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Climate change activists carry clean energy push to Minnesota Capitol

Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, along with members of a coalition of climate activists told reporters on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, about a proposal to transition Minnesota to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Dana Ferguson / FORUM NEWS SERVICE

ST. PAUL — Climate change activists told Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday, Feb. 5, the state should set a deadline to transition to 100 percent clean energy.

Dozens of activists, faith leaders, scientists and others packed a House Energy and Climate Finance Committee and urged members to advance legislation aimed at requiring the state's energy producers to become carbon-free by the year 2050.

The proposal, House File 700, would build on clean energy goals written into state law in 2007. At that time, lawmakers set a goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. The state met the goal in 2018, seven years ahead of schedule.

“The crisis is urgent," the bill's sponsor Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, told the committee. “We need to re-establish our position as a national leader on green energy.”

Youth climate activists and faith leaders at the hearing and in a news conference later in the day echoed that sentiment.

"We will not tolerate inaction because we can't wait," said Lia Harel, a high school student and activist.

At the hearing, Republican members and representatives from smaller utility companies raised concerns about extreme weather events that could place burdens on limited energy resources, especially if back-up fossil-fuel derived sources were no longer available. They said they'd like to see an approach that rewards and commends companies that move away from fossil fuels, rather than setting requirements.

"Rather than a mandate, I would rather see market pressures," Rep. Greg Boe, R-Chaska, said.

While the bill likely will have support in the DFL-led House, its path in the GOP-led Senate is less certain. At least one Senate Republican, Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, had signed on to the Senate bill as a co-sponsor.

But Senate sponsor Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, acknowledged that he might not get a hearing in that chamber. He said he'd be willing to compromise to get a proposal approved.

"I think there's always room to compromise," Frentz said, adding he'd be open to working with large and small energy companies. "By the same theory that says we're asking for a hearing, we should be willing to listen."