Local View: Senate bill was a 'love letter to fossil fuels'
As Minnesotans sheltered in place, the Minnesota Senate worked hard this legislative session to pass laws impacting our climate and communities for decades to come. One of those Senate bills was deceivingly called “Clean Energy First.”
Although the bill did not see the floor this session, it may get attention in a special session still to come.
While the House version of “Clean Energy First” is a common-sense policy that strengthens and builds on Minnesota’s current preference for renewable energy, the Senate bill would weaken existing law by making it easier to build new fracked gas plants and to continue running uneconomic coal plants.
What’s more, our hometown Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, not only voted in support of this bill in committee but also introduced amendments that would move our state backwards. Simonson voted against an amendment that would include a commitment to reaching 100% clean energy by 2050 when his constituents are demanding climate action.
The Senate’s “Clean Energy First” bill reads more like “Fossil Fuels Forever.”
First, the proposal is worse than current law. The Senate bill would allow utilities to push forward two proposed fracked gas plants — Xcel’s Sherco in Becker, Minnesota, and Minnesota Power’s Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior — without comparing them to clean-energy alternatives. The Nemadji project is currently held up in the courts for failing to consider environmental impacts in Minnesota, and Xcel’s proposed Sherco gas plant is being reviewed as part of its 15-year resource plan. These loopholes allow energy companies to build new fracked gas plants and to ignore energy options like wind and solar that would cut costs and pollution. Customers deserve a fair public process that will evaluate whether there are cheaper, cleaner alternatives to these plants.
Second, thanks to an amendment by Sen. Simonson, the Senate bill includes language slowing the transition of Northeastern Minnesota beyond coal to clean energy by making it harder to retire the Boswell coal plant, even though there are more cost-effective and less-polluting alternatives. Every dollar spent on saving coal plants could be spent on clean energy and climate solutions.
Third, the Senate bill counts dirty coal and gas plants as “clean energy” if the plants capture 80% of their carbon and inject it back into the ground to extract more oil. This would be a giant handout to the proposed “Project Tundra” project that Minnkota Power is pushing in North Dakota, where the utility wants to put extremely expensive, untested carbon-capture technology on a 40-plus-years-old coal plant. These funds should be invested in building new clean-energy assets that bolster our economy for the long run, not in keeping dirty power plants alive.
Fourth, the bill defines burning garbage as “clean energy.” Burning garbage produces large amounts of both greenhouse-gas emissions and air pollutants that cause health problems in communities near plants. Plants like these are often located in low-income communities and communities of color, placing an unjust burden on those communities. Existing health inequities are being exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and we need climate solutions that address environmental injustices.
Finally, this bill would create a loophole that would encourage utility companies to build fossil-fuel plants across the border while still charging Minnesota ratepayers. To build a sustainable economy and reduce emissions, we need to prioritize and strengthen local jobs.
The “Clean Energy First” bill in the Minnesota Senate is not the climate solution we need. It is a love letter to fossil fuels.
A bill called “Clean Energy First” should speed the transition to clean, renewable energy. At a time when students across the state are demanding leadership to plan for their future, this Senate bill does not answer that call. Special session or not, we urge Sen. Simonson and all Minnesota senators to put us on a path toward a real clean-energy future.
Jenna Yeakle is a Duluth organizer with the Sierra Club (sierraclub.org). She wrote and submitted this commentary with Winona LaDuke, who lives on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota and is executive director of Honor the Earth (honorearth.org); Andrew Slade of Duluth, who is the Great Lakes program director for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (mepartnership.org); Izzy Laderman of Duluth, who is education director for Minnesota Youth Climate Strike; Bret Pence of Duluth, who is the greater Minnesota director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (mnipl.org); Helen Clanaugh, who is a co-leader of the Duluth Youth Climate Strike; and Lisa Fitzpatrick, who is a local leader with Duluth Climate Mobilization (duluthclimatemobilization.org).