On Monday President Obama announced an unprecedented proposal to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30% by the year 2030. This is one of the most significant steps the United States has taken so far to combat climate change.
The proposed plan gives states significant flexibility in developing a plan to reduce carbon emissions. Essentially, it is up to the states to determine how they will meet the new EPA requirement, and all states must submit a plan by June 2016.
Fortunately, Minnesota has already taken significant steps to reduce our carbon emissions. In 2007 we passed the “Next Generation Energy Act” to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy sources. We continued this trend in the most recent legislative session by passing various policies that support a transition to cleaner energy sources. Since the new EPA proposal requires a reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels, the proactive steps we have already undertaken in recent years to reduce carbon emissions will count towards meeting the new federal standard.
So what will Minnesota’s plan to significantly cut carbon emissions look like?
J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director at Fresh Energy, says that we’re going to build on existing smart energy policies that have successfully improved energy efficiency and facilitated a shift to renewable energy sources and natural gas (which is cleaner than coal). She is encouraged by how quickly things are changing, and she believes that much of the efforts to reduce our carbon emissions will involve increased reliance on renewable energy sources.
Dr. Elizabeth J. Wilson, an associate professor of Energy and Environmental Policy and Law at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, sees this as an opportunity for increased regional compliance. She notes that the utility loads and management philosophies of each company are so diverse that it is difficult to predict how they will work to meet the new requirement. But her hope is that utility companies will work together through regional organizations like MISO to make the new EPA requirement feasible for everyone.
Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will benefit Minnesotans in several ways. According to the EPA, we will see significant decreases in athsma attacks, air pollution, premature deaths, missed work, and the cost of energy bills. Reduced carbon emissions will do much to preserve Minnesota’s outdoors, and lead to the creation of more clean energy jobs. A greater reliance on renewable and lower-carbon energy sources will improve Minnesotan’s public health and welfare.
As dialogue begins, Minnesota legislators, the public, policymakers, business leaders, and all stakeholders must come together to craft a sensible bipartisan plan that takes into account the delicate balance between environmental sustainability and economic development, as well as Minnesota’s unique and diverse energy situation within the wider regional energy system. The new EPA requirement presents us with an opportunity to make progress towards providing future generations with a cleaner and more sustainable environment. Minnesota, let’s be a national leader.