It's a bazaar of ideas for fighting climate change -- from more fuel efficient cars to energy efficiency "stickers" on buildings, from new crops on the farm to a system for industries to buy and sell the right to pump carbon into the air.
Minnesotans may be asked to buy into these ideas before the month is out. But before that happens, the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group will have to overcome differences on major strategies before making its recommendations to Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The panel of more than 50 representatives of utilities, agriculture, environmental organizations and other groups has yet to reach consensus on the most far-reaching strategies: a carbon "cap and trade" program, fuel efficiency standards, mass transit support and metro area land use policies, among others.
The group, which started meeting in April, meets as a whole today, with its final meeting scheduled for Jan. 24.
"That's when the fireworks will go off," said Jim Erkel, attorney and program director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, who is a member of the panel's Transportation and Land Use committee.
The panel is supposed to recommend the first steps on the road to greenhouse gas emission reductions set by the Legislature and Pawlenty last year: 30 percent fewer emissions than 2005 by 2025, 80 percent by 2050.
The panel's lack of progress is due in part to national issues. Continuing litigation emanating from California over emissions restrictions for future new cars, as well as federal standards for fuel efficiency set only last month, have muddied the prospects for Minnesota establishing its own tough standards any time soon.
Erkel said he believes the panel's transportation group may not endorse aggressive recommendations -- such as a gas tax and other incentives to reduce driving -- because business has too much influence.
But from the perspective of Scott Lambert, executive director of the Automobile Dealers Association of Minnesota who also sits on the panel, it is environmental advocates who are over-represented.
Leaving the most controversial decisions to the end, Lambert said, could result in "a train wreck" and something that's "not of any help to policymakers."
Rick Carter, an architect and a member of the panel's committee that has been looking at the role of emissions from buildings and construction, believes the advisory group's work could have deep impact on Minnesotans.
Putting a price on carbon emissions, which a cap and trade program would do, will come with costs to business and consumers.
And a much smaller thing, such as a requirement that utilities tell building owners and tenants how much energy their buildings consume, will instantly raise awareness of greenhouse gas emissions and prompt searches for efficiencies, Carter said.
Some of the panel's work is also likely to be redundant -- some observers hope. Pawlenty has already spearheaded an effort by Midwest governors to establish a regional cap and trade program. A state program would get some carbon pricing in place in until a regional, national or international agreement could be established.
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646