MN High Schooler Testifies in Defense of Statewide Coal Moratorium

Cole Norgaarden, a 10th grader at the Blake School in Minneapolis, testified Thursday, Jan. 27 at the Minnesota House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee during the hearing of House File 72. The bill proposes to repeal a Minnesota statute that limits carbon dioxide emissions by utilities. Cole is co-chair of Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN), a joint program of the Will Steger Foundation and Alliance for Sustainability.

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Cole Norgaarden

Cole Norgaarden, high school sophomore and Co-Chair of YEA! MN, a joint program of the Will Steger Foundation and Alliance for Sustainability

Last Thursday (January 27th 2011), both myself and fellow YEA! MN co-chair, Siiri Bigalke, had the extraordinary opportunity to testify as citizens at the Minnesota State Capitol before the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee in opposition of House File 72, a file pushed by Representative Michael Beard of Shakopee, MN to repeal a Minnesota Statute that prevents new coal-fired power plants from being constructed without offsetting their carbon emissions in some way.

At first, while walking into the room where the hearing took place, I was intimidated by the prospect of speaking before members of the Minnesota House and by my unfamiliarity with the protocol of legislative proceedings. I felt out-of-place among the lobbyists, scientists and representatives, but the fact that I cared about the issue at hand, along with guidance from Minnesota Environmental Partnership and the Will Steger Foundation, made the experience so much easier. I was also encouraged to see college students in attendance from MPIRG, which further evidenced the youth interest in this issue.

The hearing began with Representative Beard outlining the reasons why the statute should be repealed, followed by supportive testimonies from lobbyists representing Great River Energy and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce among other organizations. The lobbyists were rather harshly questioned by the committee, which also encouraged me and my argument.

Personally, I enjoyed a question posed Representative John Persell of Bemidji, MN, who simply asked, “How in blue blazes are we going to get to where we can eat the fish again?” Representative Persell was referencing the mercury pollution produced by coal-fired power plants, an effect I had not been aware of but further motivated me.

Then Representative Denny McNamara, Committee Chair, welcomed Siiri and I as the first citizen testifiers of the hearing. My testimony is as follows:

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“As a young person, I am in opposition of House File 72, which would lift a ban on carbon dioxide emissions produced by utilities. Lifting this ban is undoing the progress we have made towards achieving energy sustainability in Minnesota.

This is not a mistake we can afford to make with the futures of youth like myself at stake. We refuse to inherit the costs coal imposes on Minnesota’s communities, both environmental and economic, costs we will have to deal with if carbon dioxide emissions go unchecked.

Furthermore, since there is no current need for building new coal-fired facilities in Minnesota, this repeal is backwards and unnecessary.

On a personal level, my grandfather was employed by Northern States Power for over 30 years and worked as an engineer on all three units of the Sherco Plant in Becker, Minnesota. After retiring, my grandfather recognized the importance of establishing renewable energy infrastructure and ending our reliance on fossil fuels. He told me that while plants like Sherco were necessary to meet demand at the time they were built, burning coal was not the future of energy in Minnesota.

Hearing this from the man who was construction superintendent to the largest coal-fired plant in Minnesota only demonstrates how urgent and universal the need is for a transformation in the way we produce electricity.

This problem is not going away, so we cannot let the advances we have made got to waste. Please invest in the future of your children, of your community, and of the state of Minnesota by opposing this repeal.”

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Both of our testimonies went smoothly, making clear the vital youth perspective on a statute that was part of legislation called the Next Generation Energy Act.  Unfortunately there was not enough time for the committee to vote on the file, which has been postponed for another week. Representative Kate Knuth of New Brighton, MN was very appreciative and thanked us in front of the committee, which really affirmed the work we had prepared for this hearing, and then toured us through the Capitol Press Offices.

Overall, testifying was empowering, inspiring and enjoyable. I felt like my voice was being heard, and I want to become more involved with our Minnesota government in the future as a result. Thanks especially to MEP, Representative Knuth, and the Will Steger Foundation for making this all possible!

 

– Cole

 

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