlights trains’ climate action role

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

As of this writing, it looks like the nation’s trains will keep on running. After unions representing more than 100,000 railroad workers threatened to strike over pay, draconian sick time policies, and harsh working conditions, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh hosted negotiations between unions and railroads that have reached a deal.

The deal will soon go to the unions for the vote. While workers didn’t get everything they sought they won increased pay and key changes to make their jobs more livable.

Much of the news coverage of this issue has focused on the economic impact of a potential strike. Indeed, if 115,000 rail workers struck, U.S. and international supply chains would freeze, and passenger trains would cease operation, throwing a wrench into commuter’s lives and traffic.

But the context is critical: these workers were being heavily penalized, even losing their jobs, for simply taking sick days. Their schedules are inconsistent and more or less at the whim of the railroad companies, and individual workers are often called on to pilot locomotives without backup. In retrospect, perhaps the railroads should have seen this coming and invested more in the well-being of their workers.

This issue is of great importance to those of us who care about climate change because rail is one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight to decarbonize. Transporting people by rail – similarly to by bus – produces far lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than doing so by plane or automobile. (While the typical U.S. passenger or freight train generates more CO2 than an individual car, it can carry far more, hence the use of “passenger miles”.)

For a personal example, on Thursday, MEP Executive Director Steve Morse was scheduled to return to St. Paul from Milwaukee via Amtrak after attending the US Water Alliance’s One Water Summit. Unfortunately, the train was canceled due to the possible strike, so Steve had to book a last-minute flight. Steve said, “The worst part was, my carbon emissions were multiplied by a factor of six.” In the future, recent investments in Amtrak for a second daily train between the Twin Cities and Chicago may make that particular trip easier.

My personal experience with rail is less extensive than Steve’s, but I have my own encounter with it to share. A few years ago, I visited Italy, starting from Milan and going to Rome. Using Italy’s high speed rail system, a trip that could have taken six hours or longer by car – and generated far more carbon emissions – lasted three quite comfortable hours. Of all the culture shocks, it was one of the most fun ones – and frustrating, given that we don’t have similar options here at home.

These examples illustrate the difficult gulf we have between what we could have in terms of transportation and what we have now, both in the U.S. and Minnesota. Currently, the U.S. has only one high-speed train, the electric-powered Acela, which runs between Washington, D.C. and Boston. Meanwhile, China, which began building its high-speed rail network only in 2008, now has a grid of more than 25,000 miles of electric high-speed rail. As solar and wind replaces coal and gas in electricity generation, the emissions of those trains dwindles down to near-zero.

That’s not to say that the U.S. can or should build new rail at such a breakneck speed. But if we’re serious about cutting emissions from transportation – Minnesota’s largest source of emissions – we need to reduce vehicle miles traveled, and trains are a powerful way to do that. We don’t have to shoot for the moon immediately – we can start by moving ahead with projects already in the works, and by reinvesting in the people and infrastructure we already have. If our state and country invest in our workers and in good train and transit options, people will be more likely to make use of these efficient and climate-friendly options.

In the Twin Cities, the MetroTransit Green Line light rail extension has been bogged down by routing issues and cost overruns. We hope to see its half-billion dollar funding gap closed and the project finally completed to connect thousands of southwest metro residents to the electric light rail network. Similarly, we would like to see faster progress on the Blue Line extension north of Minneapolis, currently scheduled to start construction in 2025, which will reach some of Minnesota’s most diverse communities.

Rail transit isn’t just a metro concern, either. Building the proposed Northern Lights Express between Duluth and St. Paul would create a fast, cleaner option for those traveling between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports (and link the two MEP offices by rail!) Similarly, shoring up the troubled northwest metro North Star line and looking more deeply at a proposed extension to St. Cloud would make taking transit a much more viable option for many commuters.

But as the very real possibility of a rail strike shows, our economy and our transition to clean energy don’t run simply on things, but on people. Trains and buses can’t run without workers who feel fairly paid, respectfully treated, and safe on the job – if they don’t, they’re well within their rights to take collective action. That is why we need a just transition to clean energy that invests in our infrastructure and our workers.

And as routes are built and prioritized, we need to make sure they effectively serve those that need them the most, especially low-income families and communities of color. Minnesota’s passenger trains aren’t just a fun way to bring fans to Twins and Vikings games, they’re vital infrastructure for many of our people to get to work, run errands and visit their family and friends. We owe it to them to get this right.

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 

The Inflation Reduction Act comes to Minnesota homes

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota is a cold state. And, almost as often, a hot state. Sometimes, we’re both in the same month, even the same week. Suffice to say that heating, cooling, and powering our homes and businesses is a big deal. It costs a lot of energy and generates a lot of climate emissions, which sets us up for even more extreme weather down the line. 

That’s one of the biggest reasons that the Inflation Reduction Act’s energy provisions are a shot in the arm for Minnesotans. The IRA is, as many have said, about “carrots” for the energy sector. It doesn’t introduce many new restrictions on industries, but it provides tremendous incentives for businesses and individuals to switch to clean energy.

A couple weeks ago, MEP had the opportunity to sit down with Pete Wyckoff and Paula Sunde, lead staffers for U.S. Senator Tina Smith, to learn about how the IRA will affect Minnesota. They explained how the climate provisions will specifically help Minnesotans easily access energy savings and weatherization – the figures in this column largely come from their informational documents.

Heating and cooling

In 2018, Minnesota’s residential and commercial buildings emitted the equivalent of 14 million tons of carbon-dioxide in climate pollution from natural gas alone. That’s part of what has contributed to a troubling trend. While electricity and transportation emissions in Minnesota decreased from 2005-2018, building emissions actually went up, contributing to our lackluster progress on cutting emissions economy-wide.

Part of the challenge is that Minnesota homes are old – with a median age of 43 years – and not terribly efficient, making heating and cooling in our varying weather an expensive proposition. The vast majority of homes in our state also rely on gas heating. As we wrote recently, U.S. natural gas prices hit a 14-year high on August 14th. Relying on gas is costly for our wallets and harmful to the planet in the long run, but it can be prohibitively expensive for residents to invest in insulation and heat pumps to make the switch to cleaner electricity.

Fortunately, the Inflation Reduction Act includes Residential Clean Energy Tax Credits. For the next ten years, individuals will be able to access these credits to help reimburse up to 30% of their costs for energy efficiency improvements starting January 1, 2023.

  • Water Heaters: $600 for electric or gas heat pump water heater or heat pump, central air, gas or propane water heater or hot water boiler, or biomass boiler
  • HVAC: $2,000 towards a heat pump
  • Windows and Doors: windows ($600), doors ($250 per door, up to $500 total)
  • Insulation/Weatherization: $1200
  • Home Energy Audits: $150

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The IRA also provides $4.3 billion in funding to state governments to implement a HOMES rebate program, which would reimburse homeowners for whole-home retrofits to save energy. These rebates (and those in the following section) can’t be combined with the tax credits listed above, but will help to reach a broader set of households.

For single family homes:

  • 15-20% energy systems savings: a payment rate per kilowatt-hour saved equal to $2,000 for a 20% reduction or 50% of the project cost.
  • 20-35% energy systems savings: the lesser of $2,000 or 50% of the project cost.
  • Over 35% energy system savings: the lesser of $4,000 or 50% of the project cost.

For multi-family homes:

  • 15-20% energy systems savings: a payment rate per kilowatt-hour saved equal to $2,000 for a
  • 20% reduction or 50% of the project cost.
  • 20-35% energy systems savings: $2,000 per dwelling unit with a maximum of $200,000 per
  • multifamily building.
  • Over 35% energy system savings: $4,000

For low- and moderate-income households:

  •  The federal government recommends that the state program rebates be doubled or upped to 80% of project cost. 
  • These households have traditionally had the greatest difficulty accessing efficiency upgrades and, consequently, had disproportionately high energy bills. 
  • These targeted and higher rebates would go a long way toward saving these families money and making their homes more livable.

And on top of that, the IRA includes another $4.3 billion in funding – $4.28 billion for state governments and $225 million for tribal governments – to set up rebate programs to reimburse electrification investments. This includes upgrades like:

  • Heat pump water heaters ($1,750)
  • Heat pump heating/cooling ($8,000)
  • Electric stove/cooktop/range/oven or clothes dryer ($840)
  • Electric load service center upgrade ($4,000),
  • Insulation or air sealing for better ventilation ($1,600)
  • Electrical wiring ($2,500).

Speaking from personal experience, these rebates would be a major boon for residents. I recently removed my gas oven and range and replaced it with an induction unit. While the energy savings and performance are well worth the price, the cost to upgrade my electrical panel alone was nothing to sneeze at. These rebates will help reward consumers for making choices healthy for them, their bank accounts, and our planet.

The next steps

The tricky part with these energy-saving rebates is the same issue that faces many federally-funded state programs: the state has to establish and run the program. As we’ve seen with issues like Medicaid expansion, or with Minnesota trying to access federal matching dollars for transportation, state governments can be resistant to setting up programs for ideological or other reasons.

We must also recognize that during the negotiation process, fossil fuel concessions were made in this bill that will have a greater effect on already overburdened communities. It will be up to the state to ensure that money included in the IRA to support environmental justice will find its way to BIPOC and overburdened communities. It’ll be up to Minnesotans and organizations like MEP to help ensure the law reaches its full potential for cutting emissions and reducing energy costs. This includes working with government leaders and agencies and partners to ensure these funds reach the communities in our state that need it the most. 

Fortunately, we have the facts on our side: the cleanest, cheapest type of energy is the energy you never use. Efficiency is a win-win for our planet, economy, and health, and we’re willing to bet that Minnesotans will enjoy making their homes cozier in the winter and cooler in the summer.

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

Bill would permanently shore up Boundary Waters

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Over the past month, thousands of visitors have been canoeing, backpacking, and portaging their way through Minnesota’s signature wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Between setting up camp and picking wild blueberries, many might stop to think about the value of this natural haven. And they might also consider what could happen if industry begins treating the Boundary Waters watershed as expendable.

The Boundary Waters is one of North America’s most pristine water resources, as well as one of its most vulnerable. The rivers and lakes that make up the area are highly interconnected, forming much of its natural beauty and ecological value. That, along with a long tradition of canoeing and fishing, makes the Boundary Waters a vital part of Minnesota’s recreation economy, and has helped justify the area’s special protections.

MEP holds the position that all watersheds of Minnesota deserve full protection, from the Red to the St. Louis, from the Rainy to the Des Moines. As the place where the Laurentian and St. Lawrence continental divides meet, we’re upstream from half a continent. Everything we do flows outward – witness this year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” to see how local agricultural pollution and other sources of nutrients can harm those far beyond our borders.

We hope to see stronger protections for all of these watersheds, but the fact that so much national momentum is in favor of special protection for the Boundary Waters is an encouraging sign. Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum has introduced HR 2794, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. This bill would address the pressing threat to our northern waters – sulfide-ore copper mining – by banning it within the watershed of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.

As we’ve written time and again, sulfide-ore mining is a bad idea for Northern Minnesota due to its tendency to leak toxic acid into the waters around it, ruining entire ecosystems. No such mine has ever operated in the United States without heavily polluting the surrounding environment. Backers of projects like Twin Metals and PolyMet claim that new technology can prevent these issues, but this technology hasn’t been proven to work, and by the companies’ own admission, years, decades or centuries of maintenance are required to prevent pollution even after these types of mines close.

Currently, Twin Metals – the most high-profile example of a sulfide mining project in the Boundary Waters watershed – is looking like a long shot to ever be built. The Biden Administration reinitiated a mineral withdrawal to prevent extraction in the area and canceled two of Twin Metals’ federal leases. The state DNR has halted the permitting process for the mine in light of those actions. And while Twin Metals is suing to reinstate the leases – and hopes, perhaps, that a future administration would be more favorable – the project has been fully stopped in its tracks for now.

But while sulfide mining companies may lack concern for the long-term effects of their mines on watersheds, they think in the long-term as far as permitting goes. A future Presidential administration could reinstate Twin Metals’ leases, as the Trump Administration did several years ago. While state and federal agencies are bound to follow the law and the science, the interpretation of that law can vary widely, and courts aren’t guaranteed to find in favor of those who care about water, climate, and wildlife.

That’s why permanent efforts like HR 2794 are so important. Natural treasures like the Boundary Waters need unambiguous, permanent protections. As water resources and ecosystems are threatened by climate change, we can’t afford to lose any more to pollution. And Minnesota’s massive recreation economy would suffer heavily if our northern waters are treated as expendable – their appeal to outdoors lovers, after all, is in their protection from harm.

We hope to see HR 2794 continue to advance in the House and gain sponsorship and support in the Senate. If passed, this bill would be a lifeline for the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs and could help pave the way for broader measures to save Minnesota’s watersheds.

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.

Minnesota solar power is looking bright

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

For much of our history as a state, coal was king when it came to generating Minnesota’s electricity, followed by nuclear power not far behind. It brought with it air pollution and a hefty share of the state’s contribution to climate change. It also meant that state dollars have flowed outward for years to buy coal from Wyoming, gas from North Dakota, and uranium from western states and abroad.

Fortunately, times have changed: since last year, coal and nuclear have both been dethroned by homegrown renewables, which generated almost 30% of the energy that powers our homes.  A large majority of that power came from wind turbines, primarily in the southern parts of the state like Buffalo Ridge, soon to be home to a major new hybrid wind and solar project. As that story illustrates, solar’s rise alongside wind in the North Star state is a big success story for our climate, health, and ecosystems, and it’s poised to accelerate.

Last year, solar panels provided almost 4% of Minnesota’s electricity. That might not sound enormous, but it represents rapid progress from where we started. In 2007, when the state passed the historic Next Generation Energy Act, we had around one megawatt of solar generation capacity – only enough to power about 164 homes. In 2013 MEP and multiple partner organizations developed the “Clean Energy & Jobs” campaign, proposing that the state adopt a solar standard requiring that 10% of our electricity come from solar sources by 2030. Instead the legislature opted for a 1.5% standard by 2020 and a 10% goal by 2030. 

Ten years later, it’s great to see that not only was the 2020 standard easily met, but we are well on our way to achieving the 2030 goal, even if it is not a required standard. Today, we’ve reached over 1,700 megawatts installed and counting, enough to power more than 200,000 homes. Panels can be seen on rooftops in Minneapolis, massive solar farms in Chisago County, and other installations across the state.

Pushing through challenges

As Minnesota’s numerous “snowbird” residents can tell you, we’re not exactly a sunshine state. Minnesota is in the bottom third of states for annual hours of sunlight. Yet solar is still proving to provide a viable energy source year-round in our state. Even with our natural conditions, as of 2021, we’re in the top 15 states for solar power, with more than 4,500 jobs in the industry. As we wrote in June, the Heights is an example of a Minnesota development that may rely on solar for virtually all of its energy needs. One of MEP’s key priorities is ensuring that clean energy training is available in communities of color to ensure they benefit from this transition.

This progress is a testament to state policies, like the Next Generation Energy Act and the 2013 Solar Standard, that Minnesota has put in place. It’s also evidence of how far the cost of solar has plummeted. Once among the most expensive sources of energy, as anticipated, solar is projected to become the cheapest source of power in the world within a few years. Combined with wind and storage technology, solar energy can meet most of our needs.

That’s not to say that solar power will replace all fossil fuels. While the economics are on its side, we still have to provide the political will to bring about the transition. At the local level, county boards have been known to block permits for solar installations based on misconceptions or political disagreements about solar.

Bottlenecks in supplies and approval by utilities, like the backup of applications to connect solar projects to Xcel Energy’s grid, also tend to disrupt progress. While Minnesota solar growth continues, it has not yet returned to its 2017 peak of over 400 megawatts of capacity installed.

A new wave of installations?

Minnesota’s drive for more solar looks poised to be reenergized by the Inflation Reduction Act. Analysts project that the IRA will help the number of solar panels in the U.S. quadruple by 2030, from 240 million to upwards of 950 million panels. The law also invests heavily in battery storage projects, a crucial support factor for ensuring that customers have access to reliable power when the sun isn’t shining, as well as expanded power grid infrastructure to transmit that power.

Additionally the IRA increases and extends tax credits for residential solar – previously set to expire in 2024 – for the next decade. That will help boost stability for consumers and installers, who previously faced uncertainty about whether they would benefit from the tax credit on projects installed in the next few years.

Now that this landmark federal legislation has been passed, however, Minnesota still has to ensure we take advantage of it. In many cases, we’ll need the state legislature to pass funding for clean energy projects to access federal matching funds, and to tailor our programs to help diverse and low-income communities – too often left behind by economic transitions – access these benefits. That means that organizations like MEP, partnering with our more than 70 member organizations and connecting with grassroots supporters, will be working hard to generate the political will for investments in our sun-powered future.

As the climate crisis becomes ever more apparent in the headlines, it should be clear to everyone that a clean energy revolution is a need, not a luxury. We know that Minnesotans are ready for this transition, and with local action bolstered by the IRA, we believe we can get it done.

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.

Americans – and the planet – can’t afford fossil gas

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Photo credit: Department of Energy

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, August 17, U.S. natural gas – also known as fossil gas – prices reached their highest level in 14 years. The reasons why are complex. A hot summer is driving high electricity use, natural gas extraction is relatively low, and trade disruptions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine have driven up demand in Europe.

Some analysts argue that the time is therefore ripe to boost drilling and fracking, driving prices down by tackling the supply side. That might reduce the prices for a time, but it won’t solve the underlying problem. Natural gas, like coal and oil, is a finite, unstable, and dangerous fossil fuel resource.

Consumers in the U.S. will always be at the mercy of natural gas prices as long as we continue to build infrastructure that relies on it. As long as we generate a significant percentage of our electricity and the majority of building heating with natural gas, we’ll be vulnerable to system shocks. When Texas was hit by a blizzard last year that massively disrupted its natural gas power generation, Minnesota wasn’t spared from the price shocks that rippled outward.

Meanwhile, natural gas – which mostly consists of methane – and its extraction is making our climate crisis worse. Methane is an outsize contributor to the climate crisis – while it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide, it traps far more heat. The oil and gas industry is the single largest source of methane emissions in the United States due to its leaky wells.

Fortunately, the Inflation Reduction Act includes first steps to curb methane, including an emissions fee on the potent pollutant. It also includes historically large subsidies for building electrification and efficiency, which will help reduce the amount of natural gas that consumers use and drive down energy prices.

Building electrification can also boost human health, because the use of natural gas in cooking carries its own issues. Cooking with gas, even with some level of ventilation – can spread massive levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Those chemicals aren’t usually immediately fatal, but over the long term they can contribute to health issues like cancer and asthma. Lower-income households are especially vulnerable due to poor ventilation and older appliances. Gas stoves also have an alarming tendency to leak methane into the atmosphere, making a relatively small but significant contribution to climate change.

Some local governments, recognizing that natural gas reliance isn’t green or good for consumer’s wallets, are banning new natural gas connections in construction. Cities like New York, Seattle, San Francisco, have moved ahead with partial or complete bans on new gas infrastructure, even as some states pass legislation to preempt these bans.

What can Minnesota do?

In this environment, it’s especially frustrating that Minnesota Power is attempting to build a $700 million natural gas plant, the Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC) to generate electricity in Superior, Wisconsin. Despite clear evidence that new natural gas infrastructure is a dead-end pathway that could make it much harder to meet our emissions reductions needs, NTEC has won approval from state regulators in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. However, it’s still working to get approval at the federal level, and groups like MEP members Honor the Earth, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Sierra Club are continuing to work against the plant.

Fortunately, the EPA at least partially agrees with those organizations. The agency recommended that the US Department of Agriculture redo its environmental review of NTEC, arguing that it did not adequately account for the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions. If the project can be stopped or stalled due to concerns with carbon emissions, it will be a significant victory for the climate and for the health of Twin Ports residents.

Beyond stopping new fossil gas plants, Minnesota has a tough nut to crack when it comes to moving away from this volatile fuel. Roughly two-thirds of homes in the state are heated by natural gas, which also generates 21% of our electricity. Our cold winters present a unique challenge for reducing those numbers.

Fortunately, the future isn’t far away. Increasingly inexpensive renewable electricity, improved heat pumps, and emerging technologies that can help cure what ails us, as long as they get adequate state and federal investment to get them established. The day may not be far away when Minnesotans won’t need to worry about the price of natural gas.

How you can help: Add your name to the Sierra Club’s petition for Minnesota Power to move toward renewable energy and away from harmful boondoggles like NTEC.

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.