Minnesota governor rolls out plan to fight climate change

Governor in beige blazer presents plan
Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, appearing in Eagan on Friday, rolls out a framework for fighting climate change that shows his proposed direction on the environment if he wins a second term, a sweeping plan that would slash carbon emissions and speed the switchover to electric vehicles.
Steve Karnowski | AP

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz on Friday rolled out a framework for fighting climate change that shows his proposed direction on the environment if he wins a second term, a sweeping plan that would slash carbon emissions and speed the switchover to electric vehicles.

Walz announced the package just a week before early voting starts. Control of the governor’s office and both houses of the divided Legislature are at stake in the election, and Walz has been battered by Republicans for tying Minnesota’s vehicle emissions standards to California’s tough rules. He said he unveiled his plan so close to the election only because it took a long time to complete, but also that campaign season is a good time to “foster conversations” about policy directions.

“This issue will transcend whoever's elected. This issue is not going away. It needs to be addressed,” Walz said.

“The urgency is here," he continued. "We're moving forward on this. And I think it lets us set up a stark contrast.”

It was a change in direction for a campaign that has for weeks focused on Democrats energizing their base with warnings about threats from the GOP to abortion rights and Republican accusations of Democratic inaction on rising crime and inflation.

The 69-page plan details six broad goals: clean transportation; climate-smart natural and working lands; resilient communities; clean energy and efficient buildings; healthy lives and communities; and a clean economy. Each category contained long, detailed lists of proposals.

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Katrina Kessler, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said the Walz administration can implement some of the proposals on its own, while others would require approval and funding from the next Legislature, and still others could be achieved through partnerships with local governments, businesses and farmers.

The plan includes a goal of increasing the share of electric cars on Minnesota roads to 20% by 2030 from the current 1%, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and achieving a zero net carbon emissions goal by 2050.

Minnesota is one of 17 states that have tied their vehicle emission standards to California's tough rules rather than the looser federal regulations. Those states now face tough decisions about whether to follow California's new, strictest-in-the-nation initiative to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles starting in 2035 or revert to the federal standards.

Kessler told reporters that the Walz administration currently has no plans to adopt the California rules, which would require a lengthy new rulemaking process. But she didn't rule it out either, a commitment that Republican lawmakers and the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association have been seeking.

"This is too important and too pricey of an issue to let the Governor keep Minnesotans in the dark.” GOP state Rep. Chris Swedzinski of Ghent, said in a statement.

Kessler said the administration is focused instead on its existing plans for expanding availability of electric vehicles under the state's current “Clean Cars” rule and will decide on next steps later.

“It's premature to try to ask us what are you going to do in three days when we haven't decided what we're going to do tomorrow,” Kessler said.

Walz made the announcement at a research center for Ecolab, a Fortune 500 company that provides cleaning, sanitizing and water and energy management solutions.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen criticized the governor's plan for not once mentioning nuclear power as a potential source of low-carbon electricity.

“However, Governor Walz’s report does mention the words ‘equity’ or ‘equitable’ 40 times," Jensen said in a statement "While equality is something we should all strive for, it’s clear that this is a political document meant to shore up his base before an election, rather than a serious solution for Minnesota’s energy problems.”

Jensen has proposed a slate of ideas to reduce energy costs, including scrapping the governor’s Clean Cars plan.

“It is really important for Minnesota to have a governor who understands the threat that climate change presents to Minnesota, for this generation and future generations,” said Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park. She added that Walz's plan will build on the climate change provisions of President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act.

“Climate has always been on the forefront of what Democrats are fighting for,” Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen, of Edina, said.