Climate Change, Clean Energy, and Environment

All Minnesotans deserve a bright clean energy future and healthy climate.

Together, Minnesotans know we need to take bold action across our differences for what we care about in common: a clean energy future with healthy communities, a healthy climate, and meaningful and dignified work for farmers, laborers, and everyone working for a living. Climate deniers have risked our future for too long, but we know a bright future is possible if we start to enact some of the many solutions available to us. These include a just transition to clean energy, supporting sustainable agriculture, and providing good-paying jobs that are healthy for the climate and for our people.

Minnesota’s clean water and abundant natural resources are the envy of other states, thanks in no small part to the hard-fought efforts of forward-thinking DFL leadership. As new challenges emerge, the Legislature needs to think innovatively and act decisively if Minnesota is to maintain its outdoor legacy and pass these gifts on to future children and grandchildren.

A vast majority of climate scientists – 97% – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change. Minnesotans are already experiencing it with higher temperatures, more extreme storms with intense flooding, and changes in the state’s unique and cherished ecosystems. There is no time to lose. If Minnesota is to remain a special place, there needs to be swift and bold action toward a clean energy future.

Energy

At a time when many are calling for urgent action on a transition to clean energy, Senate Republicans blocked most of the DFL’s attempts to pass meaningful energy legislation in 2019. The energy conference committee deadlocked, and only a few noncontroversial energy measures made it into law. Many of last year’s issues are expected to be back in 2020.

In the meantime, Governor Walz is pursuing an ambitious climate change agenda in 2020, and in December he established a new Climate Change Subcabinet and Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change to promote coordinated climate change mitigation and resilience strategies in Minnesota.

Governor Walz’ agenda for “One Minnesota Path to Clean Energy” has three parts:

  • 100% Clean Energy by 2050: requiring electric utilities to use only carbon-free energy resources by 2050, while allowing each utility flexibility in how and at what pace they meet the standard. It includes provisions to help workers and communities affected by the transition, while prioritizing local jobs and prevailing wages for large, new clean energy projects
  • Clean Energy First: requiring utilities, when proposing to replace or add new power generation, to prioritize energy efficiency and clean energy over fossil fuels. This strengthens an existing preference for renewable energy and allows for fossil fuel-based power only if needed for reliable, affordable electricity
  • Energy Optimization: raising the state’s energy efficiency standard for investor-owned utilities and expanding the state’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), which helps households and businesses save on utility bills through more efficient energy use

In December, the Senate DFL Caucus formed the Clean Energy and Climate Caucus, led by Senators Bakk and Frentz, to focus on developing clean energy in Minnesota and combatting the effects of climate change. The new Caucus represents districts across Minnesota and will provide a platform for DFLers to work together on clean energy and climate issues.

Republicans’ ‘Clean Energy First’

The centerpiece of the Republican Senate’s 2020 energy agenda is its own version of “Clean Energy First.” The draft bill does not include the requirement for 100% clean energy by 2050, nor does it include conservation (“energy optimization”) measures. It does include a measure to lift the state’s nuclear moratorium. The plan requires electric utilities to prioritize carbon-free technology, with an emphasis on renewable resources – including wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, hydropower, and, potentially, fossil fuels. The Senate Energy Committee has the bill on a fast track, holding January hearings in Rochester and Minnetrista.

2019 Proposals 

Many items that were part of the Senate’s Energy Bill but stalled in last year’s conference committee could be back in 2020, including:

  • Community Solar Gardens: Last year, the Senate Republicans proposed significant reductions to the scope of Xcel Energy’s community solar garden program
  • Community Energy Transition Competitive Grant Program: A new grant program would ease the conversion when communities face decommissioning of an investor-owned coal, nuclear, or natural gas electric utility
  • Solar for Schools: Financial assistance would allow schools to install and operate new solar energy systems on or near school buildings
  • Prairie Island Net-Zero Project: The state would enter into a grant contract with the Prairie Island Indian Community to provide funds for renewable energy projects that make Prairie Island a net-zero community
  • Nuclear waste storage payments: Xcel Energy’s annual contributions to the Renewable Development Account would be capped at specific amounts going forward
  • Conservation Improvement Program (CIP): Changes to CIP would be made, including to requirements for cooperative and municipal utilities

Carbon tax

One idea to help reduce carbon emissions and address climate change is a carbon tax, or “carbon pricing”: placing a per-ton fee on CO2 producers to encourage them to move toward more renewable and sustainable forms of energy production. The idea has been introduced in the past by DFL lawmakers, but has not been enacted.  It’s possible the proceeds could be used to reinvest in energy alternatives or to provide tax credits to businesses that make environmentally conscious changes. Lawmakers have been discussing the idea and will likely have a proposal during the 2020 session. 

Environment

At a time when environmental challenges abound – pollinator decline, invasive species, safe drinking water, and much more – the 2019 Legislature was unable to get much of the environmental agenda enacted. Senate Republicans began negotiations by proposing a $57 million cut to the environmental budget. The DFL succeeded in preventing the damaging cut, but many other items were left undone, including a TCE ban, a salt applicator certification program, and renewal of the Legislative Water Commission. Overall, with a divided Legislature, Senate Republicans will likely work again to block critical environmental priorities in 2020.

TCE Ban

DFLers will once again promote a ban on trichloroethylene (TCE) in Minnesota. TCE is a volatile organic compound and a known carcinogen, associated with kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and other health effects. The issue was highlighted last year when it was discovered that a White Bear Lake Township company, Water Gremlin, had been violating its state air emissions permit by venting TCE at levels that would threaten human health up to 1.5 miles around the facility. Last year, the Senate and House voted to phase out and ban TCE, allowing flexibility for specific uses, but Senate Republicans blocked an amendment on the Floor and prevented the issue from surviving conference committee.

Clean Water

The Legislative Coordinating Commission’s Subcommittee on Minnesota Water Policy (formerly the Legislative Water Commission) is expecting to bring several clean water policy bills forward, including measures to:

  • Provide incentives for healthy soil
  • Ensure safe and sustainable drinking water
  • Reduce over-use of salt to protect lakes, rivers, and groundwater
  • Encourage efficient wastewater and storm-water technology and treatment
  • Improve drinking water infrastructure

There is likely to be discussion about renewing the Legislative Water Commission, which had a sunset date of June 30, 2019. Although the LWC’s funding was approved, authority for continuation of the LWC was not included in the final compromise on the Environment Finance Bill. Since July 1, the Commission’s work has been carried out by the new Legislative Coordinating Commission (LCC) subcommittee on water policy.  

Groundwater

In November 2019, DNR Commissioner Sara Strommen put the brakes on a proposal by a Lakeville railroad company to pump 500 million gallons of groundwater a year in Dakota County. The company would have worked with Water Train, an Oregon-based company that provides water by rail to municipal and government agencies in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. The announcement took many by surprise and is expected to generate discussion in 2020 about ways to strengthen the state water use statute to make sure groundwater remains available within Minnesota to protect public safety and welfare.

Environmental Bonding 

In mid-January, Governor Walz announced he supports $300 million in bonding to replace and upgrade aging infrastructure and water treatment facilities across the state as part of his $2 million capital investment package. The Governor’s list includes:

  • $25 million for water infrastructure grants and to increase lending capacity in the Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Funds
  • $100 million for the Water Infrastructure Funding Program, for supplemental assistance grants to help communities build clean water and drinking infrastructure projects
  • $75 million for the Point Source Implementation Program, for grants to help communities build wastewater, storm water, and drinking water treatment projects when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency determines that higher levels of treatment are needed to meet water quality goals
  • $15 million for grants to municipalities for stormwater infrastructure, with a focus on managing extreme weather events, and $5 million for infrastructure improvements to reduce inflow and infiltration into local and regional wastewater collection systems
  • $16.5 million for the Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to acquire permanent easements in ecologically sensitive areas for improved water quality and wildlife habitat

Outdoor Heritage

Chronic Wasting Disease

The ongoing spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) is expected to be revisited. By late 2019, there were 76 confirmed cases of CWD in Minnesota wild deer. Minnesota wildlife officials say three of the four CWD outbreaks among Minnesota’s wild deer are likely to trace back to infected deer farm animals. Most recently, CWD was identified in December on a small deer farm in Douglas County and on a related deer farm in eastern Pine County in January. Legislators are expected to look at ways to manage these and other CWD issues, such as more and better ways to dispose of deer remains and faster CWD testing of hunter-harvested deer.

Game & Fish

Senate Republican environmental chairs have signaled they will bring back some game and fish proposals that have been controversial in the past, including:

  • Lowering the statewide walleye bag limit from six to four
  • Opening state waters to two-line fishing
  • Opening Minnesota to importation of minnows from bait suppliers outside the state

No Child Left Inside

Last year, a new $1.2 million “No Child Left Inside” grant program was enacted with the idea of connecting kids to fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities. The program has been highly popular with schools, nonprofits, and organizations looking for opportunities to get kids outside. Requests have far exceeded available funds, and legislators are expected to look at extending the program in 2020.

Senate DFL Media