Boosted by a Walz, teens press new governor on climate change

By Elizabeth Dunbar
January 10, 2019

A group of passionate Minnesota teenagers hopes 2019 will be the year state government gets serious about climate change.

Dozens of high school students from across the state packed the governor’s office for a meeting Wednesday, urging Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop to action.

“Once we raise temperatures by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, there’s no turning back,” said Minneapolis South High School sophomore Isra Hirsi, citing the findings of the United Nations’ climate change panel. “That means we have 11 years to fix this. Eleven.”

Thirteen-year-old Olya Wright, of Grand Marais, lamented what’s happening with winter sports like dogsled racing.

“Minnesota is known for our cold, long winters. This brisk and snow-filled season is something we are already losing to climate change,” she said. “Minnesota can’t wait. We need to act. Now.”

The teenagers brought with them three specific proposals for the new administration: They want Walz to issue an executive order to regulate greenhouse gas emissions within the state. They want his administration to follow through on a legal challenge to the Line 3 replacement oil pipeline the Dayton administration started. And they want lawmakers to pass legislation to put Minnesota on a path toward 100-percent renewable energy.

Minnesota doesn’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but set goals for reducing emissions a decade ago — goals it hasn’t been able to meet so far.

The Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project planned for northern Minnesota, is working its way through the regulatory process. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the project’s plan and route last year. With only a handful of state approvals until Enbridge Energy can begin construction, it will be up to the Walz administration to decide whether to continue to pursue legal action filed by the previous administration that could halt the project’s forward motion.

On Thursday, business groups, labor unions and others delivered a letter to Gov. Walz asking him to reverse former Gov. Dayton’s policy and withdraw the state’s challenge to Line 3. Pipeline opponents see the project as furthering our dependence on the fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

And the state already has a mandate to make 25 percent of its electricity renewable by 2025, so the students’ proposal for moving that target to 100 percent would be a significant change.

Walz told the group Wednesday that he, too, thinks that the state urgently needs to act on climate change. But he reminded the teens that not everyone in the state agrees.

“We ran unabashedly that climate change will kill the planet and stop our future,” he said. “We must act boldly and move forward on that. We said that, and a million people voted against us.”

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