Two administration officials presented a 40-page report to the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications. Most of the report described a raft of projects underway around the state to reduce our output of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases.
The officials pointed to one figure, that showed greenhouse gases peaking in 2005 and declining by about one-point-three-percent in 2006. But those numbers are estimates, and beyond 2006 we don't even have estimates.
That was a problem for DFL Senator Ellen Anderson.
"We're not sure why the reduction has really occurred, so that makes me a little nervous to say we're on track for those reductions to continue. Do we have any basis to think that they will continue to decline year after year?"
Assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, David Thornton, responded by saying it's hard to connect the dots between any specific policy and any evidence of reduced energy use.
"We've listed literally dozens of actions that are under way in this report, yet we can't tell you what good they're doing, unfortunately."
The committee chair, DFL Senator Yvonne Prettner-Solon, also wished for better information, and for more direction from the governor.
"I know you've put a lot of effort into this, but I'm not sure that really it's enough for us at this point."
"Madame Chair, we're all still in a learning mode about how to do this," said David Thornton. "And probably the only approach that could be taken that would provide certainty towards meeting these goals would be a cap and trade program."
Cap and trade is a market-based approach designed to help industry reduce emissions cost-effectively.
On cap and trade, Minnesota has cast its lot with the Midwest Governors Association Energy and Climate Accords. That group started working on climate change last year, when Governor Pawlenty was chair. But it won't report on how to set up a regional cap and trade program until well after the Minnesota legislative session ends.
The administration made fourteen recommendations to the committee.
The main one is to continue to aggressively pursue the Renewable Energy Standard, which requires utilities to add more wind farms and other renewable power... and the Conservation Improvement Program, which calls for a one-and-a-half-percent reduction in electricity use each year.
Some utilities say they can manage that; others aren't so sure.
Other recommendations from last year's Climate Change Advisory Group don't turn up on the governor's list.
Legislators are pursuing them anyway. Committees are hearing two bills to reduce emissions from cars and trucks, and a proposal is expected soon on smart land use planning to reduce the need to drive.
The one new proposal from the administration is to drop Minnesota's ban on expansion of nuclear power.
Bill Glahn is the new director of the Office of Energy Security.
"There are no plans on the drawing board," Glahn said. "But the idea is by lifting the ban, I'd like to send a signal to other utilities, to developers out there that all options are open as we move forward, and if somebody has a new small, smaller footprint, less waste-generating, more efficient facility, which these newer plants are, we should take a look at them."
The committee will consider several bills on nuclear power next month.
The committee did take one concrete action at Thursday's meeting: it approved a bill to start a reporting system so the state can develop an accurate inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.
The MPCA says it will take two years to create the inventory.