ST PAUL — To combat the "devastating effects of climate change," Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is establishing a subcabinet and advisory council in order to meet Minnesota's emissions reduction goals.
Walz at a Monday, Dec. 2 news conference signed an executive order establishing the Climate Change Subcabinet, comprised of 15 state agency chairs, directors or commissioners, which will develop state climate policy and engage with the public on the issue. The Governor's Advisory Council on Climate Change, also established in the executive order, will be comprised of up to 15 advisers appointed by the governor, who will advise the subcabinet.
Walz said the state is confronting a host of new challenges thanks to gradual warming and increasingly extreme weather events: crumbling infrastructure, vulnerable shorelines, the washing away of topsoil and stronger pathogens and illnesses, to name a few. He said the new subcabinet and advisory council will bring "a new, clear emphasis for state agencies to work together to track the impact of climate change on the state, as well as drive new policies."
"The time of waiting and the time of debating are over," Walz said. "The time of action is upon us and Minnesotans are people of action."
Former-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007 signed the Next Generation Energy Act, which set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 30% by 2025. According to data from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, emissions decreased by 12% between 2005 and 2016. MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop said, "It's time we get back on track."
Bishop, who will be chairing the subcabinet, said the need to address climate change and pollution is urgent. She pointed to one June report from the MPCA and Department of Health which found that air pollution-related heart and lung illnesses resulted in 800 emergency room visits in Minnesota in 2013. Between 2,000 and 4,000 Minnesotans died due to air pollution that year.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said warmer winters may also result in different, stronger pathogens, causing more Minnesotans to get sick. Vulnerable Minnesotans, like the elderly, children, low-income individuals or minorities may not have adequate access to health care to fight these illnesses.
It's one of several ways Flanagan said climate change can disproportionately impact vulnerable and marginalized Minnesotans. She said the advisory council will source information directly from communities around the state, as well as the private and public sectors, to address climate change equitably.
In addition to Monday's new subcabinet and council, Walz's administration is pushing for 100% Clean Power legislation, which would require utilities to use carbon-free energy sources by 2050.
According to data from the MPCA, electricity generation was the third-highest greenhouse gas emitter in Minnesota in 2016 behind transportation in second place and agriculture and land use in first. Electricity generated from coal was the singlemost greenhouse gas emitter in Minnesota in 2016, emitting nearly 27 million tons of carbon dioxide in one year.
The administration is also pursuing clean car standards, which Bishop said Monday should be available in December 2020 to take effect on 2023 car models. The standards would impact new cars sold in the state, not those already on the road.
The subcabinet will be comprised of the commissioners, chairs or executive directors of the following state agencies and boards:
- Pollution Control Agency
- Department of Commerce
- Department of Labor and Industry
- Department of Management and Budget
- Department of Employment and Economic Development
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Public Safety
- Department of Natural Resources
- Department of Health
- Department of Transportation
- Board of Water and Soil Resources
- Department of Administration
- Metropolitan Council
- Environmental Quality Board
- Minnesota Housing Finance Agency