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Minnesota must do more to reduce transportation carbon emissions

To its credit, MnDOT has pledged to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20% by 2050, but there isn’t a clear plan to reach this goal. The goal is also too little, too late.

I-35 traffic

In 2023, Minnesota has taken important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the climate crisis, including nation-leading legislation to achieve 100% clean energy by 2040. However, state leaders are failing to address the state’s largest carbon emissions sector, transportation.

I am a student at Exploration High School. The decisions made by elected leaders today will impact my generation the most. It’s frustrating to watch our leaders shelve this issue for the next generation to inherit. We need to do more to fight the climate crisis.

Despite the increased focus on further reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions, the state doesn’t have a particularly clear plan for reducing emissions from transportation. The Climate Action Framework created by the Walz administration includes basic guidelines for reducing emissions and increasing clean transportation options, but binding requirements and a detailed implementation process are lacking.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) doesn’t require greenhouse gas emissions to be a performance metric in its major projects. MnDOT only requires the climate impact to be noted “for discretionary purposes.” To their credit, MnDOT has pledged to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) (a measure of total driving and common emissions metric) by 20% by 2050, but there isn’t a clear plan to reach this goal. The goal is also too little, too late. Analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that the U.S. must reduce VMT by 20% before 2030 to avert the worst climate scenarios. The end result? A transportation planning process that is driving up emissions while claiming to do the opposite.

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Other states have implemented more effective emission reduction programs. Colorado recently passed a law requiring transportation agencies to estimate and reduce emissions from all major projects. In Colorado, the law requires agencies to set goals for carbon emissions and if a project would put the area or state over those limits it requires the agency to spend money on mitigation measures. If a project is still shown to be over the emissions targets, the state can restrict the usage of funds. This works to reduce vehicle miles traveled by stopping projects that increase emissions, like freeway extensions or lane expansions, and increasing funding for projects that expand walking, biking and transit access.

Leo Fisher
Leo Fisher
A law that builds on Colorado’s example would benefit Minnesota and help us make meaningful progress on our state’s climate goals, which it is currently struggling to achieve. It would also have societal benefits beyond climate. It would encourage walkable and bikeable cities and use of public transit, which improve public health. Reducing car usage would also help minimize the severe impacts of lithium mining that will rapidly increase with electric vehicle adoption. It would even benefit those who drive, as more space on the roads would reduce traffic and trip time.

Time is running out. The International Panel on Climate Change recently delivered a “final warning” on the urgent need to act. The Minnesota Department of Transportation must do more to reduce its contributions to the climate crisis. A law that prevents transportation projects from moving forward if they increase emissions is a common sense step for protecting our shared future.

Leo Fisher is a student at Exploration High School. He has an internship at Our Streets Minneapolis and is interested in all things transportation.