President Trump announced last week that the United States would become the first country to leave the Paris agreement on climate change, making it clear there will be zero national leadership on the transition to sustainable energy. It is now up to states, cities and companies to fill the void.
Some states may well see Trump’s many environmental rollbacks as an opening to keep their old coal plants running for a few more years and to slow their investment in renewable energy. Minnesota is already far down the path leading away from polluting coal and toward renewable, homegrown energy. This is thanks to Minnesota’s history of supporting clean energy.
In 2007, Minnesota adopted the Next Generation Energy Act, requiring that 25 percent of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. That year we also set state greenhouse-gas emission goals more aggressive than the Paris agreement goal. In 2013, Minnesota passed a law that has led to explosive growth in our state’s solar energy capacity.
In contrast to federal gridlock, our state’s renewable energy and climate policies came out of bipartisan compromise. And they’ve worked. Minnesota’s renewable-energy boom means that more than 21 percent of our electricity now comes from renewables. Today, more than 50,000 Minnesotans work on clean energy in some capacity, and 15,000 spend the majority of their time working in the sector.
Minnesota’s clean-energy boom has led to high-paying jobs, to less of our income leaving the state to buy fossil fuels, and to cleaner air — all while keeping customers’ electricity bills below the national average. Still, more work is needed to meet our state’s greenhouse-gas emission goals of a 30 percent reduction by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050, compared with our 2005 emissions.
Minnesota has more Fortune 500 companies that compete globally per capita than most states, but Trump’s move could put Minnesota firms at a disadvantage. While the rest of the world moves forward on climate action, America’s unilateral wavering creates uncertainty that is bad for business. That’s why Minnesota companies such as Cargill, 3M, Target, Best Buy and General Mills have been vocal supporters of the Paris agreement.
There is little doubt that there will be costs to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But for a regional economy like Minnesota’s, the larger costs would be the opportunity costs we will incur if we miss the chance to attract the clean-energy jobs of the future. Other countries have ramped up their clean-energy investments, and in this new landscape where state leadership is critical, Minnesota should continue to lead on climate policies that bring clean-energy jobs here.
It is unsurprising to see strong climate action from states on the coasts, where favorable politics means climate change can stand on its own as a political issue. These states formed the new U.S. Climate Alliance last week to give a unified voice to subnational policymakers advancing climate action. And just this week, Gov. Mark Dayton made Minnesota the first Midwestern state to join.
By joining the alliance, Minnesota is sending a strong signal that climate policy is not just the provenance of blue states, but also vital for purple states like ours. Now more than ever, Minnesota needs to continue to make the case that moving away from fossil fuels is not just a moral imperative, but is also politically feasible and economically advantageous.
Ellen Anderson is the executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab and a former state senator who authored the Renewable Energy Standard. Gabriel Chan is an assistant professor in the university’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is minority leader of the Minnesota House and authored the Solar Energy Standard.