Historic climate, environment and transit bills put Minnesota on path to a sustainable and more just future
Wow! What an amazing state legislative session. As a result of our collective efforts on climate action and climate justice this session, Minnesota is now on the path to a sustainable future.
- Our electricity will be carbon free by 2040.
- Our air will be cleaner thanks to new requirements to limit pollution in communities that have been unfairly burdened by the cumulative impacts of industrial emissions.
- Our daily commutes, access to jobs, housing, education, and opportunity will get faster and easier thanks to funding for a more reliable and efficient transit system.
Minnesota will now become a national leader on clean energy and transit, environmental justice and climate adaptation, and securing federal matching funds for climate action.
“Elections have consequences, and there is no greater proof than the 2023 Legislative Session. Between the 100% Bill, the Omnibus Transportation Bill, and the Omnibus Environment and Energy Bill, I have never been more hopeful that we could finally do our part in Minnesota to address the climate crisis,” said Peter Wagenius, the North Star Chapter’s Legislative and Political Director. “Just like the Inflation Reduction Act has the potential to allow us to meet our climate goals at the national level, we are now on the path to do this in Minnesota.”
Despite the efforts of big polluters like Big Oil and the ethanol industry, the people of Minnesota prevailed.
The Sierra Club applauds the leadership of the DFL Representatives and Senators who stood strong for our communities and planet, especially our Sierra Club endorsed legislators who led the way. And we thank the thousands of Minnesotans who engaged in democracy.
Below we provide a list of our top priorities and priorities where we played a supporting role, and the results.
Sierra Club Legislative Priorities and Results:
CLEAN ENERGY & CLIMATE VICTORIES
100% Clean Electricity.
In February, the “100% Bill” passed. All utilities, including cooperatives and municipalities, are all to be relying solely on carbon free sources by 2040:
○ 80% carbon-free energy by 2030
○ 90% carbon-free energy by 2035
○ 100% carbon-free energy by 2040
The bill Implements safeguards to ensure marginalized communities benefit from, and are not harmed, by a 100% clean energy transition, and prioritizes equitable development of clean energy and the growth of local, union jobs. The bill is the most significant climate legislation ever passed in Minnesota history and is one of the strongest in the nation.
Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority (MnCIFA) or the “Green Bank.”
This nation-leading legislation establishes and fully funds MnCIFA at $45 million, for programs like community access to solar, electric vehicle charging, and to get more clean energy on the grid faster and better. The bank will be especially helpful for small- to mid-size developers who have struggled to find investors who often prefer to invest in large projects to avoid risk; and will aggregate small and midsize projects to attract more investment. It will also make us eligible for federal matching funds through the Inflation Reduction Act.
Funding for Renewable Energy.
The Legislature has appropriated funding for a variety of other renewable energy initiatives, including electrical vehicle and school bus programs (described in more detail below); a heat pump subsidy program; solar on schools; electrical grid interconnection improvements; electric panel upgrades; energy storage; and clean energy grants for tribal communities. Also, a new distributed solar generation program was mandated.
Buy Clean Pilot Program.
Buildings are a major source of climate pollution, and efforts are growing to address emissions that are embodied throughout the life cycle of building materials. The Buy Clean and Buy Fair pilot program will explore a Minnesota-specific approach to reducing climate pollution in the materials that are used to update our buildings and infrastructure, and help to support manufacturers who are using cleaner and greener processes and technologies.
The Transportation Bill includes a historic and transformative investment which is decades in the making. For the first time ever, the Legislature has directly raised new revenue for metro transit, not relying on shifts or local governments. The new 3/4 of one-cent metro sales tax (83% of which is dedicated to transit) will erase a $150 million deficit and provide $300 million annually to build out a comprehensive network of faster and cleaner Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines with safety improvements and much better frequency.
The Legislature also approved additional funding for Greater Minnesota Transit and the Northern Light Express (NLX) train to Duluth. The bill also provides a tax credit for up to 75% of the cost on an electric-assisted bicycle, the percent depending on the income of the taxpayer.
Climate Impact of Highways.
The bill recognizes that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) have been increasing significantly in excess of population growth and that we cannot build our way out of congestion, neither financially nor physically. So the bill requires that MNDOT and other agencies make investment decisions consistent with Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction and VMT reduction goals. Projects inconsistent with those goals must be adjusted or mitigated by other projects. It further requires the Metropolitan Council to establish a climate action plan and forecasts related to GHG emissions and VMT, including from land use. The Metropolitan Council must incorporate climate into existing comprehensive planning.
The Energy and Environment Bill includes significant appropriations for EV school buses, EV rebates, and EV fleets. That includes a $2,500 rebate for the lease or purchase of a new electric vehicle on top of the federal tax credit of up to $7,500. There’s a $600 rebate available to purchase used EVs. We laid the groundwork for all of these provisions early in session and building on robust work in previous sessions to pass strong EV provisions out of the House.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE & REDUCING POLLUTION VICTORIES
Frontline Communities Protection Act.
Also called the "Cumulative Impacts bill", this law will create stronger permitting requirements that will reduce additional pollution in already overburdened and marginalized communities. It applies to the seven county metro area, Duluth and Rochester. Native nations also have the ability to opt in. The Sierra Club played a supporting role on this legislation following the leadership of EJ leaders and organizations.
Easier Access to Community Solar Gardens.
A revised community solar program will allow easier access to community solar for residential customers - especially lower income customers and renters.
East Phillips Urban Farm.
With support from legislators, EPNI has reached a monumental and historic deal with the City of Minneapolis to purchase the Roof Depot site.
Lead Pipes Removal in Communities and Schools.
With testimony and active support from our Water Stewards, the Legislature appropriated $230 million to replace lead pipes carrying drinking water across the State.
Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade toxic organic chemicals known as “forever chemicals” that are found everywhere in the global environment, are highly persistent, and are widely used in consumer products. With the active involvement of our Zero Waste Team, the Legislature passed a law requiring manufacturers of consumer products to disclose the levels of PFAs in their products, and ultimately, prohibit use of PFAs in consumer products unless their use can be shown to be “unavoidable.” In addition, the Legislature is requiring that the use of PFAs in firefighting foam be phased out.
In order to fight false claims by manufacturers of products such as food containers being “compostable” or “biodegradable,” the Legislature, with the active support of our Zero Waste Team, prohibited the use of those labels on products unless the products are shown to meet recognized standards for compostability and biodegradation.
Protecting Habitat and Sequestering Carbon.
Sierra Club proposed a Lowland Carbon and Habitat Reserve (LowCaHR) which would protect habitat and keep carbon sequestered in high priority state-owned lowland conifer forests and peatlands – ecosystems which are rare across the world.The chapter’s Forests and Wildlife Stewards led this effort and secured passage of the bill in the House. Since it didn’t pass the Senate, we were not able to get it through the conference committee. But we did pass $500,000 for a study on the benefits of protecting these lands, which will be conducted by the University of Minnesota.
Extended Producer Responsibility to Reduce Plastic Packaging.
Our Zero Waste Team supported a bill to enact an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy, which would hold producers responsible for their products and packaging throughout the entire lifecycle. Our bill did not pass as there is a disagreement among governmental entities and environmentalists about how best to limit the amount of plastics going into products such as food containers. This discussion will continue and we expect to fight for new legislation on this topic next year.
The "Prove it First" bill, a moratorium on sulfide ore mining unless it can be proven safe, has not moved in the Legislature due to opposition in the Senate. A bill specific to preventing sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters watershed also did not pass for similar reasons. The chapter is part of a broad coalition of groups fighting to prevent sulfide mining in all Minnesota watersheds, and we expect to continue to push for legislation next year.
Wake boats have a special, expensive design to produce strong wakes and waves. Due to this, if used without care, wake boats can be devastating to an ecosystem, resulting in long-lasting damage to shorelines, water quality, and lake bottoms. This session, some additional training requirements are included in boating legislation, but not the type of restrictions favored by the Chapter. We will continue advocating for legislation to reduce potential harm.
With partners, our Forests and Wildlife Stewards introduced legislation to sustainably manage motorized recreation on Minnesota public lands. The bill will not move forward this year, but will be a continued focus of our work in future years.