Is Gov. Tim Pawlenty backing off his calls for “bold initiatives” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Democrats on a state Senate committee and environmentalists say his administration has cast aside or watered down most of the recommendations that came from his own climate change advisory committee after nine months of study and $40,000 in state funds for a consultant.
The 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, approved with strong bipartisan support and signed by Pawlenty last May, required the governor to submit an “action plan” on how to achieve legally mandated reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
When he signed the law, Pawlenty said: “The best time to have taken action on energy issues would’ve been 30 years ago. The second best time is right now.”
Since then, as chairman of the National Governors Association, Pawlenty has given several speeches imploring states to enact “bold, innovative initiatives” to address climate change.
But his administration’s “preliminary action plan” of Feb. 1 drew broad criticism because it sidestepped such issues as adopting California’s clean car standard to reduce gas emissions, expanding acquisition of farm and forest lands to “sequester” carbon, and setting policy to expand transit.
Where the 55-member advisory committee urged specific action, Pawlenty’s plan often said action should be “encouraged” or “supported” or studied further.
A Pawlenty spokesman dismisses notions that the governor is backing down, saying that some of the solutions are best addressed at regional and federal levels.
When that initial plan was broadly criticism, Pawlenty’s point person on energy policy, Deputy Commerce Commissioner Edward Garvey said a revised report would be made in advance of a Feb. 13 hearing before the Senate Energy and Utilities Committee.
A day before the hearing, Garvey met with the committee chairwoman, state Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon, DFL-Duluth, to explain how his revised report would specifically address how to meet the law’s goals to reduce carbon emissions linked to climate change: 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.
But when Garvey testified on Feb. 13, Prettner-Solon said she was “surprised” that Garvey not only didn’t have the promised revised report but that the plan wouldn’t be made final until sometime after the Legislature adjourns.
“The governor’s plan does not address the goals” of state law, said Bill Grant of the Izaak Walton League’s Midwest office. Grant was among four members of the governor-appointed Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Committee who told the committee they were “disappointed” with the administration’s position.
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung brushed aside a question about the seeming disconnect between the governor’s strong statements on climate change and his administration’s refusal to endorse specific actions offered by his advisory committee.
“Ultimately we believe the most effective way to address many of these issues is at the national and regional levels, in order to encourage more comprehensive action and so our state does not become an island,” McClung said. “We are hopeful that the 2008 legislative session will build on the significant progress we made in 2007.”
That sentiment was echoed at the committee hearing by state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. “Maybe we should just take a pause here and catch our breath,” Rosen said, referring to the several energy laws signed into law last year.
Legislators taking another look at advisory group’s ideas
Prettner-Solon said she will form a working group on ways to meet the state’s Next Gen law using the advisory group’s recommendations.
Also, DFLers Sen. Ellen Anderson of St. Paul and Rep. Jean Wagenius of Minneapolis announced that they and other legislators would move ahead with bills to reduce greenhouse gases that they believe will “bring tens of thousands of good-paying, reliable green jobs to our state.”
• A Clean Car Act patterned after one adopted by California and 11 other states that would reduce carbon emissions from passenger vehicles by 30 percent by 2016, said the bill’s author, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said California’s law is federally pre-empted and cannot be enforced, a position that some 16 states including Minnesota have challenged in court.
• A “Green Solutions Act” would set principles for a “cap and trade” system as Minnesota works to implement a regional system to set “caps” of total carbon emissions allowed and create a market-driven “trade” system where emitters could buy and sell carbon credits. A de-escalating cap would increase costs to emit over time and drive new technology to reduce emissions. Anderson and Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, are the bills’ authors.
Both proposals have been endorsed by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, all of whom are U.S. senators. Pawlenty led support of a Midwest governors’ regional “cap and trade” system that has yet to be implemented.
Anderson and Wagenius also noted there are significant carbon-reduction implications in transit provisions in the Legislature’s $8.4 billion transportation bill that faces a Pawlenty veto because it includes the state’s first gas tax increase in 20 years.
An initiative to reduce energy consumption and to promote clean energy would result in job creation, Anderson said, and, as the advisory committee has said, be a net economic winner for the state.
Knuth said that view is supported by a major new economic study by the McKinsey and Company’s research group that U.S. energy consumption could be halved by 2020 with a total investment of $170 billion, with a 17 percent rate of return.
In presenting his report on the governor’s climate change strategies, Garvey told Prettner-Solon’s committee that the initial state focus should be to implement energy laws passed in 2007. Garvey said his report is “preliminary” but declined to say when it would be made final.
The new laws require utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources (wind and solar) by 2020, to reduce energy demand by 1.5 percent annually, to acquire lands for perennial crops to grow grasses for biofuels and expand research for biomass fuels (from wood, animal waste and garbage).
Pawlenty’s plan included a potential bombshell by proposing to lift the state’s moratorium on nuclear power plants. His advisory group considered the controversial matter, but said only that nuclear power should be considered after 2025 — if cost and waste disposal issues are resolved.
Building a nuclear waste depository has been an elusive federal goal since the 1970s when U.S. nuclear power plants were expanding, including Minnesota’s reactors at Monticello and Prairie Island. The latest estimate is that the Yucca Mountain waste depot in Nevada, already 10 years overdue, may be ready by 2020.
While support for nuclear power expansion is gaining some traction nationally, observers say that a proposal to lift Minnesota’s moratorium would be so divisive here that some wonder if the plan was embraced to divert attention from the climate change issue.