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Local View: Declaring a climate emergency not enough; now Duluth needs to make good on its goals

From the column: "This is a moment worth celebrating. This is also a moment for taking action."

Lakewalk damage 2018.jpg
Pedestrians walk past a section of Duluth’s Lakewalk a day after it was damaged by a storm Oct. 10, 2018. (Steve Kuchera / News Tribune)

Congratulations to the Duluth City Council, which passed a climate-emergency declaration for the city on April 12. Congratulations and appreciation are also due to local community members who recognize the need for climate action and that we have a limited window of opportunity to avoid a worst-case scenario of human and environmental damage.

For several years, Lisa Fitzpatrick of Duluth Climate Mobilization led an effort and collected more than 700 signatures to call on our City Council members to take action.

The resolution aligns Duluth’s climate-action goals with the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls for limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It incorporates a commitment to accelerating a reduction of the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions 80% by 2050, applies that to all of Duluth’s greenhouse emissions rather than to just city operations, and requires a “Climate Action Work Plan” to identify strategies for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. This will guide the city in becoming resilient while prioritizing the lives of communities harmed most by fossil fuels — poor communities and communities of color — through energy efficiency, conservation, renewable-energy production, and energy democracy. The resolution includes benchmarks and funding sources, and it promotes collaboration.

Truly, this is a moment worth celebrating.

This is also a moment for taking action. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is currently reviewing Minnesota Power’s Integrated Resource Plan, which outlines the utility’s proposals for how it will produce electricity over the next 15 years. Given our local commitment and the energy goals set by the administration of President Joe Biden, the city of Duluth has an opportunity to advocate for the necessary transition from fossil fuels to clean, community-based energy.


Here are four important things for the city of Duluth to consider as Minnesota Power customers and communities submit comments to the Public Utilities Commission:

One, putting unnecessary fossil-fuel generation onto our grid isn’t compatible with the city’s climate commitments. Minnesota Power’s proposal for the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, a fracked-gas plant to be built in Superior, must be abandoned. Building this plant would undermine Duluth’s transition to clean, renewable energy. An administrative law judge concluded that the Nemadji Trail Energy Center is not needed for reliability and is expensive compared to renewable options. Building new fossil-fuel plants and pipelines fuels the climate crisis on the backs of customers like the city of Duluth.

Two, the city needs an aggressive plan to build out accessible clean energy in a way that benefits our communities. City administration must urge Minnesota Power to offer more community and rooftop solar opportunities to expand renewable-energy options. Minnesota Power slashed its solar-rebate funding in half this year, and it was depleted on the first day applications were accepted. To stay true to its commitment of a “just transition,” the city must request that Minnesota Power expand its solar-rebate program and offer community-owned solar options.

Three, we need leadership from the city to transition away from burning fossil fuels to heat our homes and businesses. In Minneapolis, the city has identified gas in homes as its biggest barrier to meeting climate goals. While Duluth is moving away from burning coal as a way to heat the city core, burning fossil gas for heating is still not good enough to reach our climate goals. The city can ask that in its Integrated Resource Plan, Minnesota Power plan for the electrification of buildings while expanding energy efficiency and storage in Duluth.

Finally, the city’s resolution commits the administration to a framework of just transition and can ensure that Minnesota Power makes good on its promise of a just transition as well. A “just transition” is the fundamental shift from a fossil fuel-dominated economy rooted in extraction and exploitation to a living economy rooted in regeneration, democracy, and relationship. How Duluth moves toward a clean-energy future must center on community voices and repair the damage done by the fossil-fuel industry.

The city of Duluth has an opportunity to ask that Minnesota Power make that vision a reality by moving our economy off of fossil fuels and toward clean energy — while providing pathways for workers to transition to high-quality work with integrity, supporting community-led transition, and repairing environmental injustices by cleaning up pollution and equitably distributing the benefits of clean energy.

We call on the city administration to make good on its climate goals. Together we can create a clean and equitable energy future for Duluth, our north-woods communities, and across Minnesota.

This column was submitted by Jenna Yeakle of Duluth, an organizer for the Sierra Club. It was signed by her and also by Levi Gregg of Duluth, co-chair of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group at the University of Minnesota Duluth; Linda Herron of Duluth, a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club; UMD professor Kathryn Milun; Arryn Clanaugh and Sydney David of Duluth and student leaders for Duluth Youth for Climate Justice; Lisa Fitzpatrick, a community leader for Duluth Climate Mobilization; Allen Richardson of Duluth, an organizer for Honor the Earth; Bret Pence of Duluth, the Greater Minnesota director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light; Ellen Anderson of St. Paul, the climate program director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy; and Duluth’s JT Haines of the Northeast Minnesota Program of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.



Public comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regarding Minnesota Power’s Integrated Resource Plan can be emailed to ; use the subject line, “Public Comments for Docket Number: E015/RP-21-33.”

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled on Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18. Go to g ov/puc/newsroom/calendar/ for information.

The Lincoln Park Solar Garden on West Michigan Street near the Point of Rocks celebrated its grand opening in October.

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