Greenhouse gas emissions from Minnesota’s coal-burning electricity producers declined 21 percent from 2003 to 2011, likely putting those utilities ahead of mandates that are expected to follow climate change initiatives President Obama announced Tuesday.
But those reductions, stemming from state policies requiring shifts to renewable sources and energy efficiencies — not to mention the recent economic recession — were offset by emissions in residential and agricultural energy use over roughly the same period, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
“The really great lesson from the electric sector is that by investing in clean energy and energy efficiency, you can also cut carbon pollution,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Fresh Energy, which advocates for a clean energy economy. “And we need to find out how to do that in other parts of the economy.”
Hamilton and several others with interests in environmental issues and climate impacts on local communities praised Obama’s announcement of the effort to address climate change, mostly for its emphasis on curbing carbon pollution. Putting limits on carbon dioxide emissions, as has been done for decades on other pollutants, is long overdue, they said.
The plan would also build climate-change adaptations into community and industry planning and regulation.
Critics have referred to Obama’s initiative as a “war on coal.” But Frank Prager, Xcel Energy’s vice president for environmental and public affairs, praised the plan for building on policies developed in states such as Minnesota.
Xcel has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions in Minnesota by 22 percent since 2005, in part by converting two metro-area coal burners to natural gas in recent years, and is on track to meet a state-mandated goal of a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2030, Prager said.
“We will try to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to recognize the value states can bring to the table and do more for the environment with lower prices than they would with a mandate from Washington,” he said.