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Minnesota DFL lawmakers promise progress in tackling climate change

As Minnesota lawmakers return to a statehouse under full DFL control in the new session, party members in both chambers have said they are eager to advance legislation to fight change. climatic.

Lawmakers already have a busy agenda — the DFL pledged to codify abortion rights after the overturning of Roe v. Wade helped the party gain control of both chambers and statewide offices. Many spending priorities have also been stalled as the governor, GOP Senate and DFL House failed to agree on a plan for the remaining billions in the state’s surplus this year.

But a climate policy will be at the top of the list: setting a national goal for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Carbon-free energy is a priority for Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, the new House Majority Leader. Previously, Long chaired the House Climate and Energy Committee.

“I think we’ve got a group that cares deeply about climate action,” Long said. “I’m sure the climate will be a top priority.”

Long isn’t the only House executive with experience in the field — DFL President Melissa Hortman has drafted laws setting standards for utility solar power generation. and allowing community solar projects the last time his party had a trifecta in state government, in 2013 and 2014.

In the Senate, Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-Moorhead, pushed an attempt to set the carbon-free energy standard last session in tandem with Long. It was not heard by Senate Republicans, so Frentz said he was eager to pass it in the new session.

Frentz, who will now chair the Senate Energy Committee, said he wants to make sure there’s a “ramp out” in state energy standards to also account for low costs and reliability.

Under the former GOP Senate, he said, “there was simply no meaningful discussion about the cost of climate change to our children and grandchildren.”

The 2040 Clean Energy Standard is also a central part of Governor Tim Walz’s Climate Action Framework, which has set broad goals to reduce global warming emissions from farmland, buildings, transportation and state energy systems.

“We need everyone engaged in the work to be successful,” said Katrina Kessler, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and chief of Walz’s climate change sub-cabinet. “We are happy to work with elected officials on policy items that affect the work we do.”

Some bipartisan clean energy measures have been adopted in recent years. The ECO Act, which reformed state energy conservation programs, and the Natural Gas Innovation Act, which allows gas utilities to spend more on low-carbon technologies , were adopted in 2021.

Other efforts to reduce carbon emissions have been met with partisan division, such as Walz’s clean-car rule, which drew so much anger from Republican senators that they briefly threatened to block a major project spending bill in 2021. The standards require automakers to ship more electric vehicles to the state. starting in 2024, and auto dealers have twice sued to stop the regulations. One case was unsuccessful and the other is pending in the Court of Appeal after oral arguments earlier this month.

Long said the House, which has been under the control of the DFL for four years, is ready to act on several fronts.

He said the state must set aside funds to match grants from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which spends billions on new low-carbon technologies; and that Minnesota should spend more on cooling homes, which was also a major part of Walz’s framework.

“To me, bloat is extremely important because it meets many different needs at once,” Long said, making homes more efficient and reducing energy loads for the poorest in the state. Minnesota’s bloat assistance program, which targets low-income homeowners and renters, is funded primarily by the federal government.

DFL Rep. Patty Acomb, chair of the Climate Action Caucus in the House, said “there is a lot that has been started and not finished” in the last session. She mentioned the expansion of solar power on two fronts: expanding the geography of who can buy community solar projects and putting more money into the “solar in schools” grant program set up last year. .

But she noted that the DFL will have narrow majorities in both houses. “I think we have an opportunity here and I want us to do good things with it, but I also want us to be aware of the basics,” Acomb said.

DFL Senator Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, the new Senate Transportation Chairman, said the state must work quickly to build charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and to bolster public transit options. Transportation, he noted, is the largest sector to add to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Legislature has a “significant role to play in funding pedestrian and bike routes” by providing grants to local governments, and “a huge role to play in funding public transit in the metro area and greater Minnesota” .

Lawmakers will face technological and practical challenges when trying to implement clean energy and decarbonization goals. In particular, wind and solar sites do not produce when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Natural gas also remains a preferred heating source for most Minnesotans, as all-electric home air conditioning costs in the winter can be prohibitive.

The 2040 target is also ahead of what major Minnesota utilities have proposed; as they commit to decommissioning coal-fired plants sooner, Xcel Energy has set a carbon-free power goal by 2050, and Minnesota Power is aiming for carbon-free power by the same year .

The costs of the 2040 target were a major concern for Isaac Orr of the conservative Center for the American Experiment think tank.

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans said the group has yet to discuss the issues and ask Orr questions.

Orr pointed to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics showing Minnesota’s electricity costs have already increased more than twice the national average since 2007.

Incumbent GOP Senator David Senjem of Rochester, outgoing Senate Energy Committee Chairman, said he hopes the DFL will consider nuclear power as a growing part of the state’s future mix. Currently, there are two nuclear power plants in the state, and the construction of new ones is prohibited by state law.

“If you want to do wellness goals, I think [DFLers will] to be able to do that,” he said. The 2040 goal “won’t be achieved without a lot of good technology,” especially in battery storage.

Senjem said he is convinced that the state will continue to move towards a cleaner energy mix. He suggested lawmakers on both sides should consider voters in implementing cleaner energy.

“[I]If the minority lags behind in their acceptance of a clean energy future, they risk being politically accepted by important groups like young adults and the suburbs, who are both important voters for the future,” a- he wrote in a follow-up message.

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