Opinion editor’s note: This article was submitted by several representatives of environmental groups operating in Minnesota. They are listed below.
Legislation currently moving in the Minnesota Senate is a remake of the “Clean Energy First” proposal passed last year by the Minnesota House.
But this bill is significantly different where it matters most: its impact on climate.
At a time when it is clearer than ever that we need all hands on deck to confront climate change, this moves us backward, not forward. Here are the top six reasons why.
1) Doubles down on garbage burning by defining it as “renewable energy” in the resource planning law. Garbage incinerators have serious negative health consequences on the communities that surround them.
2) Defines coal or gas plants that emit carbon as a “carbon-free resource” if they capture 80% of that carbon then frack it into the ground to push out more oil.
3) Repeals Minnesota’s moratorium on building new nuclear power, even though it is a very expensive way to generate power and we still have no permanent solution for the toxic waste that must be stored for thousands of years.
4) Exempts energy produced outside of Minnesota, encouraging utilities to build or move across the border.
5) Exempts the two proposed fracked gas plants that will be in front of Minnesota regulators this year: Xcel’s proposed 800-megawatt Sherco gas plant in Becker and Minnesota Power’s 525-megawatt Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior.
6) Pares back the requirement for renewables planning from all energy needs to only new energy needs.
But most important, this proposal doesn’t put us on the trajectory we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
We are in a new place. The world has already gone beyond safe levels of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. Our earth is reaching tipping points, much earlier than previously thought. This means all extra contributions of greenhouse gases are of significant consequence — unleashing feedback loops of increased warming and emissions release.
But there are solutions across each sector that will build a brighter, healthier, more equitable, more livable future for everyone.
Success is entirely possible if we agree on the goal and its urgency. Consider our collective response to crisis in 2008, when Minnesota workers rebuilt the Interstate 35W bridge in record time after it tragically collapsed and killed 13 people. Normally, a bridge of that scale in Minnesota would take three years to construct. But every day that bridge was down was costing our economy $400,000. So design and construction proceeded jointly, and incentives for early completion were built into the contract. The bridge opened after just 337 days.
When we work together, we can do more than we even thought possible. Here’s how:
1) Set our sights on the right goal. The emission reduction targets set by the Next Generation Energy Act and signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007 are now outdated. International scientific consensus tells us that the world will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half by 2030, and entirely by 2050. This trajectory assumes significant progress is being consistently made along the way.
Naming and understanding the new goal matters because we need to build the right foundation.
2) Avoid dead-end pathways. What changes when you are trying to get to zero emissions vs. a reduction by 80%? Fossil fuel investments can’t take us there. Switching to less-carbon-intensive fuels can make us look good by 2030, but then whole systems will need to be reconstructed to go the final distance. Our efforts need to focus on solutions that take us all the way to our goal of zero.
3) Build a brighter future for everyone. We applaud the consideration the Senate proposal gives to support workers and power plant communities as we transition from fossil fuels to our better future. It is also critical that the transition benefit all communities. Let’s not redesign our future with a bad blueprint. Our energy transformation should help meet our climate challenge and protect workers, repair communities most impacted by pollution, and ensure no one is left in the cold.
Adm. William Halsey (1882-1959) once said: “Touch a thistle timidly, and it pricks you; grasp it boldly and its spines crumble.”
Minnesota is up to this challenge. Let’s focus our energy on real solutions that take us to the goal.
This article was signed by Steve Morse, executive director, Minnesota Environmental Partnership; Margaret Levin, executive director, Sierra Club- North Star Chapter; Nicole Rom, executive director, Climate Generation; Winona LaDuke, executive director, Honor the Earth; Duane Ninneman, executive director, CURE; Ted Suss, president, Izaak Walton League- Minnesota Division; Kate Jacobson, executive director, MN350; and Julia Nerbonne, executive director, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.