Climate Policy in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

Posted on September 14, 2017 5:03 am by Dan Farber

Minnesota has had climate change legislation on the books since 2007, when the Next Generation Energy Act was signed by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. The 2007 law called for the state to reduce its emissions 15 percent by 2015 and 80 percent by 2050. At the time, Pawlenty saluted the bill, saying,”The nation has been asleep at the switch, but here in Minnesota we are kick-starting the future by increasing our nation-leading per capita renewable fuel use, boosting cost-saving measures and tackling greenhouse gas emissions.” Pawlenty dropped that position quickly when he started to have national political ambitions, but his willingness to sign the bill in the first place was noteworthy. Of course, this was before GOP backlash to the Obama presidency made it unthinkable for most Republicans to acknowledge the need to address climate change.

The 2007 statute sets ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gases, but its operative provisions seem to focus almost entirely on increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in the electricity sector, including the use of a carbon price in resource planning decisions. Provisions dealing more generally with climate change are limited. The statute calls for creation of a state climate change plan, mandates cooperation with other states to the extent possible, and directs the government to explore interest in a regional cap-and-trade system by other states. It also bans construction of new coal-fired plants in the state and attempts to limit purchases of electricity from such plants outside the state. The provisions dealing with out-of-state sources were struck down in a poorly reasoned opinion by the Eighth Circuit. But none of the provisions about new coal plants turned out to have much significance since none have been built or seem likely to be built anyway, due to the falling price of natural gas and renewable energy.

The state has been fairly successful in dealing with the electricity sector. According to a state report:

“Renewable energy now accounts for 21% of the Minnesota’s in-state electricity generation, up from 4% in 2000. Wind energy alone provides over 17% of our state’s electricity– equal to the total electricity use in one in six homes, businesses, and community institutions.”

But this hasn’t been enough to bring down the state’s emissions substantially, though they have plateaued a bit below their 2005 level. As a result, the state reported that it had badly missed its 2015 target fro greenhouse gases, cutting 2005 emissions by only 4% rather than the 15% target.

Further progress does seem likely, even without a big push from regulators. According to Minnesota Public Radio, the changing economics of the energy industry are pushing utilities away from coal and toward natural gas and wind power:

“The plans of Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and Xcel Energy — the state’s three investor-owned utilities — to embrace more wind energy will mean less coal arriving on trains from Wyoming and Montana. . . .Minnesota Power aims to generate a third of its energy from coal, a third from renewables and a third from natural gas by 2030. As recently as two years ago, coal was generating 75 percent of the utility’s power.”

As a result, MPR says, the state will meet its targets under Obama’s Clean Power Plan even if the Plan itself is rescinded by Trump.

Transportation emissions seem to be a more difficult problem than power plant emissions. As I noted earlier, the 2007 Act doesn’t provide tools for dealing with transportation emissions, so perhaps it’s not surprising that so little progress has been made. The Twin Cities are great places to live in part because there’s so much nice, near-in single-family housing. But this also translates into a lot of sprawl, so the state’s greatest need is to bring down its transportation emissions. The government is looking to the same regulatory toolkit as other states: policies to increase housing density, expand mass transit, and promote electric vehicles. The state might also do well to consider adopting the California standards for tailpipe emissions, as have around a dozen other states. But existing legislation doesn’t mandate these policies, so agencies would have to use existing discretionary authority.

As always, politics will have a major impact on future climate policy. The governor is a Democrat. Republicans have only a one-vote margin in the state senate, but they control the state house 77-57. Minnesota has been a Democratic stronghold in presidential elections, but Clinton carried it by under 2%. (Interestingly, Green Party candidate Jill Stein wasn’t much of a factor. She came in below the Libertarian candidate and independent Evan McMullin, which might be a sign of Republican defections.) The upcoming midterm election may be a different matter, depending on whether Democrats turn out in substantially greater numbers than Republicans. The current Democratic governor isn’t running again, but his 62% approval rating may be a good sign for the party. (As I recall from my years living there, he isn’t exactly a charismatic personality.) If the Dems do take control of state government, there may be a chance for further legislation on climate change.

The state does have some strong motivations to take further action. According to the report quoted earlier:

“We have experienced four 1,000-year rainfalls since 2002 .We have watched our spruce, fir, aspen, and birch forests retreat northward . And air pollution related to greenhouse gas emissions annually costs us more than $800 million in increased health care costs.”

It remains to be seen, as with so many things, which direction politics drives climate policy in Minnesota in the next few years.

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Sen. Franken Teams up with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to Protect Midwest Family Farmers Who Fall on Hard Times

In Display of Bipartisanship, Family Farmer Bankruptcy Bill Passes Unanimously in U.S. Senate

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. [09/15/17]—The Senate unanimously approved a key piece of bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that will enable family farmers in Minnesota, Iowa, and across the country to get a fairer shake when they fall on hard times.

 

As a part of a 2005 bankruptcy reform bill, Congress passed a provision to address the unique financial situations of family farmers who are reorganizing their assets following bankruptcy. However, a 2012 Supreme Court ruling found that the 2005 law, as written, failed to achieve Congress’ express goal of helping family farmers. Grassley and Franken’s Family Farmer Bankruptcy Clarification Act of 2017 fixes the ruling and ensures that the law, as first intended, will protect our family farmers.

 

“Our bipartisan bill is a commonsense fix to ensure that the law functions as intended and protects family farmers in Minnesota and across the country,” said Sen. Franken. “Getting this measure passed, which I’m glad to say we did in the Senate, will help ensure farmers going through bankruptcy get a fair shake and are able to repay the debts they owe without sacrificing their families’ futures.”  

 

The Family Farmer Bankruptcy Clarification Act will allow struggling family farmers to reorganize their debts to treat capital gains taxes owed to a governmental unit, arising from the sale of farm assets during a bankruptcy, as general unsecured claims.  It also removes the IRS’ veto power over a bankruptcy reorganization plan’s confirmation, giving the family farmer a chance to reorganize successfully.

 

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No, sportsmen don’t support erasing national monuments

 

BY ANDREW BLACK, GARRETT VENE KLASEN, JOHN OLIVAS AND JIM BATES, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS - 09/01/17 02:40 PM EDT

 

 

Supporters of President Trump’s review of over two dozen national monuments argue rolling back public lands might be good for the sportsmen community and wildlife.

While we agree with the premise that sportsmen should be involved in the management and planning process of national monuments, we take exception to some of the assertions argued by designation critics in The Hill, especially about the reference to New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. As local sportsmen who have spent generations hunting and fishing we find it necessary to set the record straight.

As an example of problems that arise “when the monument designation limits vital land management practices,” these critics state that the excellent hunting opportunities afforded in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument (RGDN) are “no longer guaranteed by its proclamation,” and that the management plan in development will halt hunting activities. That’s simply not true.

 

The official monument proclamation for RGDN (and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, or OMDP, in southern New Mexico) reads: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to enlarge or diminish the jurisdiction of the state of New Mexico with respect to fish and wildlife management.”

To say that the proclamation removed some sort of guarantee that previously existed is misinformation. The proclamation specifically reaffirms the state’s right to manage fish and wildlife. Translation: no change in any regulations to do with hunting and fishing.

In fact, hunting opportunities have only been enhanced. The herds of elk, mule deer and antelope would simply not survive without the winter range of the RGDN and the wildlife numbers have been increasing since the designation. The monument’s designation also protects over 66 miles of world-class waters, critical habitat to native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, providing enormous recreational and economic opportunities.

The argument that designations hurt local communities is also a stretch.

Critics claim the need for monument designations to be “locally driven, transparent …. conserve important fish and wildlife habitat and uphold hunting and fishing opportunities…. If the public, especially local communities, do not support the designations, the value is diminished in their eyes.” But the local public does support these monument designations.

The designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument represented the culmination of a two-decade-long collaborative effort driven by local sportsmen and women, business leaders, veterans, elected officials, tribes, land grant heirs, grazing permittees, acequia parcientes and recreational users who worked closely together to protect this iconic landscape holding major historical, cultural, ecological and economic significance. The designation process for both RGDN and OMDP was exhaustive, inclusive, transparent and led by sportsmen, who remain actively engaged in the management planning process.

We find claims like the “designation of large tracts of public lands as monuments without provision for access can lead to a loss of conservation value” to be sweeping and misleading generalizations.

Focusing in on actual landscapes, we have not experienced any restricted recreational access or reduced management of wildlife habitats at the national monuments in New Mexico.

Raising of hypothetical issues that a national monument designation harms these lands is not a reasonable defense against this type of protection.

“If the lack of management results in reduced wildlife populations, loss of recreational opportunities and local economies are hurt as a result,” designation critics claim. What lack of management?

Local economies are benefitting. Ask the many local business leaders, like Taos Fly Shop owner and fishing guide Nick Streit, who make a living in the Rio Grande del Norte and other national monuments. Since RGDN was designated, Streit has had to expand his business to accommodate the increasing number of tourists who come to visit the area and experience firsthand the wild and natural beauty.

Critics of these designations are the waving of a red flag where no real danger is present. Built into the monument designation process is a great deal of input from a diverse array of community members before any official action happens. Before a monument is created this process ensures key issues are taken into account, including a majority of local buy-in, the health of wildlife populations, optimal recreational opportunities and the success of local economies.

We see no need for Interior Secretary Zinke’s national monument review as ordered by President Trump and we certainly do not applaud it. Based on the facts and not hypothetical “what if’s” — the review is unjustifiable.

The critics, who say “national monuments are not always good for sportsmen and wildlife” must have forgotten that it is every sportman’s priority to protect the habitat of big game wildlife and game bird populations — and that national monument designations provide that crucial habitat by protecting public lands from development and disposal.

From our vantage point in New Mexico, the concerns over these designations generate unnecessary fear while focusing on things that are unlikely to ever happen. Zinke’s monument review process has been a wasteful use of federal resources that could be put to much better use for critical projects such as fire response and prevention and vital habitat improvement.

Andrew Black is the director of Community Relations & Education for New Mexico Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit member-driven organization working for wildlife on behalf of sportsmen and women across New Mexico since 1914.

Garrett Vene Klasen is executive director of New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

John Olivas is the owner of JACO Outfitters, a registered guide and outfitter in the State of New Mexico.

Jim Bates is co-chairman of the Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen, a Las Cruces, New Mexico-based sportsmen’s coalition of local, state and national conservation and sportsmen’s organizations.

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