Is 2023 the year for official climate action in Minnesota?
By Pat Thompson
and Mindy Keskinen
With change afoot at the Minnesota legislature, we’ve been hearing a lot in the media about Minnesota legalizing marijuana and codifying abortion rights.
But what could November’s midterm elections mean for climate action in Minnesota?
Here are some highlights of what to watch for during the 2023 (or 2024) legislative session, with unified government in both houses and the Governor’s mansion.
Clean energy, energy resiliency:
The new leaders in both houses have strong backgrounds in renewable energy: House Speaker Melissa Hortman was the author of multiple bills related to solar power, while House Majority Leader Jamie Long previously chaired the Climate and Energy Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Nick Frentz will do double duty, also acting as chair of the Energy Committee.
One thing to watch for is a policy proposal requiring 100% clean energy by 2040. In the last session, Long and Frentz were the sponsors of the bill, but it couldn’t pass the Senate previously. Governor Walz also supports this goal.
Budget allocations are likely to be brought forward to cover weatherization for low-income homeowners and renters, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and matching funds for grants given under the federal Inflation Reduction Act.
Boosts for solar energy could include broadening the eligibility for joining a community solar garden (currently limited to adjacent counties), programs putting more money into solar in schools and interconnection reform, which would improve how quickly new solar arrays get connected to the electricity grid.
Transportation: Transportation makes up the largest proportion of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions, so making a dent there is crucial. That means converting to electric cars , supporting public transit and decreasing vehicle miles driven — especially in the Twin Cities metro area, where it’s easiest.
A metro-area-wide sales tax to fund major transit investment and ongoing operations will be a key legislative initiative, according to Peter Wagenius of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. Reliable, frequent public transit is what’s needed to make it an easier choice for more people.
The current transit-driver shortage hasn’t helped with frequency and reliability. Wages and schedules (and therefore Metro Transit’s budget) are part of that picture. Building out planned bus rapid transit routes, known as BRT, and planning and building more BRT routes is critical.
Scott Dibble, incoming chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is committed to transit and has also spoken of his support for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, including grants to local governments, according to a November article in the Star Tribune.
In cities, transportation issues hinge, in part, on neighborhood walkability and to what extent people’s needs can be met near where they live. That’s an argument for densification, especially infill development in already built-up areas, so land use policy comes into play.
This session or next, watch for an effort to allow enactment of land value taxes by local governments. This type of property tax is one of the clearest ways to foster dense infill development, which in turn is the most direct way to curb a city’s greenhouse gas emissions (see graph). Essentially, this kind of tax shifts the property tax from buildings to the land under them, which encourages owners to turn parking lots into buildings, or to sell the land to someone who will find a better use for it.
Water and soil, farming and food: Amanda Koehler, policy manager at the Land Stewardship Project, outlined an ambitious set of goals meant to help small-scale farmers and meat and poultry processors. LSP is looking for investment in perennial crops, including the grain Kernza, and adoption of healthy farming practices that improve soil, air and water.
LSP advocates for policies that would hold corporate polluters accountable, protect pollinator and wildlife habitat and curb factory farming in favor of small and mid-sized operations.
An earth-friendly, end-of-life option: As many of us reconsider our carbon heavy lifestyles, some forward thinkers are reimagining our culture’s deathcare practices and the public policy shifts we might need to make. Natural organic reduction is a new funerary process that reduces a human body to a compost-like substance in just a few weeks, a practice that makes good sense in cities especially.
Developed in the state of Washington (visit Recompose.life), the method has been legalized there and in Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and California, with several other state legislatures also considering it.
A bill to legalize NOR in Minnesota was introduced last session but didn’t make it out of committee.
State Senator John Marty told us in late November that he plans to work with colleagues to get the bill introduced again next session.
“Natural organic reduction is an environmentally friendly method of burial and is a much needed response to the environmental damage caused by the harmful burial practices currently in use,” he said. “I strongly support updating our burial laws to enable this natural, green method of burial.”
The new legislature might be more open to it. Learn more about NOR and other end-of-life options on our Going Home Green page: TransitionASAP.org/going-home-green.
What you can do: If you want to see changes made in Minnesota to support a livable climate in our future, watch for calls to action about these and other issues when they arise during the sessions, February to May.
Pat Thompson and Mindy Keskinen are members of Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park and coordinate this monthly Park Bugle feature.