Wildfire smoke clouding the skies of the Twin Cities and December’s tornadoes in southern Minnesota are weighing on lawmakers pushing for more climate change spending at the state capitol.
“In the past we have talked about climate change as if it were something in the future. And we’re seeing it impact 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 effects of climate change.”
But with the legislature just weeks away, there’s a gulf between plans by Senate Republicans and House Democrats to protect the environment and address climate change, and recent debates highlight the deep political divide. The House of Representatives passed a $240 million environment and resources package on Thursday, while the Senate bill totaled less than $8 million. Various climate-related measures included in other House bills are missing from the Senate versions.
Over the past year, the state has spent more on the environment than usual, said Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee. Because this isn’t a fiscal year at the Capitol, he said it’s unfortunate some lawmakers wanted to use Minnesota’s projected nearly $9.3 billion surplus to expand state government.
“Everyone thinks the world is collapsing and quite frankly that’s not the case. And we have scientists on both sides, I understand that and appreciate that,” Ingebrigtsen said in the Senate, later adding, “I know the globe is warming, folks. It has been warming for thousands of years. Nothing worth mentioning, but a thousand years.”
His comments come from a new study by ratings firm S&P Global, which estimates that climate change will result in a 4% loss in global annual economic output by 2050, disproportionately hurting poorer countries.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said some fellow Republicans poked fun at his comments about the need for quick action on climate change as they hung out in the Senate retirement room, a room where the atmosphere is typically collegial.
“They think people like me are going around being hysterical and irrational,” Dibble said. “It’s discouraging. I’m not very optimistic about our planet.”
The Senate Environment Bill is a “house of horrors,” said Dibble, who tried unsuccessfully to remove about 15 provisions from the measure that he said would make it easier for people to pollute the environment.
Senator Carrie Ruud, a Republican from Breezy Point and chair of one of the two Senate environment committees, also addressed the bill, which she said “doesn’t contain any of the things that we’ve been working on all session,” like for example, preventing excessive use of road salt in winter, reducing the statewide walleye limit to four, and adding watercraft training requirements.
Of the nearly $8 million in the bill, Ruud said $1 million was earmarked to “attract and promote large-scale sporting and other events.” This is the latest example of lawmakers cutting off lottery dollar voters who are supposed to protect fish and wildlife and support parks and trails, she said, adding, “They didn’t vote to use that money for sporting events. And I think this is really such a sad day in the state of Minnesota.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans had sharp words for the DFL version on Thursday.
“This bill moves the government forward. He promotes DNR, MPCA and unfortunately at a time when agriculture faces such challenges,” said Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley. “We don’t need these reckless, irresponsible policies on the people who give us the food and raw materials that help make a lot of the things we use every day.”
Small groups of negotiators will attempt to resolve the vast differences between House and Senate bills.
Finding common ground will be difficult, said Aaron Klemz, chief strategy officer for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, but he hopes there will be bipartisan agreement on some issues. The two chambers have different policy approaches to water use around White Bear Lake, but he said it appears they both agree that some spending is needed to work on alternatives to meet the northern sub’s water needs. to cover the track.
“At least it is recognized that there is a problem here and that there must be a permanent solution,” said Klemz. “And so we’re hoping that somehow some money will be set aside for a task force or other decisions that need to be made.”
Last year, world leaders pledged to eliminate “perishable chemicals,” known as PFAS, in food packaging by 2024. The House of Representatives has proposed banning PFAS in various products like cookware while the Senate has not, but Klemz predicted they could agree to more bans in this session. And while the provision Ruud mentioned to support “smart salting” training — which reduces the use of deicers, which lead to chloride build-up in Minnesota waters — is not included in either Senate or House environmental legislation, Klemz said that there is still effort to move it forward.
The House Environment Bill includes “natural climate solutions” like planting trees, but there are also climate-related provisions in bills on energy, agriculture, transportation, education and other areas, Acomb said. Democrats started the session with a $1 billion climate action plan. Acomb estimates they have $650 million in the house’s 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 receive federal infrastructure dollars for projects like electric vehicle charging stations.
House Climate and Energy Committee Chairman Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, echoed that idea and said he was optimistic that lawmakers would pass some clean energy measures. The state has previously supported solar projects in schools, and it said they could expand those efforts and allocate more money to weathering grants to make homes more energy-efficient as heating and cooling costs rise.
The Senate on Tuesday passed its energy regulations, which included millions for the Solar for Schools initiative and a solar array at the Blaine Sports Center. It would lift the moratorium on new nuclear power plants. Senators have rejected an attempt by the DFL to add a target of achieving 100% clean energy by 2040.
Energy Committee Chair David Senjem, R-Rochester, said the idea needed to be discussed but was “very, very ambitious. And it’s good to have ambitions, but I think we have to be real.”
Gov. Tim Walz has also been pushing for the 2040 target, and this year his infrastructure plan earmarks about $944 million for climate projects. In his state speech last Sunday, the DFL governor emphasized that no ideological positions on climate change should be taken.
“It just happens and there are solutions,” said Walz, 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 chance for our children to live the life many of us need to live in order for tomorrow to be.”