Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday vowed to veto any legislation slowing Minnesota's clean power efforts but acknowledged this will not be the year to pass any more aggressive renewable energy laws.
Dayton fielded questions from a group of 75 high school and college students from around Minnesota who are climate change activists. They pressed him on his commitment to the federal Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama's legacy effort to burn a lot less coal and boost wind and solar energy in the United States by 2030.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ordered federal authorities to delay plans to cut power plant carbon emissions, putting the plan in limbo at the federal level. Dayton, however, has said he'll push ahead with it in Minnesota despite calls from some state lawmakers to stop. He reiterated that on Monday.
The students delivered 650 postcards signed by their classmates calling for a Clean Power Plan that pushes Minnesota to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
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Dayton will need some DFLers to win legislative seats this fall if he wants to boost Minnesota's renewable energy targets. He said the first step is saying goodbye to coal, which still powers 44 percent of the state's electricity needs.
"I'd like to see Minnesota's dependence on coal eliminated, and I won't even set a date because I want it as soon as possible," he said.
The students cheered enthusiastically throughout most of the event in the governor's press room, although there was a notable silence when the governor started answering questions about oil pipelines and natural gas.
Some students appeared to agree with environmentalists who argue fossil fuels should stay in the ground if we're serious about addressing climate change.
Dayton did not share that view, saying the energy transition would not happen overnight.
"You know, there's no free lunch on energy," he said. "Until we create the kind of world that you envision, and more power to you, we're going to be using fossil fuels, we're going to be using oil."
Tension over allowing crude oil to pass through Minnesota subsided soon enough. By the end of the event, the student leaders had Dayton, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine singing a climate change protest song.