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Ken Bone asked a good question, and Minnesota has the answer

REUTERS/Rick Wilking
“What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs,” Bone asked, “while at the same time, remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”

Near the end of the second debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a man named Ken Bone stood up in his red sweater to ask a question, and instantly became an Internet sensation. Somewhat lost in all the online attention that followed was the topic of Bone’s question, and the candidates’ replies.

Robert Moffitt

“What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs,” Bone asked, “while at the same time, remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”

The responses of the two candidates to the question are a matter of record, and you can find transcripts and video of their replies on many major news outlets. As someone who has been concerned about the public health risks of fossil fuels for some time, I thought about how I might answer his question.

Big changes in state

First, I would thank him for bringing up the issues of energy and the environment. It is a serious topic that deserves more attention, and not just at election time. Here in Minnesota, we are seeing some big changes in the energy business, sparked by market forces, state regulation, and a growing demand for renewable energy. There is also the possibility that new federal rules to reduce carbon emissions at existing power plants will bring more changes.

The amount of coal Minnesota is using to generate electricity has been declining in recent years, reflecting a national trend seen even in coal-producing states. Minnesota has no coal resources, so it must import all the coal it uses from other states. Many of the state’s roughly 40 coal-fired facilities are old and inefficient. As the availability of natural gas has grown and its price dropped, several plants have converted to natural gas or closed altogether.

This is a trend that is likely to continue, as wind power continues to grow in the Midwest (nearly 20 percent of Minnesota’s electric power is wind generated) and the burgeoning solar power sector grows, spurred by a 2013 state law that requires 1.5 percent solar power by 2020.

Also on the horizon is the Clean Power Plan, rules set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the authority of the Clean Air Act. While these rules would favor the use of cleaner forms of energy over coal, they have not yet gone into effect. If there is a “war on coal,” as some claim, it is coming from the market forces, not government regulation.

Working to minimize job losses

The economic effect of our changing energy picture is already being considered in communities like Becker, Minnesota, home of the single largest coal plant – and greenhouse gas emitter – in the state. The city and Xcel Energy have been working closely to minimize job losses as that plant plans to close down two of its coal-fired boilers. Xcel Energy has stopped burning coal in recent years at several units in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington, and it did so without laying off a single person due to the changing fuel sources.

The Clean Power Plan is important, because it is the United States’ first major effort to reduce carbon emissions and is also the primary means of fulfilling our nation’s promise when we signed the international Paris Climate Accord.

In addition to potentially slowing the rate of global climate change, the Clean Power Plan also provides the immediate health benefits of reducing the amount of particulate pollution in our air – a type of pollution whose negative effects of human health are well known and well documented.

In a state with a relatively healthy economy, with growth in renewable power and in other industries, the prospects for the relatively few workers who work directly with coal to find new positions looks better than in other states more dependent on the coal economy.

CPP will help protect health

When implemented, the Clean Power Plan will help protect health by bolstering the growth of clean fuels and increasing energy efficiency. The Clean Power Plan prompts Minnesota and other states to use energy more efficiently and to continue the transition to cleaner energy sources. Thanks to the dangerous pollution it would reduce, the Clean Power Plan will prevent 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks each year when fully implemented.

Cleaner energy, healthier air and a strong economy — it’s the type of answer to our energy policy questions that many Americans have been waiting to hear. There is no debate that we all want a healthy environment for ourselves and for future generations.

Robert Moffitt is the communications director of the American Lung Association in Minnesota.


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Mike martin on 10/13/2016 - 09:18 pm.

    Are MN electric rates competitive with other states in the upper MN?

    Twenty years ago MN has some of the lowest electric rates in the country. MN rates were one half the rates of other states in the US.

    MN electric rates are no longer competitive with other states in the Upper Midwest.

    When Google Facebook and Microsoft were looking to build data centers in the central part of the US; MN did not make the first cut. Iowa got all 3 data centers because of low taxes and low electric rates. Google, Facebook and Microsoft invested over $ 4 BILLION in Iowa.

    Google bought 1,000 acres near Council Buffs Iowa. It used less than 50 acres for its 1 million sq ft data center.

    Microsoft pays 1/6 of the property taxes in West Des Moines, IA

    While MN electricity is becoming greener it is also becoming more expensive, which makes MN less competitive for businesses that use lots of electricity like data centers and manufacturing.

    It also means the poor & people on fixed incomes have less money to pay for food, medicine and other necessities.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/14/2016 - 11:22 am.

      Having recently paid electric bills in Indiana….

      …a state that still burns a lot of coal to make its electricity, I can tell you that the electric bill I pay in Minnesota is much lower. That’s just my anecdotal experience when I inherited a home there.

      Taxes are not my area of expertise, nor is business development, but I think Minnesota’s economy is doing pretty well overall, with or without software giants building plants here..

      The energy in Iowa is getting greener, too More than 30% of their electricity comes from wind power. The decline in coal use is happening almost everywhere, including in states that mine coal.

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