By Justin FayThe 2013 session of the Minnesota Legislature is now under way, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the environment. While the budget will certainly dominate a lot of the attention this year, there will also be critical policy decisions made that will impact Minnesota’s environment in many ways. Every year, Sierra Club volunteers select the issues that we’ll be prioritizing during the coming session. Here are a few of the issues you can expect to us working hard on during the month ahead: Solar Works for Minnesota The Next Generation Energy Act, passed in 2007, has put Minnesota on a path toward a new clean energy economy – reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, making us more energy independent and creating good new jobs for Minnesotans. In 2013, the Legislature should take the next step by passing the Minnesota Solar Energy Act, which would require Minnesota’s utilities to obtain 10% of their electricity generation from solar by the year 2030. In addition to reducing air pollution, a solar standard would drive the creation of thousands of new jobs in the manufacturing, assembly, installation and maintenance of solar systems across Minnesota. Transit for a Stronger Economy The Twin Cities region continues to grow and expand – bringing both opportunities and challenges. As we grow, it is imperative that we develop infrastructure with an eye toward the future. 2013 is the year for action: the Legislature should fully fund the build-out of a regional transportation system over the next 15 years. These investments would bring new transportation choices to Minnesotans, many of whom currently have no alternative to lengthy commutes on congested freeways. Developing a regional infrastructure to support transit, cyclists and pedestrians would reduce air emissions and promote healthier lifestyles. Governor Dayton’s budget is a good start, but the Legislature needs to fully fund transit in 2013. Protecting Minnesota’s Iconic Northland from Toxic Sulfide Mining While Minnesota has had taconite mining for many decades, the copper and nickel mines currently being proposed in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region are a completely different animal. Minerals like copper and nickel are found embedded deep within deposits of sulfide ore. In other states where these mines exist, the mines result in catastrophic water contamination when the sulfide ore comes into contact with water – creating sulfuric acid. Companies that want to mine in Minnesota should be required to prove that they’ve operated an identical mine in another state without impairing the adjacent water and wetlands. Until they do, these companies should not be allowed to operate sulfide mines in Minnesota. Restoring Balance to ATV Management on Public Lands Minnesota is home to several large manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles, and many Minnesotans use these vehicles for recreational purposes every year. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s public agencies and regulatory framework are not equipped to deal with the significant environmental consequences of these vehicles being used in such numbers on public lands. The Legislature should work toward restoring reasonable oversight of these vehicles in 2013, to ensure that our state forests and public lands remain healthy and intact for all users. We’ll be posting updates on each of these issues right here on the North Star Chapter blog throughout the 2013 session. Be sure to check back often for the latest news and happenings from the Minnesota State Capitol!