Dr. Amy Bonifas has seen the impacts of air pollution on children. As a Brooklyn Center physician, she does all she can to protect her patients from asthma and other respiratory diseases, but she says doctors can’t do it alone. They need help.
On Monday, President Obama took a common-sense step in approving the first limits on carbon pollution from power plants. In Minnesota, power plants cause one-third of carbon pollution emissions, but until this week, these emissions faced no national limits. The Clean Power Plan will cut carbon emissions nationwide by 32 percent by 2030.
What does this mean for Minnesota? The plan sets individual state goals and adopts a flexible approach that lets Minnesota choose how to reach its goal. The state can tailor its plan with a mix of renewable energy, energy efficiency, switching to cleaner fuels or running efficient plants more often.
This means we can account for the different energy requirements in the diverse regions of our state and ensure that our continued transition to a new-energy economy takes care of those businesses and families from older-energy industries. But one thing is clear: Minnesota knows how to clean up its energy and succeed economically at the same time.
Indeed, we have a bipartisan history of collaboration on clean energy that has worked well for the state. In 2007, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed one of the nation’s strongest such standards, requiring utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2025. It has been a huge success. Every Minnesota utility is on track to meet its goals. Xcel Energy alone is adding enough wind turbines to power 200,000 homes and enough solar panels to power 61,000 homes, a tenfold increase in Minnesota’s solar capacity.
Minnesota also adopted an energy-efficiency standard in 2007, because the cheapest energy is the energy you never produce. And in 2013, we passed a community solar law to help customers of all types benefit from solar energy. Importantly, changes to Minnesota’s final Clean Power Plan goals give our state credit for being a clean-energy leader.
Our investments in clean energy and energy efficiency mean jobs for Minnesotans. Today, Minnesota has more than 15,000 jobs in the clean-energy sector. In fact, nationwide the renewable-energy economy is booming, and there are already more solar industry jobs than coal jobs in the U.S.
While we may not produce coal in our state, we do produce sun and wind in abundance. This has benefited Minnesota farmers and landowners, who have received millions in payments from clean-energy leases.
Opponents of the Clean Power Plan will make unfounded claims about its costs. But the truth is that it will save Minnesotans money both on their electric bills and on their medical bills.
Minnesotans already saved $1.5 billion on their energy bills between 2010 and 2014 from energy-efficiency improvements. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the Clean Power Plan will further reduce electricity bills by 7 percent, saving families $85 a year by 2030.
The plan also will protect our health. The EPA projects that it will stop 3,600 premature deaths and prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children. That means fewer patients Bonifas has to treat in her clinic. A recent state report found that air pollution in the Twin Cities alone contributes to the deaths of 2,000 people a year, with the heaviest impact on areas with more people of color and higher poverty.
We are already seeing the impacts of a changing climate in Minnesota. Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record came in the last 15 years. We used to call them 1,000-year floods, but we may have to rename them, since Minnesota has had four in the last decade, at great cost to our communities. In addition, the warming of Lake Mille Lacs due to climate change is one culprit behind the lake’s walleye decline.
The Clean Power Plan will cut pollution, protect our health, and preserve our environment now and for future generations. We know we need to act. We know how to act. It’s time to act. We Minnesotans are ready to clean up our power.
Keith Ellison, a Democrat, represents Minnesota’s Fifth District in the U.S. House. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is minority leader in the Minnesota House.