The end of every regular legislative session is often mired with partisan bickering and negotiation, but this year reached new lows — in a time when our world is calling us to join in action together. Our combined crises demand urgent and holistic solutions to deeply seated problems.
The clean-car standard adopted by 14 other states is a proven approach to reduce greenhouse gases from our highest emitting sector. Yet Minnesota senators spent this year attacking this common-sense solution and undermining agency leadership for doing its job to protect Minnesotans.
I myself was shut down in my testimony supporting this rulemaking for connecting cars to climate-change impacts. Even after a nonpartisan administrative law judge unequivocally supported the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to continue clean-cars rulemaking, confirming it was reasonable and needed, Senate conference committee members held hostage funding for agencies, state parks, time-sensitive legacy fund projects, and policies in the omnibus environment bill over their singular opposition to the clean-car standard.
These rules would expand the number and variety of cleaner cars available across the state, including trucks and cars not now available in Minnesota. Rural drivers would save thousands of dollars by choosing to plug in their cars at home rather than filling up at a gas station. Minnesotans would breathe easier from cleaner tailpipes passing through all our communities, whether urban centers or pristine natural spaces. These rules also would protect us from diseases great or small and our planet and future generations from worsening climate impacts.
As is sadly typical, the special interests that fear change are trying to stop the adoption of this rule with a coordinated misinformation campaign designed to stoke fear and opposition. These tactics have swayed some, even to the point where the administrative law judge confirmed in an official ruling that many of the comments in opposition to the clean-car standard were factually incorrect, parroting talking points created by the special interests. Senators in the Legislature have promoted this same misinformation and continue to rely upon it as grounds to stop the rule.
The fossil-fuel industry has lied and manipulated Minnesotans for generations, with propaganda flowing to classrooms and our Legislature. Yet Minnesotans are overwhelmingly supportive of clean cars and climate solutions, despite these manipulative misinformation campaigns. Minnesotans know the truth of the climate impacts we can see in our communities around us and the solutions that we demand from our elected officials.
Gov. Tim Walz and MPCA leaders have been unequivocal in their support for these common-sense rules to bring more clean cars to our state and expand access to electric-vehicle technologies across every region of Minnesota. We must reduce our climate impact from the largest emitting sector as a piece of the deep changes we need in our transition to a just and clean-energy economy that works for all Minnesotans.
I have seen firsthand the power of coming together across nations and across partisan divides. Our 1990 expedition crossing Antarctica could not be replicated today with significant portions of our route having crumbled to the sea. That international team secured global commitments to protect Antarctica from mineral and oil exploration, and I spoke with leaders near and far about the dangers of climate change.
Sixteen years later, I worked with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to pass the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act, which at the time also included a nation-leading renewable-energy standard. Today, after another 16 years, Minnesota has failed to build on climate action, falling behind other states’ leadership and falling victim to the fossil-fuel industry’s manipulation.
As legislators negotiate their omnibus packages for a special-session vote, we cannot let misinformation pushed by special interests prevent real solutions like clean cars, much less cause a shutdown of our everyday agency work and state parks just as Minnesotans are flocking to our natural wonders in this spring and early-summer weather. More than ever, we must end our dependence on fossil fuels and embrace our future, which already has begun.
We must keep moving forward. Let’s get this expedition over the finish line.
Will Steger is an award-winning polar explorer, educator, author, and environmental advocate. He is the founder of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, which engages people in climate-change solutions. He splits his time between Ely and St. Paul. He wrote this for the News Tribune.