No matter the Paris Climate Agreement, Minnesota officials said Thursday that the state’s march to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will go on.
With a plan adopted in 2007, the state has been a national leader in pursuing an aggressive plan to reduce emissions of the chemicals that cause climate change. And though Minnesota has missed its targets in recent years, President Trump’s controversial decision to pull the United States out of the global climate deal struck last year won’t change what has been slow and steady progress, state environmental officials said Thursday. The president’s decision does, however, put future climate change leadership squarely in the hands of state and local governments rather than in Washington, D.C.
“As damaging as this decision will be, it will not deter our efforts here in Minnesota,” said Gov. Mark Dayton, echoing the reaction of many of the state’s elected officials. “We will show the world what we can achieve by working together to conserve energy, to use cleaner and renewable energy, and to leave a livable planet to our children and grandchildren.”
In effect, Thursday’s announcement means that instead of following the lead of the federal government, the state will look to local communities to tackle climate change, state officials said.
“It’s now going to be bottom up,” said David Thornton, an assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Dayton was one of 12 governors who beseeched Trump in a letter to not pull out of the Paris Accord, which called for the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025.
The Paris targets are actually less ambitious than those of the Next Generation Energy Act, signed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007, which calls for a 30 percent reduction by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.
Since then Minnesota has required utilities to increase their use of alternative energy sources, and it has tracked greenhouse gas reductions by sectors such as electricity, industry, agriculture, transportation and residential.
Minnesota has fallen behind: It was supposed to achieve a 15 percent reduction between 2005 and 2015. As of 2014, carbon and other gases produced in Minnesota had declined only 4 percent, or 6.5 million tons of carbon per year. The vast majority of the progress came from the electric utility industry, which has reduced carbon emissions by about 21 percent by cutting out coal in favor of natural gas and adding alternative sources like wind and solar, and increasing energy efficiencies.
The next largest source of reductions, about a quarter of the total, comes from gas and diesel burning cars and trucks. Those emissions have dropped by 7 percent since 2005, largely because higher federal efficiency standards, and biofuels like ethanol. But, like many Americans, Minnesotans like large cars and SUVs, and light-duty trucks now outnumber passenger vehicles.
But state officials and climate change advocates are optimistic that will change in the next decade as prices on electric cars come down and their utility rises.
“As people get more comfortable with how to use electric transportation there are significant benefits,” including lower energy costs and less maintenance, said Mike Bull, director of policy for the Center for Energy and Environment. “Once we get more comfortable with range anxiety [the driving limit for rechargeable vehicles] they will sell themselves.”
The downward trends have occurred even while the state’s population and economy grew. Since 1997, the amount of greenhouse gases produced per person in Minnesota has dropped by about 10 percent, according to a recent report to the Legislature.
Now, economics will help continue the trend, especially in energy production. Utilities across the country are turning to cheaper natural gas and alternative sources. And adding energy efficiencies in production, cars and buildings is much cheaper than building a new energy supply, Bull said.
Minnesota’s climate change goals also have the support of many of the state’s corporate leaders, who fear that Trump’s decision to pull out of the global accord could hurt them financially.
Cargill’s CEO David MacLennan was one of many top corporate executives who advocated sticking with the Paris Accord.
“We have no intention of backing away from our efforts to address climate change in the food and agriculture supply chains around the world,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “And in fact this will inspire us to work even harder.”