Legislative session ends, but lawmakers’ work isn’t over

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

May 18 marked the final day of the Minnesota’s 2020 Legislative Session, but the third Monday of the month marked more of a pause than a conclusion to the Legislature’s work for the year – a comma, not a period. The Legislature plans to pick up its work where it left off in a special session starting June 12, and is continuing negotiations on what final bills will look like. This session will be legally required to convene if, as expected, Governor Walz extends the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency.

Ultimately, the House and Senate ran out of time to come together on most policy provisions relating to the environment before the end-of-session deadline, as COVID-19 issues understandably took most of their attention. They did pass the nation’s first-ever ban on using the harmful industrial chemical TCE. And they passed a Renewable Development Account spending bill with funding for four projects:

  • Extending Xcel’s Solar Rewards program that pays incentives for qualifying residential and commercial solar systems into 2024
  • Providing community transition grants to support economic development in communities with retiring coal plants 
  • Upgrading the Granite Falls Hydropower dam; and
  • Funding the Prairie Island Community Net Zero Project

But so far the legislature has missed taking meaningful action to jump start our economic recovery and transition to a green economy through a robust and strategic bonding bill. Nor has it passed the recommended $64 million worth of scientific environmental research, education and habitat projects funded out of the constitutionally-dedicated Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. 

We asked Minnesotans to speak up on key bills near the end of the session: on fixing our decaying water infrastructure and investing in public transitpassing a bill to keep Environment and Natural Resources projects alive, fixing the problematic Senate Environment Bill, and stopping the “Fossil Fuels Forever” bill masquerading as “Clean Energy First.” 

These contacts have made a difference. And all of these issues are still relevant. The next few weeks present a great opportunity to call and email lawmakers before they reconvene.

Environmental problems aren’t on hold during COVID-19 – our economy is still running on fossil fuels, our water infrastructure is still aging and making people sick, and the EPA is even letting polluters off the hook (see Star Tribune article below.) But responsibly using bonding and our lottery-funded Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to help invest in a cleaner Minnesota will make our state more resilient, more prosperous, and more sustainable. That’s what we’re working to get legislators to understand.

For a full breakdown of where legislation has temporarily landed, see our MEP End of Session Update, and check out other policy updates from the MEP organizations listed below:

Fresh Energy2020 Legislative Session Wraps Up: What happened?

Friends of the Mississippi River: 2020 legislative session ends with most bills “staying at home”

Land Stewardship Project: 2020 Legislative Session: What Happened & What’s Next

Move Minnesota: With Blocked Bonding Bill, Strengthened Support for Transit, Bicycling, and Walking are Key as Minnesota Legislature Moves Toward Special Session

End of Session Update 2020

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As my MEP colleague Matt Doll said, the end of this legislative session brought more of a comma than a period.  A few important things in the environment and conservation arena were accomplished, but much is left to do in anticipated special sessions coming this summer. 

Here’s where we stand at this point: 

·      Historic ban on TCE is signed by the Governor

·      Legislature finds unity in providing some supports for farmers

·      No agreement on bonding bill size or projects by Governor, Senate and House

·      Chances for ENRTF funding package are looking up

·      Environment bills from House and Senate have significant differences, negotiations will be key

·      Senate Leadership and House Republicans go to the mat to stop Clean Cars Rulemaking 

·      Fossil Fuels Forever bill a.k.a. “Clean Energy First” stalls in Senate Finance

·      Renewable Development Account bill will fund four projects for now

·      Energy Conservation Optimization Act passes House, but not Senate yet 

Big Win: A Ban on TCE is Signed by the Governor:

One significant win worth celebrating was the passage of the nation’s first ban on the toxic chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE. Communities affected by high levels of TCE exposure from Water Gremlin over the past 17 years strongly advocated for this ban, along with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Minnesota. Thank you for showing us that good progress can be made quickly when we work together for the right goals.

Nearly Unanimous Legislation Supporting Farmers: 

The multiple crises of insufficient access to health care, climate change, disrupted markets and the Covid-19 pandemic are compounding for farm families and communities. Several pieces of legislation to help lead by MEP member Land Stewardship Project passed with nearly unanimous support, including: 

·      Extending deadlines for farmer mediation to prevent foreclosure for 150 days or December 1 (whichever is later) – giving farmers time to plant and harvest, understand new market conditions and new government assistance programs, and respond to these new circumstances. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. 

·      Securing funds to help farmers restructure loans, and expand the capacity of smaller meat and poultry processing facilities and other food processors

Bonding: No Agreement Between House, Senate and Governor Yet 

General Obligation bonding is our state government’s method for paying for improvements to Minnesota infrastructure – from higher education buildings to farm land put aside for conservation purposes.  “Bonding” years typically happen during the second year of the biennium (the first year is often reserved for passing the state’s budget). 

Three different collections of projects, or bonding packages, have been put forward by the Governor the House, and the Senate.  Passing a bonding bill usually needs bi-partisan cooperation to meet the required threshold of 60% affirmative votes.  In the final days session, neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass their own bonding bill, much less agree with the other players. 

Thanks to all of you who have weighed in with legislators supporting a large bonding bill with significant investments in:

–       Transit

–       Land use that fights climate change

–       Water infrastructure for communities across the state. 

MEP will continue to advocate for these priorities and the significant jobs they will create as we head into an anticipated special session.  Join us by visiting this action alert, here.

ENRTF and Environment Bills in position for negotiations: 

The Minnesota Senate made a couple of plays earlier in the session that put both an environment bill and an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) bill at risk of even being considered by the Senate. But important progress was made.

1)   ENRTF Bill Introduced by Senate, Finally

Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen announced in April that the Senate did not intend to pass the $64 million ENRTF funding package for scientific research, habitat projects and more that comes from the ENRTF (created by proceeds that are constitutionally dedicated from the Minnesota Lottery).  Sen. Ingebrigtsen was holding out to include $1.5 million for a wastewater treatment facility project that is outside the parameters of the Fund’s intended purposes.

Your pressure asking Senators to pass the ENRTF funding made a difference! On Saturday, the package of ENRTF projects — without the $1.5 million for the wastewater facility — was added to the Senate’s environment bill, SF 4499 and passed by the Senate.  

The House also passed a combination ENRTF funding and environment policy bill on Saturday, HF 4554. Though the House bill is much different from the Senate’s, the bills are now likely being negotiated between legislative leaders and the Walz administration.  There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate bills take us. 

2)   Environment Bill brought to Senate floor, Finally: 

Word on the street had been that Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy chair Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen was so opposed to the Clean Cars Rulemaking underway by the MPCA right now that he would keep an environment bill from even being brought to the Senate floor unless he were assured that legislation to stop this rulemaking would be enacted (see more on this below). 

But the Senate did bring up its environment bill, SF 4499, on Saturday. A really big shout out to Senator Dibble and Senator Marty for doing a great job highlighting the harmful provisions in the Senate bill. You can see a detailed analysis of the provisions MEP supports and opposes in this letter here.  One important provision was left out of this summary: 

Section 71 of the Senate bill narrows the definition of what a “pipeline” is for the purpose of excluding pipelines associated with mining (that carry mineral slurry, for instance) from regulation. 

There is still an opportunity for us to highlight the differences in direction the House and Senate environment bills take us. We will be sending more messaging on this soon.

Clean Cars Rulemaking: 

Opponents to the Clean Cars Rulemaking — begun by the PCA in the fall of 2019 to enable Minnesotans access to more electric vehicle model options on car showroom floors – are working to take away the PCA’s authority to regulate air emissions.  

An amendment to revoke PCA authority to engage in this rulemaking was offered by Representative Fabian. Fortunately the amendment failed on a vote, 55 – 59. 

However, this same language remains in the Senate’s version of the environment bill, SF 4499.

Renewable Development Account Funding Package

The legislature passed a Renewable Development Account spending bill with funding for four projects:

  • Extending Xcel’s Solar Rewards program that pays incentives for qualifying residential and commercial solar systems into 2024
  • Providing community transition grants to support economic development in communities with retiring coal plants
  • Upgrading the Granite Falls Hydropower dam; and
  • Funding the Prairie Island Community Net Zero Project


We’ll work to keep you posted as we move through the special session(s) and summer. 

Our best to you,

Sara Wolff
Advocacy Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota Senate stonewalling may leave Environmental Trust Fund money on the table

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, we received troubling news about Minnesota’s work to restore and protect our natural spaces. State Representative Rick Hansen, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division, posted a letter from his Senate counterpart, Bill Ingebrigtsen, in which Senator Ingebrigtsen said that the Senate does not intend to pass a bill spending funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) this year. 

Senator Ingebrigtsen said that because the state would face a budget deficit next year, and because the LCCMR (the panel that recommends which projects to fund) did not come to a final agreement on the full package this year, ENRTF money should not be spent in 2020.

Essentially, this letter indicates that the Senate intends to leave money on the table during a recession, despite no need to do so, and leaving environmental programs out in the cold without reason. There is no pressing fiscal reason for refusing to pass a bill, and it will actively hurt workers who rely on the projects the ENRTF supports.

How the ENRTF helps the state

The ENRTF was created by voters via a constitutional amendment in 1988, and is funded by proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery and investment income. It doesn’t draw on taxpayer funds, and has been sustainable throughout its 30-year history. It provides money to environmental and conservation projects that improve natural resources and habitat, support research into sustainability, and protect Minnesota’s outdoor recreation economy. In doing so, it supports numerous jobs throughout the state and helps us fight climate change, invasive species, and pollution.

The ENRTF is not meant to plug budget holes or fund basic infrastructure projects. A bill passed in 2018 did just that in defiance of the intent of the constitutional amendment, and MEP and our allies sued the state to prevent it. This litigation effectively stopped the sale of these offending bonds and in 2019, the Legislature fixed this misuse of fundin. But it’s clear that controversy over the appropriate use of the ENRTF has not ended.

The consequences of inaction

Leaving Minnesotans’ $60 million in ENRTF money to be spent next year would not prevent job losses or help the state’s financial position, but it would create disruptions and uncertainty. The Trust Fund isn’t in any danger of being depleted, except by Legislative misuse. If these environmental projects are not funded this year, Minnesotans employed by it will soon be out of work, leaving them especially vulnerable in a struggling economy. 

Meanwhile, issues like zebra mussels, water pollution, and pollinator decline don’t stop worsening just because Minnesota isn’t addressing them. Environmental protection is not a marginal concern – it’s critical to keeping our state livable. Minnesota voters understood this when we approved the Trust Fund three times.

The Legislature should come to an agreement

In the midst of COVID-19, compounding ongoing environmental challenges, and a radically altered economy, it would be a failure of responsibility for the Legislature to not continue supporting ENRTF projects this year. We know that the two legislative bodies can come to an agreement that preserves the critical programs which both of them support.  We hope they find a way to pass funding for the many projects that have garnered broad overwhelming support from the LCCMR.   

Upgrading Minnesota water systems: Vital to our health, a boost to our economy

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature has been working aggressively over the past few weeks to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and its harsh impacts on our state’s communities. Throughout the rest of the spring (or summer, if a special session is called), they will have to contend with tough questions about the effects of this health crisis on people, budgets, and the economy of Minnesota, and how to effectively respond to all three. One powerful tool at their disposal will be the use of bonding – our state’s ability to borrow funds inexpensively over a longer term to make capital investments, especially infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Governor Walz proposed a $2 billion bonding package that included $300 million for water infrastructure. These dollars would be an excellent long-term investment in Minnesota’s future and would help the overall economic response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Here’s why water bonding is a great investment in Minnesota:

1. It’s sorely needed

Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, thousands of Minnesotans face a long-growing crisis of contaminated drinking water. Residents of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, and other older communities suffer the harmful effects of lead poisoning from aging pipes. Nitrate contamination has created problems for cities like Hastings, Cold Spring, and Fairmont. In other places, like Bemidji, “forever chemicals” like PFAS substances have forced communities to shut down wells that previously provided water to residents. 

To make matters worse, in many cities, water treatment and transport systems are many decades old and deteriorating. Fixes are prohibitively expensive for many communities, especially small ones, to cover individually.

At the same time, river flooding has worsened in the face of climate change. Communities in the Minnesota and Mississippi River valleys face high-cresting rivers and storm surges that threaten homes and businesses. New infrastructure can’t change rain or snowfall patterns, but it can make the impact lighter by allowing water to be better drained and absorbed. Upgrades are sorely needed as part of climate adaptation.

2. It would boost our economy

Like the rest of the world, Minnesota will likely be facing a severe economic crisis due to COVID-19. Once the worst of the pandemic has passed, our economy will need major stimulus in order to reverse job losses. Water infrastructure investment can play a vital positive role in this stimulus. These are shovel-ready projects that will support jobs in construction, engineering, manufacturing, and other fields, while improving the quality of life of the communities they serve.

In the long-term, clean water and flood prevention help prevent costs that drag down local economies. Clean drinking water and surface waters means healthier residents and lower medical costs. Every flood averted represents dollars that residents, businesses, and municipalities don’t have to spend to restore what was lost to rising waters.

3. We can pay for it

Minnesota political leaders have signaled their intention to pass a major bonding bill. This would allow the state to borrow money at negligible interest rates for infrastructure and other projects. These “general obligation” bonds won’t strain Minnesota’s overall state budget, because they’re paid off over the long-term, enabling them to be used to help bring about an economic recovery.

How we can get it done

During this challenging time, traditional avenues of lobbying are changing or temporarily suspended, but our advocacy continues, and the voices of Minnesotans still make a difference!

In the coming weeks, look for updates and opportunities to express your support for a major capital investment bill in the Minnesota Legislature. Now’s the time for smart investments that will benefit us all in the future.

MEP, allies call on Walz to pause major permitting, protect environmental safeguards

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Thursday, April 2, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and more than two dozen allied organizations sent a letter to the Walz Administration and Attorney General Keith Ellison, asking that they continue to protect Minnesotans’ environmental health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis.

Our request was twofold: that the Walz Administration temporarily suspend permitting for new and expanded projects, and that the MPCA provide certain safeguards while responding to COVID 19 circumstances. These proposals, while relatively simple in their implementation, would go a long way to protect Minnesota’s environmental well-being during and after this challenging time.

The first request asks that the state suspend environmental review and permitting for major and controversial projects, such as the Line 3 oil pipeline and copper sulfide mining proposals like PolyMet and Twin Metals. The request asks Governor Walz to direct state agencies to temporarily put this work on hold until the Peacetime Emergency order is lifted. These projects would reshape and threaten critical parts of Minnesota’s environment and climate action, and their review requires broad public participation.

Transparency and public accountability are key Minnesota values, and during this period of quarantines and social distancing, many Minnesotans will lack time and opportunity to comment on projects that could negatively impact the environment around them. And rapid economic changes during and after the peak of COVID-19 can radically change the needs of communities and government agencies. 

With Minnesotans largely confined to our homes and with a health crisis on our minds, is not the time to be rushing through new fossil fuel infrastructure, factory farm expansions, or other hazardous projects. None of these projects are so urgent that they shouldn’t get a full hearing in front of Minnesotans.

The second request is for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to provide public safeguards as it makes exceptions to environmental rules under its “flexibility” policy. The MPCA is granting variances from some rules as long as they work out conditions with the agency in advance. We can appreciate the challenges the MPCA faces at this time, but it’s vital that the public is fully aware of what flexibility is being granted and that it doesn’t jeopardize the health and safety of Minnesotans. Air pollutants can worsen COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, and Minnesota shouldn’t be dealing with any greater health risks due to pollution at this critical time.

MEP and our partners asked the MPCA to set time limits for flexibility requests, make the requests and results available online, allow a brief public comment period, to deny permits when necessary, and to analyze the ultimate impact of regulatory flexibility. We recognize that with social distancing and stay-at-home policies at work, the MPCA can’t conduct business as usual, but neighbors and the public also need to be kept informed. It is good to see that the agency has already made some modifications to its procedures and is now posting all flexibility requests online.

COVID-19 has created a highly unusual and stressful time for Minnesota’s residents, economy, and public agencies. Minnesota’s environmental community deeply appreciates the measures our state has taken thus far to protect the health of all our neighbors. This is a moment for Minnesota to show what it can do for its people, and it shouldn’t be an opportunity to push through big highly controversial projects, as federal authorities are already doing. With the federal government appearing unwilling to protect our current and future environmental health, now, more than ever, we’re counting on our state to step up.

PolyMet appeal headed to Supreme Court, company on the defensive on permits

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Two major developments on PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel sulfide mine in northern Minnesota were announced this week.

On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) air permits for the PolyMet mine. The Court found that in its permit, the MPCA hadn’t adequately considered the increase in air pollution that would ensue from PolyMet dramatically scaling up its mining operation. PolyMet’s recent plans anticipate increasing its mining operation beyond what it stated when it applied for permits. It appears to be a case of PolyMet attempting to use the “foot-in-the-door” trick by securing a permit for a smaller scale of mining before asking for an increase, to which state agencies would be presumably more agreeable. The Court of Appeals decision requires the MPCA to revisit the initial air permits on these grounds.

Then, on Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear PolyMet’s appeal of a January Court of Appeals decision that overturned its permit to mine and its dam safety permits. That decision requires the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hold a public contested-case hearing on the mine’s environmental impacts before permitting for the mine can proceed.

In both cases, the causes of environmental protection and public transparency were championed by several MEP member groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. We thank these organizations for their superb work at protecting the health and interests of Minnesotans.

PolyMet has always been intrinsically hazardous from an environmental standpoint. Copper-nickel sulfide mining has never been conducted in Minnesota, and there is no case of it occurring in the United States without seriously polluting the surrounding environment. The sulfuric acid created when water passes over sulfide waste is lethal to organisms and can permanently pollute bodies of water. PolyMet’s plan to store this waste behind a dam is risky, unstable, and more and more dangerous due to increased precipitation from climate change.

Though PolyMet proponents have claimed that the minerals mined are needed for building a clean energy economy, the project is a major carbon threat. It would require enormous amounts of energy and destroy natural carbon sinks in Minnesota wetlands, and it’s not at all clear that we need the specific minerals the mine would extract when large quantities are available from recycling and other sources.

Though PolyMet has previously claimed numerous victories in the permitting process, those were unsurprising – the process is largely built to allow projects to move forward even if they have serious flaws, and the MPCA’s irregular action on these permits certainly didn’t help. But these hard-won legal victories show that Minnesota’s courts are willing to listen to reason and scientific evidence, and that the bad old ways of doing business may be ripe for change. For now, at least, they’re allowing us to put the brakes on PolyMet before it brings serious harm to the people, wildlife, and waters of northern Minnesota.

Our coverage of Minnesota’s environmental issues is made possible by our dedicated supporters. Consider supporting MEP with a small contribution of whatever you can afford. Thank you for reading!

Line 3 comment period extended, moved to conference calls

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Online comments open through April 10

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced that in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it would extend the online comment period on its permits for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline by one week and shift from holding in-person hearings to telephone town halls. These 90-minute calls, taking place on April 2nd, 7th, and 9th, will allow Minnesotans to make comments of up to two minutes in length. Online comments can be submitted through April 10, and are the most effective way to get concerns on the record.

MEP and our partners had submitted a letter requesting that MPCA extend the comment period, and we’re glad to see the closing date was moved. Given that construction of the proposed Line 3 would be a climate nightmare, it is critical that citizens step forward now and in large numbers to oppose these permits.

The permits in question cover water protection, wastewater use, and air pollution. Enbridge has already re-secured its required Certificate of Need and route permit from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), leaving the MPCA permits and permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers as one of the last remaining checks on the pipeline.

MPCA extension of the comment period and the shift to phone participation will allow greater participation than the alternative of no public hearings. Minnesotans deserve adequate time to register concerns about this project. 

The previous hearing schedule included no hearings in the Twin Cities. While local land and pollution concerns in the northern Minnesota communities the pipeline would cross deserve full attention, the entire state should have ample opportunity to comment on Line 3’s impacts.

These impacts would be severe, and go far beyond the considerable danger of a spill in northern waters. Line 3 is a climate disaster and has been demonstrated by the State Department of Commerce to be an unnecessary project. MEP strenuously disagreed with the PUC’s finding that the new pipeline was needed by Minnesotans, and we applauded Commissioner Matt Schuerger for being the one dissenting voice in the PUC’s decision.

The oil carried by Line 3 and the energy used in its operation would have a yearly climate impact greater than the entire economy of Minnesota combined. At a time when the need to rapidly transition to a green economy is greater than ever, we can’t afford to build new fossil fuel infrastructure such as Line 3. 

Minnesota’s state agencies should consider the catastrophic climate impact in their decision on whether to approve this pipeline, but even if the MPCA limits itself to considering local air and water quality in its decision, it should still have ample reason to deny the pipeline. Climate change is the greatest threat to air and water quality, and construction of Line 3 and the threat of a tar sands oil spill would severely endanger the vulnerable resources and ecosystems of northern Minnesota. 

We ask that all concerned Minnesotans comment on these permits via web submission. If you need ideas for what to say, MEP partners have provided talking points to use.  This is no time to stay silent on the real and lasting dangers posed by the Line 3 pipeline.

Our coverage of Minnesota’s environmental issues is made possible by our dedicated supporters. Consider supporting MEP with a small contribution of whatever you can afford. Thank you for reading!

Twin Cities lower residential speed limits, improving community safety

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul announced a major policy change to increase safety for pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists in both cities: the vast majority of road miles within the two cities will have speed limits decreased from 30 mph to 20 mph, while arterial street speeds will be pegged at 25 mph. This change will be implemented over the course of several months, and street signs changes are scheduled to be completed this fall.

The 20 mph streets include most of those in residential neighborhoods, while 25-mph arterial roads include many transit routes and the downtown areas of both cities. This change does not affect county or state-owned roads, such University Avenue, which will remain at 30 mph or other posted speeds, but it impacts the vast majority of the hundreds of miles of roadway within the two cities.

On the surface, this change may appear a simple step. To be sure, it requires signage updates, traffic light changes, enforcement, and public education, but it doesn’t require the building of major new infrastructure or road repaving to have positive safety impacts.

Granted, many people currently drive over the speed limit by as much as 10 mph. But what may seem like a minor reduction in the speed limit can make a major difference in the rate of accidents and their survivability.

For starters, driving 20 mph rather than 30 or 40 simply gives a driver more time to react to people and objects around them – and for others to respond to the driver’s actions. In addition, the laws of physics mean that there is a steep curve relating speed to injuries and fatalities in a collision. When a car traveling 20 mph hits a pedestrian, the average pedestrian has less than a 1 in 10 chance of being killed. At 30 mph, the odds double to 1 in 5. At 40 mph, the average fatality rate is nearly 1 in 2. Every mile per hour reduction from lethal speeds can save lives.

Overall, we’ve seen an increase in pedestrian crashes in Minnesota over the past decade – in 2018, there were more than 1000 such collisions reported. Minnesota’s pedestrian crash fatality rate is lower than the US as a whole, but hasn’t improved on average in the last decade.

How this change can improve the Twin Cities’ environment

Obviously, a neighborhood in which people can be less afraid of being injured or killed in a vehicle collision is a healthier environment for everyone involved. But what about the air pollution and carbon impact of lower city speeds?

In Energy News, Frank Jossi writes that on their own, it’s not clear that lower residential speeds make much direct difference in overall vehicle emissions, because cars operate most efficiently at low highway speeds, around 55 mph. It’s also worth noting that the design of roads and land use in neighborhoods are also major factors in both actual speeds driven and overall vehicle pollution.

We know that one of the most needed climate solutions is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (while electrifying the miles that remain.) Using speed limits to make it safer for people to bike and walk on residential streets (especially those without sidewalks or bike lanes) is therefore an efficient way to help individuals take action for the climate. It will take more work and investment to make these modes more accessible for Minnesotans, but it’s a great step in the right direction toward centering people over individual vehicles.

Legislative action paved the way

It’s worth noting that this policy change was only possible because of a law the Legislature passed last year to give a city authority to pass safer speed limits than the statewide standard. Like many issues ranging from plastics bags to pesticides, state lawmakers formerly preempted communities from taking local action to improve health and safety, and we’re encouraged by this step in the right direction.

We look forward to observing and enjoying the safety brought by this local action, which may help lead other Minnesota cities to similarly shift to safer speeds. Our communities and the environments we live in will be better off if we drive less overall and drive more safely when we do.

Our coverage of Minnesota’s environmental issues is made possible by our dedicated supporters. Consider supporting MEP with a small contribution of whatever you can afford. Thank you for reading!

Climate Action Caucus unveils exciting project proposals

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Monday, the Minnesota House Climate Action Caucus unveiled “Minnesota Can-Do Climate Actions,” a package of bills to invest $191.5 million from the projected state budget surplus in one-time spending into Minnesota communities for clean energy, clean transportation, and conservation efforts.

Last week, we wrote about how Minnesota can and should use bonding dollars to boost our climate efforts. This one-time spending would complement these bonding investments, focusing on categories that don’t fit bonding parameters.

These projects all have major benefits for climate action in Minnesota. They won’t solve the climate crisis by themselves, of course, but climate action is contagious. Investing in benefits like clean transportation and energy efficiency makes a real difference now, but also helps to provide communities with confidence, know-how, and inspiration to drive their own efforts and keep moving even faster. And they all have co-benefits to the communities they would serve – supporting jobs, lowering energy costs, and improving the health of residents.

The Can-Do Climate Actions cover several categories:

  • Energy Efficiency – these funds would provide grants to upgrade homes, businesses, nursing homes, and schools so that they can operate more efficiently, wasting less electricity and natural gas and cutting down on both emissions and power costs.
  • Solar – these funds would help schools and homeowners install solar panels, providing some of the same benefits as energy efficiency projects.
  • Transportation – these funds would help provide electric vehicles for transit services and school districts and provide rebates for purchasers of personal EVs. This electrification effort targets one of the top two sources for greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota, and it promises to improve community health. Electric buses emit none of the air pollutants that make people sick, and to which children are especially vulnerable.
  • Local government – these funds would help communities plan and move forward on their own efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Natural resources and carbon storage – these funds would boost conservation of natural areas, efforts to combat and deal with Emerald Ash Borer, and research into carbon sequestration that relies on natural systems – all powerful tools to help Minnesota’s plantlife be part of the overall climate solution.

How to help these projects move forward

Lawmakers are increasingly recognizing the scope of the climate challenge we face, but we can’t take it for granted that climate legislation will pass this year. Virtually no energy legislation passed in the Legislature in 2019, and we don’t have time for another unproductive session. Here’s how you can help make sure the MN Can Do package moves forward:

  • Use our action alert system to email lawmakers and Governor Walz, asking them to support and prioritize these projects over the next several months
  • Call Governor Walz’s office at 651-201-3400 to ask that he include the Can-Do Climate Actions in his budget proposal.

It’s Minnesota’s time to lead boldly on climate action. We’ve talked about our emissions goals and joined the U.S. climate alliance – now let’s put our money where our mouth is.

How the Legislature can bond for climate this session

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last week, we offered a brief preview of the Legislature’s work in the 2020 session, which began on Tuesday. One of the crucial aspects of this session is its traditional status as a bonding year. Bonding allows the state to borrow money to finance capital projects – mostly including new infrastructure construction, upgrades, and improvements to Minnesota landscapes – by selling general-obligation bonds. The debt and interest on the bonds is paid off over a number of future years. 

Because Minnesota has an AAA credit rating and interest rates are generally low, financing these projects is highly affordable, and provide a great opportunity to invest in projects that make our state more livable and more sustainable – that is, if our state leaders can agree on a bonding package.

In 2018, Governor Mark Dayton reluctantly signed a bonding bill that included no funding for public transit and raided the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund for unconstitutional projects. Two years prior, the House and Senate were unable to come to an agreement on a bonding package, but managed to pass one that was signed at the end of the 2017 session.

There’s ample reason to think that a bonding bill will pass this year, though the final dollar amount is in dispute: Governor Walz has called for $2 billion in new investments, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has signaled that his caucus would prefer less than $1 billion.

What does this mean for climate action?

Bonding gives our state a chance to take immediate, powerful action to combat our two largest sources of greenhouse emissions: transportation and land use/agriculture, as well as smaller but significant sources like buildings and solid waste.

To clean up transportation, we know that we need to reduce overall vehicle miles traveled and electrify the miles that remain. Along those lines, the state should:

  • Invest in paths and safety upgrades that promote safe biking and walking across the state.
  • Provide grants to transit providers in Greater Minnesota to maintain facilities, improve or expand transit service.
  • Conduct design and construction on new busway routes and passenger rail.
  • Help local governments and state agencies install fast-charging infrastructure for electric vehicles on government properties.

Agriculture and land use provide an opportunity not to only reduce emissions, but also to absorb them. The state should:

  • Boost funding for the Conservation Reserve Easement Program, which supports farmers in planting conservation acres to provide wildlife habitat, which helps to absorb carbon.
  • Fund the acquisition and improvement of public lands, including reforestation.
  • Fund the Reinvest in Minnesota program, which pays farmers and landowners to establish permanent perennial land cover. This program has the twin goals of helping farmers who face financial hardship in the midst of the farm crisis and promoting soil health and carbon sequestration.
  • Funding research at the University of Minnesota at Morris into how rotational grazing can help turn animal agriculture into a carbon sink, rather than a climate stressor.

And as we wrote in January, MEP strongly supports efforts to make our communities’ water infrastructure more effective and more climate-resilient to safeguard Minnesotans’ health.

There are many other good bonding projects being put forth for the environment this session, but MEP seeks to emphasize to lawmakers that climate action can’t be an afterthought when it comes to these bonding dollars: it should be at the center.

Good bonding should be complemented with good policy

There is energy this session in both houses of the Capitol to accelerate the transition to clean electricity. The Senate has already unveiled a Clean Energy First bill that contains elements of a House bill that failed last session. While Clean Energy First is an important policy tool, other provisions in the bill prevent it from representing real climate progress, as MEP and our partners said in a Star Tribune op-ed yesterday. We eagerly await the release of stronger climate legislation during this session, and we’ll be ready to offer more analysis and testimony to help shape bills for the better.

The complicated process of crafting a bonding bill can make it somewhat inaccessible and opaque to Minnesotans outside the Capitol, but the lawmakers who take on the task are usually receptive to feedback from constituents. We strongly recommend that Minnesotans talk their to lawmakers about prioritizing the climate crisis this session, and making sure we get a bonding bill that moves us forward.