Minnesota is set to scale up its efforts to reduce life-threatening greenhouse gases.
Under a climate plan released Friday, changes would affect everything from how Minnesotans farm and use forests to how families move around as the state takes steps toward a low-carbon future.
Gov. Tim Walz released the 69-page Climate Action Framework at Ecolab's research facility in Eagan, a location chosen to highlight business support. He made a broad appeal for Minnesotans to cooperate on achieving the goals.
"This is the plan Minnesota needs," Walz said. "This is how Minnesota leads."
Minnesota's existing laws call for cutting greenhouse gases at least 30% from 2005 levels by 2025 and 80% by 2050. The new framework officially adopts the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's stiffer goals to cut 50% by 2030, leading to net-zero by 2050. That's what's necessary to cap the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, the U.N. panel says.
Already, Earth's temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels.
Walz was joined by about three-dozen lawmakers, agency heads, nonprofit leaders and others who worked on the climate plan. One was Todd County dairy farmer Pat Lunemann, who drew applause when he said he has watched Minnesota's climate change and he thinks fields and forests are part of the solution.
"We need to stop talking and start doing," Lunemann said.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Katrina Kessler said in an interview that the agency would not go through state administrative rulemaking to establish the new emissions reduction targets. Instead, she said, it would accept them as internationally recognized standards.
"We will focus all our energy toward the goals," Kessler said. "We are calling on state government to pivot."
Some of the plan's measures are already underway, such as the state's new clean car standards adopted last year. They aim to speed electric vehicle (EV) adoption by requiring auto makers to provide more new EVs to sell in Minnesota. Transportation is the state's No. 1 source of global warming gases, with more than half coming from passenger vehicles and pickups, according to the state pollution officials.
Other recommendations will require legislation, which will prove challenging given the gridlock that has gripped state lawmakers in recent years with Minnesota's Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate. How vigorously the plan's recommendations are pursued may depend on who sits in the governor's seat.
Tackling climate change has been a priority for Walz, a DFLer running for re-election in November. The state has struggled for years to get on track with the greenhouse gas reduction goals lawmakers set in 2007 — targets the state has been missing by a wide mark.
Walz's Republican opponent, Scott Jensen, criticized the plan in a news release as "political pandering" rather than a serious solution to the state's energy challenges. He faulted it for being heavy on "equity" but not mentioning nuclear power among the green energy options.
Jensen has not taken a public stand on the climate crisis, and his energy position statement released this summer does not mention it. However, his statement does say he supports expanding renewable energy and nuclear power.
Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, the lead Republican on the House Climate and Energy Committee, said he doesn't support the new climate plan because he thinks it paints the state into a corner by limiting energy options.
"Minnesotans want an 'all of the above' approach to energy," he said. "North Dakota coal is going to be burnt someplace. Either here in our clean coal plants or shipped to the coast and burned in China."
St. Paul-based Ecolab, which provides hygiene products and services to health care, industrial, food and hospitality businesses, has pledged to cut its greenhouse gases in half and get all its electric power from renewable sources by 2030. It was among nine companies that immediately expressed support for the framework. In a letter released Friday, the companies said they are experiencing "the devastating impacts of climate change in Minnesota."
"The climate crisis demands urgent action and systemic change," the companies said.
It was signed by Ecolab, General Mills, Aveda, engineering firm LHB, Ben & Jerry's, Clif Bar, Eileen Fisher, Ikea USA and Trane Technologies.
The climate plan gets muscle from unprecedented new federal spending and incentives to tackle climate change from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Minnesota is expected to see an estimated $6.8 billion from the latter, which includes federal funds for roads, bridges, public transit and water, plus $68 million over five years to build high-speed public charging stations for electric vehicles.
Minnesota is the latest state to release a new climate plan, many of them updates to older ones. More than 30 states have plans or have one in the works, according to the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions in Arlington, Va. Some of the plans are dated now, the center says on its tracking page, and many states still haven't adopted specific greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Minnesota has produced climate plans in 2008 and 2015, for example, but they sputtered. Urgency around the climate crisis has intensified, and the new plan is more ambitious.
Meeting the goals will be a challenge. Minnesota is projected to rely on coal and natural gas for 22% of its power, for example, just six years before the new plan calls for the state to transition to all carbon-free electricity.
Walz created the state's first Climate Change Subcabinet after he took office in 2019. Some 150 people worked on the plan in groups that involved city officials, state agency officials, utilities, labor unions, farmers, tribal nations, businesses and environmental groups. More than 3,000 Minnesotans provided input through comments and online surveys, according to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Except for tougher reduction targets, the final version resembles the draft released earlier this year. It highlights ensuring that solutions are equitable and helping communities most impacted by the pollution. It also emphasizes the need to collaborate with Minnesota's 11 sovereign tribal nations, including some with climate plans of their own.
The recommended climate actions are wide-ranging; some would require legislation.
Here's a sample:
Transportation: Increase the number of EVs on the state's roads from fewer than 1 % now to 20% by 2030; set a "clean fuels" standard to promote lower-carbon biofuels at the pump; reduce overall vehicle miles traveled by spending more on public transit options and non-motorized transportation such as bicycles.
Lands: Speed up restoration of forest, grasslands and wetlands; accelerate voluntary best management practices for farming such as planting cover crops and perennials on fields, and increase water storage.
Resilient communities: Increase the urban tree canopy cover to 30% by 2030; upgrade infrastructure such as storm sewers to handle increased precipitation.
Energy and buildings: Set a standard for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, with slightly more than half from renewables; require all new commercial and large multifamily buildings to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2036.
Health: More than halve the peak rate of heat-related emergency room visits by 2030; hit the federal government's Justice40 Initiative goal of 40% of federal and state climate investments benefiting disadvantaged communities by 2025; diversify the leadership of state agencies.
Clean economy: Develop job training programs to prepare Minnesotans for green economy jobs, such as manufacturing solar panels and outfitting buildings to save on energy; identify supply chain needs for businesses trying to go green.
Ellen Anderson, climate program director at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy who served on one of the climate plan's workgroups, called the document a "key moment" in the climate movement. Implementing it will require cooperation at the Legislature and across the state, she said in an interview.
"It's a big, heavy lift," Anderson said. "Meeting these goals could put Minnesota on the map for a clean energy economy, which means thousands of jobs and a healthier place to live."