Smoke from the fires that blanketed the Twin Cities skies and December’s tornado in southern Minnesota weighed on the minds of legislators urging more spending on climate change at the State Capitol.
“In the past, we talked about climate change as if it were 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 will close if we hope to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.”
But with only weeks remaining in the legislative session, there is a gulf between Senate Republicans and House Democrats plans to protect the environment and tackle climate change, and recent debates paint a deep political divide. The House passed a $240 million environmental and natural resources package on Thursday, while the Senate bill totaled less than $8 million. Various climate-related actions tucked away in other House bills are not in the Senate version.
Last year the state spent more on the environment than it usually does, said Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chair of the Committee on Environmental Finance and Natural Resources. Since it’s not a fiscal year in the Capitol, he said it’s unfortunate some lawmakers want to use Minnesota’s projected surplus of nearly $9.3 billion to expand state government.
“Everyone thinks the world is falling and honestly it’s not. And we have scientists on both sides, I understand, and I appreciate that,” Ingebrigtsen said on the Senate floor, later adding, “I know the world is heating up, guys. has been heating up for thousands of years. Nothing, but a thousand years.”
His comments come as a new study from ratings firm S&P Global estimates climate change will result in a loss of 4% of global annual economic output by 2050, disproportionately costing poor countries.
Senator Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said some Republican colleagues mocked his comments about the need for swift action on climate change as they hung out in the Senate retirement room, a room where he said the atmosphere was typically collegial.
“They think people like me are running around hysterically and irrationally,” Dibble said. “It’s disappointing. I, I don’t feel very optimistic about our planet.”
The Senate environmental bill is a “house of horrors,” said Dibble, who unsuccessfully tried to remove about 15 provisions from a measure he said would make it easier for people to pollute.
Senator Carrie Ruud, a Republican from Breezy Point and chair of one of the Senate’s two environmental committees, also ripped up a bill she said “doesn’t contain things we worked on throughout the session,” such as preventing excessive salt use in winter, reducing walleye limits. statewide to four and added boat education requirements.
Of the nearly $8 million in bills, Ruud noted $1 million was aimed at “attracting and promoting large-scale sports and other events.” It was the latest example of legislators cutting voter lottery money meant to protect fish and wildlife and support parks and trails, he said, adding, “They didn’t vote to use this money for sporting events. And I think this is really a great day.” pathetic in the state of Minnesota.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans had sharp words for Thursday’s version of the DFL.
“This bill grows government. It grows DNR, MPCA, and unfortunately as long as agriculture faces such challenges,” said Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley. “We don’t need these reckless and irresponsible regulations on the people who provide us with the food and raw goods that help make many of the things we use every day.”
A small group of negotiators will try to reconcile major differences between the House and Senate bills.
It will be difficult to find common ground, said the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy Chief Strategy Officer Aaron Klemz, 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 some spending is needed to find alternatives to meet the northern metro’s water needs.
“At least there is an acknowledgment that there is a problem here and that there needs to be a permanent solution,” Klemz said. “So we hope that in some way there will be some money set aside for the task force or whatever decision needs to be made.”
Last year state leaders voted to eliminate “chemicals forever,” called PFAS, in food packaging by 2024. The House has proposed banning PFAS in products such as cookware while the Senate hasn’t yet, but Klemz expects they could approve more bans. continue this session. And while the provision Ruud mentioned to support “smart salting” training — which reduces the use of ice removers that causes chloride buildup in Minnesota waters — isn’t in the Senate or House environmental bill, 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 bill on energy, agriculture, transportation, education and other areas, Acomb said. Democrats kicked off the session with a $1 billion Climate Action Plan. Acomb estimates they have $650 million so far in the House bill, but says there will be more money in unfinished infrastructure packages. He also wants to provide matching funds to raise federal infrastructure dollars for projects such as electric vehicle charging stations.
House Climate and Energy Committee Chair Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, echoed the idea and said he was optimistic legislators would pass some clean energy measures. The state previously supported solar projects in schools and he said they could expand that effort, as well as provide more money for weather grants to make homes more energy efficient as heating and cooling costs rise.
The Senate passed its energy stockpile Tuesday that includes millions for the Solar for Schools initiative and a solar array at the sports center in Blaine. That would lift the moratorium on new nuclear power plants. Senators rejected the DFL’s efforts to add to the goal of achieving 100% clean energy by 2040.
Energy Committee chairman David Senjem, R-Rochester, said the idea needed to be discussed but was “very, very aspirational. And it’s great to have aspirations, but I think we need 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 stressed during his State of the Union address last Sunday that people should not take ideological positions on climate change.
“It just happens, and there are solutions out there,” said Walz, noting that businesses are adapting to become more sustainable and protect the environment. “That’s 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 to live so it’s there tomorrow.”