Thwarted by Senate Republicans on his climate agenda in the previous legislative session, Gov. Tim Walz recently took a different — and needed — form of action: an executive order that will continue pushing this state toward emission reduction goals set more than a decade ago under a Republican governor.
While making some progress, Minnesota has been falling behind on goals established by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007. What Walz is doing is important not only as a way to forge ahead despite partisan resistance, but also to demonstrate that commitments to long-range goals often require persistence that spans years, changes in administrations and majorities. It was the kind of commitment that was required to create and sustain MinnesotaCare, which was then a nation-leading initiative to expand health care coverage.
Walz’s order will form a subcabinet on climate change with representatives from a dozen related state agencies and led by state Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop. The order also creates an advisory council that will draw from across the state for a citizen group that can brainstorm the best ways to tackle the single-biggest threat to this planet. Bishop has said that benchmarks will be set on emission reductions, flood mitigation and other resiliency efforts.
Can Minnesota alone stave off the changes that are already upon us? No. But this state’s best efforts, in concert with others, may mitigate the worst of the effects, contributing to the sustainability of the environment this state depends on, and hopefully drive others to do the same.
It would be refreshing to see all sides come together to put forward their best ideas. There was an attempt at a “Clean Energy First” plan in the Legislature last session that had as its chief goal a requirement that electric utilities turn to clean energy sources first. Unfortunately, it too ran aground over the same problem that has beset so many issues of late — stubborn adherence to separate goals that usually produces little but gridlock.
In a move that reflects a more bipartisan spirit, Walz recently appointed Mike Bull of the Center for Energy and Environment — which helped create the Clean Energy First plan — to the governor’s Council on Biofuels. Bull helped develop the 2005 biofuel legislation for the Pawlenty administration, which set in motion the reduced carbon emission goals that the state is now struggling to meet.
Walz, who is chairman of the National Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, has said he considers climate change “an existential challenge.” He is far from alone in that assessment. The zero carbon emissions by 2050 goal he supported earlier this year is becoming an increasingly common benchmark, shared by 70 countries and more than 100 cities around the world.
A number of those countries are meeting now, at the United Nations climate change conference that began earlier this month in Madrid and ends Friday. Regretfully, President Donald Trump skipped the conference and has formally begun the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. But that didn’t mean there was no U.S. presence in Madrid. In a show of support, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended with a delegation that included Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. Minnesota youth activists also made their support known.
It’s time to put the bickering aside and unite in the face of a common threat to all.