Minnesota lawmakers clash over climate change, environmental spending
Smoke from the wildfires that darkened the skies of the Twin Cities and December’s tornadoes in southern Minnesota weigh on the minds of lawmakers demanding more climate change spending at the State Capitol.
“In the past, we’ve talked about climate change as if it’s something in the future. And we see it impacting our lives today,” said Rep. Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka, who leads the House Climate Action Caucus. “The window for action is closing if we hope to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.”
But with just weeks until the legislative session, there is a chasm between Senate Republicans and House Democrats’ plans to protect the environment and fight climate change, and recent debates illustrate the deep political divide. The House on Thursday passed a $240 million environment and natural resources package, while the Senate bill was less than $8 million. Missing from the Senate versions are various climate-related measures tucked away in other House bills.
Last year, the state spent more on the environment than it normally does, said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee. Since it’s not a budget year on Capitol Hill, he said it’s unfortunate that some lawmakers want to use Minnesota’s projected nearly $9.3 billion surplus to expand the government of the State.
“Everyone thinks the world is falling apart and frankly it’s not. And we have scientists on both sides, I understand that, and I appreciate that,” Ingebrigtsen told the Senate, later adding “I know the globe is warming, It’s been warming for thousands of years. Nothing appreciable, but a thousand years.
His comments come as a new study by ratings firm S&P Global estimates that climate change will lead to a loss of 4% of global annual economic output by 2050, disproportionately affecting poorer countries.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said some fellow Republicans scoffed at his comments about the need for quick action on climate change as they hung out in the Senate Retreat Room, a space where, according to him, the atmosphere is generally collegial.
“They think people like me are running around being hysterical and irrational,” Dibble said. “It’s discouraging. Me, I’m not very optimistic for our planet.”
The Senate environment bill is a “house of horrors,” said Dibble, who unsuccessfully tried to strike out about 15 provisions of the measure that he said would make it easier to pollute people.
Senator Carrie Ruud, a Breezy Point Republican and chair of one of the Senate’s two environmental committees, also tore up the bill, which she said “does not contain any of the things we’ve been working on all session.” such as preventing overuse of road salt in the winter, reducing the statewide walleye limit to four, and adding education requirements on boats.
Of the nearly $8 million in the bill, Ruud noted that $1 million was intended to “attract and promote large-scale sporting and other events.” It’s the latest example of lawmakers chipping away at voters’ lottery dollars meant to protect fish and wildlife and support parks and trails, she said, adding, “They didn’t vote for use that money for sporting events. And I think that’s a really sad day in the state of Minnesota.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans had some sharp words for the DFL version on Thursday.
“This bill grows the government. It grows the DNR, the MPCA and, unfortunately, at a time when agriculture is experiencing such challenges,” said Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley. “We don’t need these reckless, irresponsible regulations on people who give us food and raw materials that help make a lot of the things we use every day.”
Small groups of negotiators will try to reconcile the big differences between the House and Senate bills.
Finding common ground will be difficult, said Aaron Klemz, director of strategy for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, but he hopes there will be bipartisan agreement on a few issues. The two chambers have different policy approaches to water use around White Bear Lake, but it seems they both agree that some expense is required to find alternatives to meet the water needs of the northern metro.
“There is at least recognition that there is a problem here and there has to be a permanent solution,” Klemz said. “And so we’re hoping that somehow money will be set aside for a task force or whatever decision needs to be made.”
Last year, heads of state chose to phase out “chemicals forever,” known as PFAS, in food packaging by 2024. The House has proposed banning PFAS in various products like utensils cooking while the Senate did not, but Klemz predicted they could agree to new bans this session. And while the provision Ruud mentioned to support “smart salting” training — which reduces the use of de-icers that lead to chloride buildup in Minnesota waters — is neither in the bills on the neither the Senate nor the House environment, Klemz said there are still efforts to move it forward.
The House environment bill contains “natural climate solutions” such as planting trees, but there are also climate-related provisions in the energy, agriculture, transportation, education and other areas, Acomb said. Democrats started the session with a billion-dollar climate action plan. Acomb estimates they have $650 million in House bills so far, but said there will be more money in the infrastructure package that has yet to be completed. She also wants to provide matching funds to secure federal infrastructure funds for projects such as electric vehicle charging stations.
House Climate and Energy Committee Chairman Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, echoed that idea and said he’s optimistic lawmakers will pass clean energy measures. The state previously supported solar projects in schools and he said they could expand that effort, as well as put more money into weatherization grants to make homes more energy efficient as heating and cooling costs rise. cooling increase.
The Senate on Tuesday passed its energy provisions which included millions for the Solar for Schools initiative and a solar panel at the Blaine Sports Center. It would repeal the moratorium on new nuclear power plants. Senators rejected an attempt by the DFL to add a goal of achieving 100% clean energy by 2040.
Energy committee chairman David Senjem, R-Rochester, said the idea needs to be discussed but is “very, very ambitious. And it’s good to have aspirations, but I think that we have to be real”.
Governor Tim Walz has also pushed for the 2040 goal, and this year his infrastructure plan includes about $944 million for climate projects. The DFL Governor emphasized during his State of the State address last Sunday that people should not take ideological positions on climate change.
“It just happens, and there are solutions,” Walz said, noting that companies are adapting to become more sustainable and protect the environment. “This is the Minnesota we need. Protect our clean air, protect our water, protect our chances for our children to live the life many of us have had to live so that it will be here tomorrow.”