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. This piece originally ran in the Duluth News Tribune.
When the Minnesota Legislature’s special session ended last month, lawmakers left many pressing issues undone, from public safety overhaul in the wake of George Floyd’s death to renewed protections and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, they might have made more progress if state Senate Republicans hadn’t wasted time attacking Minnesota’s clean air by attempting to remove the state’s power to reduce dangerous air emissions.
Climate change is a serious challenge, and Americans want their government to do more about it. A recent poll from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed that two-thirds of Americans want their government to do more to tackle climate change, and more than 70% want stronger fuel-emissions standards.
Fortunately, many solutions lie in powering our economy with clean energy and reducing toxic emissions. We cannot deny our way out of this problem. I have witnessed the impacts in the Polar regions and in my home state here in Minnesota — from the loss of sea ice to collapsing ice shelves to catastrophic floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events to disruptions to our economy and way of life.
Clean air is not a partisan issue. Since the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act was passed by a bipartisan Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, our emissions have dropped and clean energy has prospered. We have a solar boom thanks to Gov. Mark Dayton’s leadership in 2013, with more than 60,000 clean-energy jobs.
Now, under Gov. Tim Walz’s leadership, Minnesota is poised to tackle the No. 1 source of climate change-causing pollution: transportation.
Minnesotans overwhelmingly support the state doing more to reduce climate pollution from transportation. Out of the more than 2,400 public comments received when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency began clean-cars rulemaking, the single-most-repeated comments were in support of taking action to reduce the impacts of climate change. A Consumer Reports survey found 66% of prospective Minnesota car buyers want automakers to provide more types of electric vehicles like SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans. Adopting clean-car standards would increase consumer choice and help ensure that Minnesotans can find electric vehicles in the coming years.
In addition to public support and consumer choice, more electric vehicles provide energy security, particularly across the Midwest and greater Minnesota. It means most of our electricity is coming from our own local clean-energy economy, powered by wind and solar energy — not relying solely on fluctuating and volatile oil prices. The electrification of our economy is where the competitive economy is going.
In Minnesota, air pollution plays a role in up to 4,000 deaths per year, affecting every area of our state and hitting our seniors, low-income households, and children with asthma particularly hard. The impacts of air pollution have increased our communities’ vulnerability to COVID-19.
Yet, instead of working to clean our air, Republicans are making it worse by trying to take away the MPCA’s authority to reduce the leading cause of air pollution by bringing more clean-vehicle options so Minnesotans have cleaner car choices.
Our future requires us to build clean transportation, clean-energy systems, energy security, sustainable jobs, healthy communities, and resilient infrastructure. Clean-car standards are critical to achieving this kind of future that we both need and envision. Our response is not optional. It’s the right thing to do, and it is the morally responsible thing to do.
Tell Republicans to stop attacking clean air and focus on delivering things that make Minnesota stronger.