Committee Summary: House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee (Feb. 9)

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By: McKenzie Kemper, Freelance Journalist-in-Training

The House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee met on Feb. 9, 2021 to discuss the impact of transportation on the climate. The committee heard from Paul Douglas, a meteorologist at WCCO, Frank Kohlasch from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Sam Rockwell of the advocacy group MoveMinnesota and Bree Halverson of the BlueGreen Alliance, which partners unions and environmental organizations. The testifiers agreed that Minnesota has some of the tools necessary to combat climate change, but that more must be done to ensure the state meets its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. 

Douglas, the meteorologist, showed committee members how Minnesota has become warmer and wetter over the last 30+ years. This trend is also documented in the increasing number of “mega rains.” Minnesota has seen 14 mega rains out of a total of 22 since 1983. Although it may not rain as frequently as it once did, it is raining harder, and farmers are taking notice of the changing weather patterns and the extended growing season.  

“We must debate solutions, not the science. We have a challenge but there are viable solutions. You get smart people in a room and great things can happen,” Douglas said.

Kohlasch, of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, discussed greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota and showed committee members how far off Minnesotans are from achieving carbon neutrality. The state is increasing greenhouse gas emissions rather than decreasing, and according to Kohlasch, the greatest culprit is transportation; light and medium- duty vehicles make up more than half of all transportation emissions. One proposed solution is to enact a law, similar to one in California, to monitor and control vehicle emissions. This proposal was in response to loosening of federal guidelines but was met with a lot of pushback from Senators as they feel that it is unnecessary for Minnesota to adhere to California laws. It was suggested that if federal guidelines are returned to “normal” that perhaps pursuing this law change would be unnecessary, particularly as the market shifts to creating more electric vehicles. This potential change in Minnesota law is open for public comment until March 15, and if the state should decide to move forward then the Clean Cars Law would take effect in 2025. 

Rockwell of MoveMinnesota and Halverson of the BlueGreen Alliance each spoke briefly about how creating a solid transportation infrastructure that is responsive to the needs of the climate now and in the future can help create equity in the workforce, while helping to create positive environmental change. It was recommended that the committee look into developing “Made in America” products utilizing products from Buy Clean and Buy Fair. They urged lawmakers to act quickly and at a large scale to ensure we “pump the brakes” on climate change; otherwise, we are at risk for dire, irreversible consequences. 

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