Lawmakers at the Minnesota German Football League pledge to make progress in the fight against climate change
With Minnesota lawmakers returning a state building under full NFL control in the new session, party members in both chambers said they were keen to advance legislation to combat climate change.
Lawmakers already have a packed agenda — DFLers committed to codifying abortion rights after Roe v. Wade helped the party sweep control of both houses and offices statewide. Many spending priorities have also been delayed as the governor, the GOP Senate and the DFL House failed to agree on a plan for the remaining billions in the state’s surplus this year.
But one climate policy would be near the top of the list: setting a state goal for 100% carbon-neutral electricity by 2040.
Carbon-neutral power is the focus of Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, the newly elected House Majority Leader. Previously, Long chaired the House Climate and Energy Committee.
“I think we have in the leadership a group that cares deeply about climate action,” Long said. “I’m sure climate will be a top priority.”
Long isn’t the only member of the House leadership with experience in this area — Bundesliga Chair Melissa Hortmann authored laws setting standards for solar generation by utilities and permitting community solar projects the last time her party had a trifecta in state government, in 2013 and 2014.
In the Senate, Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-Moorhead, pushed an effort to set a carbon-free energy standard in the last session in tandem with Long. Senate Republicans haven’t heard it, so Frentz said he’s eager to pass it in the new session.
Frentz, who will now chair the Senate Energy Committee, said he wants to ensure there is a “slope” in the state’s energy standards to account for lower costs and reliability as well.
Under the former Republican senator, he said, “there has simply not been any substantive debate about the cost of climate change to our children and grandchildren.”
The 2040 Clean Energy Standard is also a key part of state government Tim Walz’s Climate Action Framework, which sets broad goals for reducing greenhouse emissions from the state’s farmland, buildings, transportation and energy systems.
“We need everyone involved in the action for success,” said Katrina Kessler, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and chair of the Waltz State Climate Change Sub-Cabinet. “We are pleased to work with elected officials on policy elements that touch on the work we do.”
Some bipartisan clean energy measures have passed in recent years. The ECO Act, which overhauled the state’s energy conservation programs, and the Natural Gas Innovation Act, which allows gas utilities to spend more on low-carbon technologies, passed in 2021.
Other efforts to reduce carbon emissions have faced partisan division, such as Walz’s clean-car rule, which has drawn much anger from Republican senators, who briefly threatened to halt a large spending bill in 2021. The standards require automakers to ship more cars. Electric vehicles will come to the state starting in 2024, and auto dealers have sued twice to block the regulations. One case failed, and the other is pending in the Court of Appeals after arguments earlier this month.
Long said the House, which has been under the control of the Premier League for the past four years, is ready to act on several fronts.
He said the state should set aside money to match grants from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which is spending billions on new low-carbon technologies; and that Minnesota should spend more to condition homes, which was also a key component of Walz’s framework.
“For me, weathering is so important because it meets so many different needs at once,” Long said, making homes more efficient and reducing the energy burden on the state’s poorest people. The Minnesota Weather Assistance Program, which targets low-income homeowners and renters, is funded mostly by the federal government.
“There are a lot of things that started and are not finished,” said DFB lawmaker Patty Acombe, chair of the lower house’s climate action group, last session. She pointed to the expansion of solar energy on two fronts: expanding the geography of who can buy in community solar energy projects, and putting more money into the “Solar Energy in Schools” grant program that was implemented last year.
But she indicated that the German Football League would have a slim majority in both chambers. “I think we have an opportunity here and I want us to do good things with it, but I also want us to be mindful about the bottom line,” Acombe said.
DFL Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, the Senate’s incoming transportation chief, said the state needs to work quickly to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure and boost transit options. He noted that transportation is the largest single sector adding to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The legislature has “a strong role to play in funding pedestrian and bike paths” by providing grants to local governments, and “a significant role to play in funding transit in the metro area and in greater Minnesota.”
Lawmakers will face technical and practical challenges as they try to implement clean energy and decarbonization goals. In particular, wind and solar sites do not produce when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Natural gas also remains a preferred heating source for most people in Minnesota, where all-electric home air-conditioning costs in the winter can be prohibitively expensive.
The 2040 goal is also ahead of what major utilities in Minnesota have proposed; While they pledge to retire coal plants early, Xcel Energy has set a goal to have net zero carbon power by 2050, and Minnesota Power aims to have zero carbon power by the same year.
The costs of the 2040 goal were a major concern of Isaac Orr of the conservative think tank Center for the American Experience.
A Senate Republican spokesman said the group had not yet held caucuses on the issues and had asked Orr questions.
Orr pointed to statistics from the US Energy Information Administration showing that electricity costs in Minnesota have already risen at more than twice the national rate, since 2007.
Retiring Republican Sen. David Singim of Rochester, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said he hoped DFLers would consider nuclear power an increasing part of the state’s future mix. At the moment, there are two nuclear plants in the state, and state law prohibits the construction of new ones.
“If you want to do some goals that make you feel happy, I guess [DFLers will] Being able to do this, “the 2040 target will not be achieved without a lot of good technology,” especially in battery storage.
Sanjem said he is convinced that the country will continue to transition to a cleaner energy mix. He suggested that lawmakers on both sides should heed voters in implementing cleaner energy.
“[I]If the minority delays in its acceptance of a clean energy future, they do so at the risk of political acceptance by important groups like youth and suburbia, both of which are important components of the way forward,” he wrote in a follow-up letter.
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