Gov. Tim Walz has called for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, but a group of lawmakers want even more ambitious targets for tackling climate change in Minnesota.
Legislation in the works seeks to move Minnesota's total, economywide greenhouse gas emissions dial to zero across all sectors — transportation and agriculture, too, not just electricity generation — by 2050. The measure would also add a new requirement that government actions such as permitting or funding decisions be consistent with those targets.
"The science tells us that in order to avoid the largest impacts of climate change, this is what we need to do," said Rep. Patty Acomb, a Minnetonka Democrat who chairs the House Climate Caucus. "I think it's super urgent."
Acomb said she expects to introduce the proposal soon.
It's the first attempt to update Minnesota's historic but outdated 2007 Next Generation Energy Act. That bipartisan act, passed under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, set the state's existing goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions using international standards at the time. But the science has changed. And a recent state report showed how badly Minnesota is missing even the outdated targets, although it's made great progress on clean energy and shifting electricity generation to renewables.
The state emissions inventory showed that from 2005 to 2018, Minnesota's heat-trapping global-warming emissions decreased just 8%, falling far short of the 30% reduction target set for 2025.
Acomb's plan would retain the 2025 target but set a new greenhouse gas reduction target of 45% by 2030 and a 100% cut by 2050, instead of 80%. The deeper cuts would align Minnesota's standards with those of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, standards scientists say are necessary to slow global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert the most devastating impacts on humans and the environment.
New York, Colorado and at least six other states have an economywide standard of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The proposal also creates enforceability and accountability, for the first time, beyond utilities. The original act contained clear mandates for electric utilities but not for other sectors such as transportation, now the state's No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions, or agriculture.
That's one reason Minnesota has failed to hit its targets, according to Ellen Anderson, a former state senator who authored the original act. Anderson, now at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, is working with Acomb on the bill.
It's easier to carve out specific goals and policies for electric utilities because they're already heavily regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, Anderson said. It's not so easy with other parts of the economy, and Minnesota hasn't done it, she said.
"Some sectors, like ag, are politically a very hot button to try to tell them what to do," Anderson said.
After the 2007 act passed, not much happened, Anderson said. It hasn't been repealed "nor has it been very effective."
"It just sort of sat there," she said.
"Cutting emissions is not the priority of government," Anderson said. "They need to make it a priority in their actions if we're serious about this."
A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund criticized multiple state emissions efforts for not making emission cuts binding and not setting enforceable emission caps on carbon across all sectors.
Acomb's measure doesn't set carbon caps either, but Anderson said she thinks the language is strong enough to create accountability and enforceability without micromanaging.
With Minnesota's split Legislature and Republican-led Senate, the prospects for passing tighter, more binding economywide standards are not bright.
Sen. Nick Frentz, a North Mankato Democrat who chairs the Senate Clean Energy and Climate Caucus, said it's "unlikely" the move will get traction this year. Frentz said he's open to introducing a companion bill in the Senate but hasn't read the House measure yet.
Frentz noted that when state lawmakers set Minnesota's goals in 2007, people said, "Oh, you're never going to get to 25 percent renewables. That's crazy! That's outrageous!" The state hit that target in 2017.
"So why can't we do this, too?" Frentz said.
Sen. Dave Senjem, a Rochester Republican who chairs the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee, said he thinks Acomb's measure is too ambitious for a state struggling to meet more modest goals.
"We need to show that we can up our game on the goals we have before we aspire to move forward," Senjem said. "Let's focus on the goals that we have, let's work to accomplish them and certainly when we do and make better progress … we can talk about upping the game."
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683