Governor's climate group makes recommendations

Big Stone Power plant
The Big Stone Power Plant in Ortonville, Minn.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed the 50 member group last spring. They've been meeting both in technical work groups and as a body, slogging through reams of data and listening to each other's expertise and concerns.

In the end, they decided on roughly 50 recommendations to forward to the governor and the legislature. Some they approved unanimously; others had less support.

They strongly endorsed the idea of a regional cap and trade program, an idea the governor is already pushing. The cap would set a limit on carbon emissions and allow companies to buy and sell carbon allowances. It would include electric utilities, industry, large agricultural operations and producers and importers of gas, diesel and heating fuels.

Some people represented those industries voted against the regional program. Eric Olson is with Great River Energy. He said a national program will work much better.

Regional programs will put our states at a competitive disadvantage. I think it's actually easier to pass a national program than a regional program.

"Regional programs will put our states at a competitive disadvantage. I think it's actually easier to pass a national program than a regional program. I think somebody said there's no way that it's going to be in effect for a couple of years, let's focus on the national program and try to get that done," Olson explained.

As to whether carbon allowances should be given away or auctioned off, the advisory group said that needs more study.

In the transportation sector, the group said Minnesota should replace a third of its gasoline with biofuels.

It recommended the Legislature should consider so-called climate-friendly transportation pricing, this might include a fuel tax or registration fees based on how much carbon a vehicle emits.

Also, the group agreed the state should fix existing roads before building new ones.

More controversial was the recommendation that Minnesota should adopt California's clean car standards. Opponents said it would tie Minnesota to the policies of another state, and the new federal standards will provide enough reductions. But more than half the group voted in favor of adopting the California standards. California and several other states, including Minnesota, are in court to force the federal EPA to allow them to set the higher standards.

Another controversial transportation item was a lower speed limit. Peter Sullivan works for a commercial vehicle leasing service. He said a lower speed limit might not be popular, but it's a good idea.

"It's a quick, immediate way for everyday people to make a contribution to stemming climate change by reducing the fuel consumption by reducing speed and saving money. Gas is 3 bucks a gallon," said Sullivan.

A small majority approved the idea.

Also by a narrow margin, the group voted to set a carbon limit for new coal-fired power plants. But they also decided that standard should not apply to two plants already on the drawing board, the Big Stone II plant and the Mesaba coal-gasification plant. Exempting those two plants did not make sense to Kevin Reuther. He's an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, a group that's been fighting both plants.

"What's troubling is this is the group that was brought together to set out a plan for us, and it feels like they're not willing to be honest with Minnesotans, to let people know that there are decisions that are being made right now that are going to be very bad for our future. This was an easy step for them to have taken, which they didn't take," said Reuther.

No other coal plants are likely to be proposed in Minnesota until the technology is available to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide they produce.

These are all just ideas. The Climate Change Advisory Group is just that: advisory. It's submitting its proposals to Gov. Pawlenty, who will report to the Legislature late next week.

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