Though it may seem like ancient history, Republicans and Democrats once worked together to create a cleaner, healthier future in Minnesota.
In fact, it was only five years ago that Minnesota legislators, including then state Rep. Erik Paulsen, voted overwhelmingly in support of Minnesota's renewable energy standard.
The standard was the strongest in the country when it passed. It requires the state's utilities to get a quarter of their power from renewable energy by 2025. The final vote was 123-10 in the Minnesota House and 63-3 in the Minnesota Senate. Paulsen, now a congressman, was one of the many Republicans to support the bill.
Paulsen and our other federal representatives have a choice. They can stand up and support more renewable energy for Minnesota or let key federal policies expire at the end of the year, turning their backs on our progress.
When it comes to energy and protecting our health and environment, the facts are clear: burning dirty fossil fuels causes air and water pollution and public health problems like asthma and birth defects. Burning coal and oil for electricity and transportation also fuels global warming, which is threatening our very way of life.
But here in Minnesota, we have vast clean energy resources -- the heat of the sun and the power of the wind -- that we are harnessing to ensure a cleaner future for our state.
With our state renewable energy standard and the help of federal policies, Minnesota has become a leader in clean energy. We generate more energy from wind power than all but three other states, making up 13 percent of our state's total power use. And wind supports more than 2,000 jobs across Minnesota.
The wind industry is at a critical time in its growth -- it's on its way to being cost-competitive with heavily subsidized traditional fossil fuels. And there is more progress to be made in Minnesota. Our wind resources could provide nearly 25 times what the state currently uses for energy, creating a cleaner future for Minnesotans.
But now the hyper-partisan gridlock in the U.S. Congress has taken clean energy hostage, leaving our progress and future benefits from clean energy in the balance.
Extreme tea party conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, backed by polluters like Exelon and the Koch Brothers, are opposed to continuing the primary federal financial support for wind generation, the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, which will both expire at the end of this year if Congress does not act.
This would be devastating for Minnesota. We've already lost jobs in Minnesota and across the country because of uncertainty around these incentives, and more job losses are certain if the tax credits are not extended.
Yet congressional leaders continue to stand in the way of progress. By supporting the dirty energy special interests of the past, they have prevented us from moving forward towards cleaning our air and water and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
With the elections behind us, there is no excuse for inaction and continued partisan bickering. It's time to put Minnesota first and invest in a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future for our state.
Paulsen and the rest of the U.S. Congress must put aside partisan politics and push to extend critical federal incentives for wind energy, including the renewable energy production tax credit and investment tax credit -- Minnesota's clean air, pristine water, and our children's future depend on it.
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Aaron Peterson is a former state legislator from west-central Minnesota and author of Minnesota's Renewable Energy Standard. He is now community relations and regulatory affairs manager with juwi Wind. Ken Bradley is director of Environment Minnesota, a citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization.