Last spring the Legislature and Gov. Pawlenty agreed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 15 percent by 2015, and by 80 percent by 2050.
Those are ambitious goals, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is asking how we can get there, given the fact that the state approved a major industrial plant that will add greenhouse gases.
The project is Minnesota Steel Industries -- it's hailed as a historic new direction for the struggling Iron Range. The company will mine taconite and turn it into steel -- right at the mine. It's the first time that's ever been done in this country. And the company says it will be the world's most efficient steel-making operation.
The DNR spent a year and a half creating an Environmental Impact Statement on the project. But that study didn't consider the greenhouse gases the plant will emit. The environmental group, the MCEA, asked the DNR to add a section describing the carbon footprint of the operation.
Two consulting firms studied the matter and said the project could put out up to five million tons of greenhouse gases a year. That's about three percent of Minnesota's total output of greenhouse gases, from cars to home heating to electrical generation.
The plant would add 13 percent to the state's industrial sector output, according to MCEA attorney Kevin Reuther. He says that's a significant impact that the DNR should have analyzed.
"To have an entire study of environmental impacts done that doesn't even mention global warming at this point is crazy," Reuther says. "We need to be looking at what the environmental impacts are from continuing to increase our global warming emissions, and we need to be looking at ways of mitigating emissions."
The DNR says its study was thorough and exhaustive. Three different agencies have issued permits for the plant, and the company plans to start construction soon.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency helped the DNR prepare the Environmental Impact Statement. The MPCA's David Thornton wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, but he says individual projects are not the place to address climate change.
"It's a global problem," Thornton says. "Individual projects by themselves probably have an unmeasurable impact on climate change. The problem is when you have thousands of these, and hundreds of thousands of these, and millions of people using energy around the world."
Thornton is one of the leaders of the task force that's designing ways for Minnesota to cut greenhouse gases. He says any rules the state sets up to address global warming would apply to Minnesota Steel Industries, along with all the other industries in the state.
But he says the task force isn't looking at requiring environmental reviews for new projects to include greenhouse gas emissions.
The MCEA argues existing law already requires that kind of analysis -- specifically the law that set up the procedures for environmental reviews.
One of the chief authors of the 2007 global warming legislation, Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St.Paul, says the state needs to address climate change in every way it can, including environmental reviews.
"To have our state agencies ignoring the impact of greenhouse gas emissions for new projects that are going to be around for decades is really irresponsible," Anderson says. "They have to consider them, and they have to see what they can do to mitigate them."
The state has until October first to respond to the MCEA's lawsuit. The task force will report its recommendations on global warming on February first.