Minnesota House DFL proposes spending $1B of surplus on climate plan
House Climate Caucus Chair Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka, said 2021 was yet another year of extreme weather events offering a preview of the climate in years to come unless lawmakers take bold action on the environment.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota House Democrats are proposing the state use $1 billion of its projected, record-breaking $7.7 billion budget surplus for a wide range of legislation aimed at curbing the effects of human-caused climate change.
At a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 19, the House Climate Action Caucus previewed its proposals for the 2022 session, which include hundreds of millions of investment in renewable energy, clean transportation and weatherization for homes. The caucus also says the proposal will create jobs, particularly through its home energy efficiency programs.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor-backed climate proposal is made up of about individual 30 bills that will move through the Legislature. However, with a Republican-controlled Senate, it's likely many of the bills will face an uphill battle.
Caucus Chair Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka, said 2021 was yet another year of extreme weather events offering a preview of the climate in years to come unless lawmakers take bold action on the environment.
“In the last year in Minnesota, we have seen our changing climate play out in severe droughts that impacted our entire state, a record heat wave (and) the summer of smoke that came from wildfires,” she told reporters. “We witnessed tornadoes in December that have never happened in our state before.”
Acomb said the proposals, based on a scientific framework the climate caucus developed in 2020, will aim to protect communities disproportionately affected by climate change and will seek to address rising energy costs through home weatherization efforts.
“Many of the investments proposed today in transportation, energy and built environment are investments that will create hundreds of high-quality, family-supporting careers in the construction trades,” said Joel Smith, union president and business manager of LIUNA of Minnesota and North Dakota, who spoke in favor of the proposal.
As it stands, the proposal calls for $150 million in additional funding for the state's Weatherization Assistance Program, though the single largest item in the proposal is $200 million for four bus rapid transit lines. The plan calls for $50 million for public transportation in Greater Minnesota and $1 million for further study of passenger rail routes to Duluth and in southern parts of the state.
The proposal drew applause from Minnesota environmental organizations, who said the investments could result in immediate and long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements to general quality of life in the state. The top Republican on the Minnesota House’s Climate and Energy Committee described the proposed legislation as a “misguided" wish list that would fail to deliver on its promise of lower energy costs.
“Democrats already forced us to conform to California’s automobile standards ...” Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said in a statement. “Now they want to spend tax dollars studying expensive new boondoggle trains in Greater Minnesota. It's just another example of Democrats pushing metro-centric policies that will raise costs for every Minnesota family."
The Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy nonprofit that advocates for utility customers in Minnesota, welcomed the proposed expansion of the weatherization program.
“With about 1 in 8 Minnesotans behind on their utility bills and the cost of heating fuels up this year, there is a big need for weatherization, particularly for older homes that weren’t built with energy efficiency as a priority,” said executive director Annie Levenson-Falk. “This will help people who need it to permanently reduce their energy costs and improve the health and comfort of their homes, while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”
Democrats divided proposed spending in the 2022 Minnesota Climate Action Plan into five subcategories with each receiving the following funding:
- Energy: $105 million
- Transportation: $376.5 million
- Built Environment: $355 million
- Lands: $130 million
- Adaptation and Resilience: $33.5 million
The energy category includes $45 million for a Greater Minnesota renewable development account, $30 million to establish a state innovation finance authority to support “cutting-edge” clean energy initiatives, and $25 million for solar energy systems at universities, wastewater treatment plants, airports and other public facilities. It also would include $5 million for Minnesota communities affected by the transition to clean energy.
Minnesota budget officials announced the state's $7.7 billion surplus in December. Minnesota's two-year budget is around $52 billion. The legislative session starts Jan 31.