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Climate Change Solutions Need More Teeth

September 12, 2013 By Alexis Williams, Guest Commentary

Minnesotans are already witnessing the impacts and costs of climate change—heat waves, devastating storms and floods, and lost habitats for native species. Inaction is no longer an option.

This June, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, laying out broad, commonsense steps to protect future generations from the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national limits on existing coal-burning power plants, building upon four decades of responsible, deliberate health safeguards the Clean Air Act put in place. These standards will address the largest source of carbon pollution—burning coal—and finally place limits on the amount of carbon pollution from existing power plants. Cleaning up coal plants is the strongest step President Obama can take to protect us from climate change's most harmful impacts. Each state will then be required to propose a State Implementation Plan for how it will achieve this standard.

Minnesota shouldn't wait for national carbon standards to begin tackling climate change. Right now, we have an historic opportunity to address Minnesota’s largest source of carbon pollution by weighing in on the future of the Sherco coal plant in Becker, MN.

As Xcel Energy’s largest generating facility, Sherco burns the equivalent of three trainloads of coal a day and "more than nine million tons a year," according to its website. But it produces more than just electricity. Sherco 1 and 2, the plant’s oldest units, pump more than eight million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year and large amounts of other dangerous pollutants.

In 2012, Fresh Energy urged the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to require Xcel to examine the costs of continuing to burn coal at Sherco 1 and 2 compared to replacing the units with cleaner energy. The PUC agreed and required Xcel to work with stakeholders in developing that study. In its July report, Xcel delayed action, and suggested waiting until the EPA proposed a carbon standard to determine the future economics of burning coal at Sherco 1 & 2.  According to an Xcel press release, “If future climate regulation imposes significant costs on carbon dioxide emissions, retirement and replacement of the units with natural gas-fired generation would make the most sense for customers.” In the meantime, Xcel proposes to keep burning coal at Sherco, exposing Minnesotans to more carbon and soot pollution for decades to come. This signals that climate leadership is urgently needed here in Minnesota.

The PUC is accepting public comments on the future of Sherco 1 and 2 until October 1st. Already, the PUC has received a record number of public comments calling on regulators to protect the health of our communities and ecosystems by transitioning Sherco 1 and 2 to cleaner forms of energy such as wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

At the 2013 Minnesota State Fair, Governor Dayton called on Minnesota to begin eliminating coal from the state’s electricity profile. We can do this. All across Minnesota, state and local clean energy policies are strengthening the economy and creating healthier communities. Minnesota decision makers have a strong history of working together to find effective, common-sense solutions that have put Minnesota on a clean energy path with thousands of good-paying jobs. In 2007, with bipartisan support, Minnesota passed the Next Generation Energy Act which set a carbon reduction goal for the state and called for economy-wide reductions in carbon pollution of at least 30 percent by 2025 and at least 80 percent by 2050. Minnesota can continue to be a leader in addressing climate change; the next front in the battle is to replace older, uneconomic coal-burning power plants with clean energy.

Alexis Williams is a policy associate at Fresh Energy and works to advance global warming solutions by promoting state and national policy to reduce carbon pollution, generate clean energy jobs, and improve human health.

Want to get more involved? Attend the climate change seminar:

On September 16th at 7:00 PM at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Student Center, there will be a free public discussion about the costs of burning coal to our climate and health and opportunities for clean energy in Minnesota. Hear polar explorer Will Steger’s vivid, firsthand account of climate change with stunning photographs from his expeditions. J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy, will describe effective clean energy and clean air solutions that benefit our economy. Speakers will provide information on upcoming decisions about Xcel Energy’s Sherco 1 and 2 coal plants and the historic opportunity for public comments to help move Minnesota to an innovative, clean energy future based on more solar, wind, and energy efficiency. 

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  • jc says:

    September 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    The fastest mitigation to climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 and takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act!

    “A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

    “It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.”  ~ James Cameron, movie director, environmentalist and new vegan

    “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~ Albert Einstein