At the Capitol: Environmental Issues Heating Up

By Justin Fay

The 2013 session is off to a busy start, and environmental legislation is definitely part of the mix!

The Minnesota Solar Energy Jobs Act was introduced by Senator Chris Eaton and Representative Will Morgan.  The Act calls for 10% of Minnesota’s electricity to come from solar by the year 2030.  While this goal sounds modest, solar power currently represents less than 1% of our state’s electricity generation.  Bringing solar power to scale will spur job growth, move Minnesota closer to being truly energy independent and reduce carbon emissions.  With hearings in both the House and Senate happening this week, the Legislature appears to be taking notice of this unique opportunity to address climate and promote economic development in Minnesota.

One of the major conservation issues being debated so far this session is the impact of silica sand mining, primarily in southeastern Minnesota.  These sand mining operations are largely unregulated in Minnesota and bring a host of concerns related to public health, transportation, property rights, habitat destruction and more.  The sand mined from these facilities is shipped out of state to be used for natural gas fracking.  Legislation has been introduced that would require the state to conduct a Generic Environmental Impact Statement to study the impacts of these mining operations.  The Sierra Club additionally supports a moratorium on new frac sand mining and processing operations, at least until this study has been completed.

Of course, the budget is always a top priority during the legislative session.  On Thursday, the State will release its annual budget forecast.  Because Minnesota’s Constitution requires a balanced budget, the forecast is a critical part of assembling the budget.  You can read more about the forecast here.

Governor Dayton gave transit a big boost in his initial budget by proposing significant new revenue for building out transit in the Twin Cities.  A new coalition, Transit for a Stronger Economy, was announced this week.  The coalition, which includes the Sierra Club and partners from the business community, organized labor, and more, is advocating for a significant funding package to build out our metropolitan transit system over the next 15 years, along with meaningful investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and greater Minnesota transit.

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