UPDATE – March 14, 2019: Today, the US Forest Service issued their final Environmental Assessment on Nevada’s Ruby Mountains– denying the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) request to offer parcels for leasing in the landscape. The decision comes after after an outpour of public opposition and restricts BLM from offering the sale of parcels in the Ruby Mountains for oil and gas development.
“This win is a direct result of the advocacy by the Te-Moak Tribe of the Western Shoshone, particularly the South Fork and Elko Bands, who worked tirelessly to defend their ancestral homelands,” said Christian Gerlach of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign.
Minnesotans are used to cold winters, of course, but in late January they experienced a polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting to around 25 degrees below zero, not including wind chill. Yet despite continued extreme cold, snow, and icy conditions, over 200 activists descended on St. Paul in early February to launch the 100% Campaign for clean and equitable energy.
Don’t confuse this with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, which three Minnesota cities—Minneapolis, St. Paul, and St. Louis Park—have already joined. As Jessica Tritsch, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign explains, “The 100% Campaign is a statewide effort working toward clean and equitable energy, with the aim of eliminating greenhouse gases across all sectors of Minnesota’s economy.” The Sierra Club, represented by its North Star Chapter, is a founding member of the broad and diverse state coalition powering this effort.
“The 100% Campaign coalition was formed to go out and talk to people about their vision for the state,” says Tritsch. “We found people who support action on climate change, want to share their stories, and are ready to call on state leaders to take action.”
The activities on February 5 were centered on the state capitol, where the Minnesota House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Committee held a hearing on a new bill proposing ambitious updates to an existing renewable energy law passed in 2007. It sets new incremental benchmarks for the state’s electric utilities, culminating in 100 percent carbon-free energy from all utilities by 2050. (Minnesota has 170 electric utilities, the third-highest number in the country.)
The bill also contains language ensuring that the benefits of a clean energy transition are shared by all Minnesotans, in part thanks to the coalition’s efforts. “This includes support for local, family-sustaining jobs and communities overburdened by pollution,” says Tritsch.
The public comment portion of the hearing was kicked off by high school activists from Minnesota Can’t Wait, a coalition member and enthusiastic proponent of a Minnesota Green New Deal. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and activists from throughout the state also testified.
Among them was Sierra Club volunteer Maxwell Jay-Dixon, the Clean Air and Renewable Energy representative on the North Star Chapter’s Legislative Committee. He grew up in a Minneapolis suburb and graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and theater.
Jay-Dixon assumed he was headed for a career in academia as he prepared his senior honors thesis in psychology. Then, on a whim, he took an Intro to Grassroots Politics class. At one point the professor overheard Jay-Dixon complaining about the cost of a box of cereal on campus, prompting him to say, “If it bothers you so much, maybe you should do something about it.”
Jay-Dixon accepted the challenge and successfully organized his fellow students to lobby for, and win, a price reduction. In doing so, he recognized that understanding the basics of creating change allowed him to meaningfully impact lives. He had long cared about the environment, and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began volunteering with the Gulf Restoration Network. “I just got bit by the bug,” he says of his immersion in grassroots organizing, which continued on behalf of Democratic political candidates at state and national levels.
Now back where he started, Jay-Dixon works for a wind energy company with a growing presence around the US, and advocates both personally and professionally for the transition to clean energy. Of his testimony in St. Paul, he says, “I shared my own story, and reminded legislators about what they had previously heard from experts. There were facts and figures that really demonstrated what the impacts of climate change would be and that they’re coming soon to Minnesota, where I hope to raise my kids someday.”
Until the Minnesota House flipped to Democratic control in January, the North Star Chapter’s Legislative Committee work was frustrating. “We were mostly playing defense against a Republican-controlled legislature that introduced really bad bills,” Jay-Dixon says. “This year is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to organize folks around something positive. It’s very exciting to have momentum going our way now.”
The State Senate is still Republican-controlled, and while there is a companion clean energy bill, it has no Republican author at this time. Even though the bill isn’t expected to have enough Republican support to pass, the 100% Campaign is calling on the body to at least hold a hearing on it.
The February 5 day of action in St. Paul also included delivery of nearly 1,500 Minnesotans’ signatures supporting 100 percent clean energy to the office of newly inaugurated Governor Tim Walz, while a press conference organized by the coalition was attended by authors of both the House and Senate 100 percent bills.
Tritsch believes Minnesota can reliably and affordably meet the 100 percent carbon-free standard earlier than 2050. “The numbers in the bill are a step in the right direction, and it’s important to set goals,” she says.
She notes that Minnesota is well ahead of schedule on benchmarks set in the original 2007 clean energy law. “Requiring the utilities’ investment in renewable energy helped to build a clean energy industry in Minnesota, with thousands of jobs, while saving customers money,” she says. “Now utilities actually want to invest in renewables, such as wind energy, in order to thrive as a business. The coalition wants to send that signal again with the new benchmarks. I think we can get there sooner than the new bill says.”
With the planet moving ever closer to the worst effects of unmitigated climate change, Minnesota is working to set an example worth following.