Climate change and Minnesota's midterm elections: a voter guide

Among climate change's effects on Minnesota: more rain.
Among climate change's effects on Minnesota: more rain. Here's what the candidates will do about it.
Brendan Bush for MPR News file

Despite the growing body of proof showing the warming climate is affecting Minnesota in countless ways from making floods more intense and frequent to bringing new infectious diseases to the state, strategies for addressing climate change and protecting the environment are taking a backseat in many races this midterm election season.

An analysis of the Minnesota governor's race, U.S. Senate contests and key congressional matchups shows that climate change policy continues to be a focus for mostly Democratic candidates.

It's due in part to voters prioritizing other issues before the climate.

The public at large often doesn't see how climate relates to other issues like jobs, health care or infrastructure, said ecologist Jessica Hellmann, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

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"Every time something like a hurricane hits land it seems like that relationship should become more clear, but I still think it's just not intuitive to people," Hellmann said.

About 6 percent of Minnesotans consider protecting the environment the top issue in who they'd pick in the governor's race, according to the recent MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

But whether candidates call it climate change or talk about it publicly, Hellmann said, the warmer climate and its effects will influence political policy.

Stormwater management systems become insufficient as rain storms grow more intense. Dirtier air linked to climate change will aggravate health issues for people with respiratory issues. Public health officials will need to address new tick-borne infections as species' ranges extend north.

The energy sector will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in favor of clean energy sources, and it'll fall on elected officials to guide that process.

Those are just a few examples. So, without any further doom and gloom, here's what the candidates are saying about climate change in the governor's race, both U.S. Senate races and congressional races in the first, second, third and eighth districts:

Governor: Johnson vs. Walz

Jeff Johnson, Republican: Johnson and his campaign haven't said much on climate change, aside from that he falsely believes that climate mitigation efforts wouldn't be effective and that Walz's "environmental policies would hurt Minnesotans."

After an MPR News story expanded on climate comments Johnson made during a debate, he took to Twitter to expand on his policy: "I want to protect the environment, but I'm NOT interested in making people's lives harder so politicians can feel good. THAT's my position."

Tim Walz, Democrat: On his campaign website, Walz acknowledges the threats climate change poses and that environmental issues disproportionately affect people of color and those with low incomes. Some specific policy points:

• Increasing Minnesota's renewable energy standard so that at least half the state's energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. (For context, California and Hawaii both have set targets of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.)

• Supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

U.S. Senate: Klobuchar vs. Newberger

Amy Klobuchar, Democrat: The incumbent is a member of the Senate Climate Action Taskforce and says she's "fighting to ensure that efforts to address the threat of climate change are a part of our nation's energy and environmental policy." Klobuchar's campaign site says she supported the Paris climate deal and has pushed the Trump administration to rejoin the agreement.

Jim Newberger, Republican: The candidate has nothing posted on his campaign site regarding climate change, and he has denied the existence of global warming. In an August debate at the State Fair, Newberger suggested all temperature increases were because of the sun's natural cycle and not due to humankind's carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect, which is a major cause of climate change.

Senate special election: Smith vs. Housley

Tina Smith, Democrat: The incumbent, appointed to fill the seat after Al Franken resigned, has a section for the environment on her campaign site touting her record as Minnesota's lieutenant governor and in the senate. In Minnesota, she pushed for 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and says she helped expand renewable energy in state government, resulting in over $20 million in savings. Among her work in the Senate, she says she fought the Trump administration's rollbacks of environmental standards and pushed for renewable energy funding in the Farm Bill.

Karin Housley, Republican: Her stated platform doesn't mention climate change. However, she told WCCO that the Paris climate agreement would've "cost the American people trillions of dollars, killed jobs, and hindered the oil, gas, coal and manufacturing industries. ... I believe in a balanced approach to climate policy that lowers emissions, promotes economic growth, and ensures energy security."

Congressional district 1: Feehan vs. Hagedorn

Dan Feehan, Democrat: While he doesn't address it on his campaign site's platform, Feehan has called climate change one of "our toughest challenges." He also wrote about it in a Facebook status, though it was unspecific: "Climate change is an issue that affects all of us. Investments in clean energy create good-paying jobs, end our dependence on foreign oil, and fight climate change. It's common-sense to support wind, solar, and biofuel energy and I'm proud that southern Minnesota leads the way for our country in combating climate change."

Jim Hagedorn, Republican: His site doesn't say anything about climate change, but told WCCO that he supports "an energy policy of U.S. energy independence achieved by an all of the above approach." He also said to WCCO, "The earth has been heating and cooling since God's creation." Phrases like this are common refrains for climate deniers or skeptics. And Hagedorn called left-leaning climate policies "highly destructive" for American businesses and the economy.

Congressional district 2: Lewis vs. Craig

Jason Lewis, Republican: The incumbent congressman doesn't have a climate policy listed on his website, but a 2011 op-ed he wrote for the Star Tribune, titled "Climate change is natural, and we don't have the data to predict it," offers insight on how Lewis thinks about climate change. Among several falsehoods or debatable claims about climate change, Lewis' column criticizes renewable energy development and calls global warming is a "theory whose fundamental premise looks weaker every day."

Angie Craig, Democrat: Craig's tone on climate change contrasts her opponent's: "There's no denying it - climate change is happening and we have to address it now. In Minnesota, we've already seen milder winters, heat waves, droughts, and floods," reads her campaign website. She goes on to suggest the U.S. implement a "carbon fee and dividend program to reduce our nation's reliance on fossil fuels through market-based solutions."

Congressional district 3: Paulsen vs. Phillips

Erik Paulsen, Republican: The incumbent has nothing listed on his campaign platform regarding climate change. Once considered a denier of climate change, he joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus in spring.

Dean Phillips, Democrat: He supports extending the 30 percent federal tax credit for renewable energy, adopting a carbon fee and dividend plan for reducing emissions, and adopting more stringent efficiency standards. Phillips also says on his campaign site that building codes should include design to integrate energy storage and include so-called passive survivability, or the ability to "maintain habitable conditions if power is lost for an extended period of time."

Congressional district 8: Stauber vs. Radinovich

Pete Stauber, Republican: While mostly mum on climate change, Stauber told WCCO he believes the U.S. shouldn't rejoin the Paris climate deal and he favors an "all-of-the-above" policy for energy over what he considers burdensome, job-killing regulation. He did not specify a particular regulation.

Joe Radinovich, Democrat: Radinovich has said society needs to fight climate change and has taken a stance in favor of environmental regulations more so than his opponent. However, most climate change discussion on his campaign has related to the mining debate in the district.