By Steve Morse, Executive Director, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
For years, Minnesota has watched its famous lakes get more polluted and its seasons get warmer due to climate disruptions, while its Legislature took modest, if any, steps to address either problem (or passed policies that made matters worse). But rapid change came in 2023: the Legislature passed a huge array of laws designed to help fight climate change, safeguard Minnesota’s waters, and made historic commitments to ensure a just transition to clean energy.
The Legislature went big on climate issues early in the session, passing a law requiring Minnesota’s electricity be 100 percent carbon-free by 2040. But it didn’t stop there - the end of the session brought many more big steps forward:
- A goal in state law to reach net-zero emissions economy wide by 2050.
- Massive investments in clean energy, including $80 million for solar and storage and $45 million for the Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority, a “green bank” that will address inequities in financing access, promote local jobs, and leverage funding to bolster climate solutions.
- $190 million for Minnesota’s State Competitiveness Fund to access federal clean energy dollars.
- Historic funding for clean transportation, including the establishment of a Twin Cities-area sales tax for transit as well as major investments in electric vehicle charging, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and new passenger rail.
- New requirements for MnDOT and Metropolitan Council to include climate analysis in transportation project planning.
The session’s clean water wins were just as significant, including:
- New restrictions on harmful “forever chemicals” will make Minnesota - the state where these chemicals were invented - a national leader in phasing them out.
- $500 million for water infrastructure upgrades across the state to keep drinking water supplies safe and the state’s lakes, rivers and streams cleaner.
- A groundbreaking program to replace all of the more than 100,000 lead drinking water service lines across the state over ten years, at no cost to those household budgets.
- Funding increases for the Forever Green Initiative & Continuous Living Cover Value Chain Development - programs that help bring income producing crops - that promote cleaner water and healthier soil - to Minnesota farmland.
The Legislature also put a constitutional question on the ballot in 2024 to rededicate a share of state lottery proceeds to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. The billion-dollar Fund is a powerful tool for protecting, conserving, and restoring Minnesota’s air, land, and water. This rededication includes the creation of a new statewide community grants program that will support community-based projects with the priority to respond to environmental degradation and related health concerns of communities historically overburdened by pollution.
Much has been written about the efforts of Minnesota’s narrow but highly productive DFL trifecta (Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party), whose bare majorities in the House and Senate sent a wide array of progressive policies to Governor Walz’s desk. Notably, those majorities are the most diverse in history, with women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ Minnesotans holding more seats than ever before. They’re also highly concentrated in the Twin Cities Metro region, though the majority maker seats also include regional centers like Mankato, Rochester, Duluth, and St. Cloud.
But it takes more than a diverse majority to make such fundamental changes. It takes strong leadership. State leaders made the decision to push ahead and not be timid. They learned the lessons of recent past sessions and knew what needed to be done to make our state better for all Minnesotans, and they made the decision to use their power to act.
This moment would not have been so fruitful without the years of effort preceding it - years that Minnesota’s environmental and community leaders spent developing good ideas to confront the climate crisis and secure clean water and air for all.
This session’s environmental wins weren’t about protecting special interests, but the interests of Minnesotans by protecting our common home and securing a healthy livable future for all.
Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), a Joyce grantee, is a coalition of 70 environmental nonprofits – and other groups that align with MEP’s mission and collaborative approach - working to protect and restore Minnesota's clean energy, clean air and water, and a healthy environment for all Minnesotans.
About The Joyce Foundation
Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.