2023 legislature brought climate and equity gains

By Sara Wolff, MNIPL Strategic Policy Director

Hurrah! this was the session we’ve been working for! 

From a climate and equity perspective, Minnesota’s 2023 legislative session is bringing the transformational change we have sought for years. From passing the 100% Carbon Free Electricity Bill in January, to the trio of Energy and Environment, Agriculture and Transportation omnibus budget and policy bills signed at the end of May, we made game-changing steps forward.

MNIPL’s top effort – establishing the Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority (MNCIFA) with $45 million in funding – is a huge victory that will help ensure the benefits of green energy accrue to everyone.

MNCIFA is a funding authority that will help neighborhoods, businesses, farms, and families access money for renewable energy projects. The bill directs 40% of MNCIFA’s investments to environmental justice and low income communities.  

This is how we supercharge Minnesota’s green energy future — through ensuring that all Minnesotans can address their community needs with green projects,” said Liz Loeb, Acting Executive Director at Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. “The status quo has left too many of us by the wayside. By expanding access to renewable energy financing, MNCIFA moves us forward towards a Minnesota where everyone, no matter their background, race, or zip code, can thrive.”

We thank our amazing bill authors, Representative Emma Greenman and Senator Tou Xiong, for their strong leadership, tireless work and engagement with many partners that made this bill possible. We also thank MNCIFA’s other champions. Don’t miss these video clips: Senator Jen McEwen’s awesome shout out to the value of MNCIFA in her April 20 Senate floor speech; and Representative Athena Hollins highlighting important climate justice provisions in the Energy and Environment Omnibus on May 18. 

We thank a large coalition of organizations that showed up for MNCIFA throughout session – CURE, MCEA, Sierra Club, Fresh Energy, League of Women Voters, Community Power, Lake Street Solar, Jewish Community Action, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, the BlueGreen Alliance, Climate Reality, the 100% Campaign, Minneapolis Area Synod, Lutheran Advocacy, and many, many more. 

Faith groups, Indigenous leaders, rural communities, labor organizations and working people came together for MNCIFA because it’s a real solution that will help all Minnesotans get to tomorrow’s renewable energy reality. 

And most importantly, we thank you! Your calls, emails and postcards, your hours organizing faith and neighborhood groups, your voice at the legislature, your involvement with MNIPL – you built the movement that made MNCIFA possible. Visit MNIPL’s resource page for more on MNCIFA.

Here’s a summary of more great outcomes from this legislative session:

Solar on Schools received $29.3 million for the next two years to cover more schools  – now including tribal schools – across the state. We still hold a vision that all schools, whether inside or outside of Xcel territory, should have right-sized solar arrays paired with battery storage to serve as hubs of community energy resilience. But this significant investment will model the potential and we are excited for what is to come. 

The Frontline Communities Protection Coalition passed a trailblazing cumulative impacts bill, to ensure that the MN Pollution Control Agency will consider pollution impacts already burdening communities before approving permits for more pollution. 

Investments in healthier, better (more fun!) ways of living and moving with funding for

  • Electric school buses ($13 million)
  • A train between Minneapolis and Duluth ($194 million)
  • Transit  for our future with a dedicated metro sales tax 
  • Greater Minnesota Transit ($84 million)
  • EV rebates for cars ($15 million) and bikes! ($4 million)
  • Pre-weatherization for low-income homeowners ($45 million)
  • Electric panel upgrades for homeowners ($7 million)
  • Heatpump incentives ($13 million)

For more on these accomplishments, check out:

Energy Summary: See this analysis from Chris Conry. 

Environment Summary: See this video of wins and summary from MEP. 

Transportation Summary: See this article posted on Streets.Mn.

3 Ways Minnesota is Crushing It on Climate Action – Canary Media

Combined with the federal Inflation Reduction Act benefits, we are going to see and feel these investments. It will be up to all of us to bring these tangible benefits to our homes and churches, communities and non-profits. Stay tuned and stay involved. Our work is just beginning. 

Equally important as these investments is the foundation we are laying to bring speed and scale to our green energy transition. 

With passage of the Next Generation Climate Act, work led by Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in state statute now reflect the imperative adopted by the international scientific community: zero emissions by 2050. 

This is critical because it focuses us on the right destination. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not enough – we must eliminate them. Fuel sources that produce greenhouse gas emissions cannot be part of our future. Investing time and money in their infrastructure not only increases our climate pollution, it distracts and delays us from building the energy systems and supporting workforces we need.

We’re also starting to measure the climate impact of some of our actions. The Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impact Assessment will apply to proposed highway capacity expansion projects, and will model and embed the idea that we must measure our proposals to see if they align with our climate objectives. 

And we’re engaging in more planning. The new MNCIFA will work with towns and neighborhoods to address community needs with climate solutions. 

Here are a few more wins for justice, equity, common sense and humanity throughout the session

  • Free school meals for our children and teens
  • Driver’s Licenses for All
  • Replacement of lead service lines 
  • Paid Medical and Family Leave
  • Restoration of the vote for people who have finished serving felony sentences

And MNIPL was proud to show up for 

The Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act. This bill strengthened state Indian Child Welfare law with indigenous-led amendments to the MIFPA (also often called Minnesota ICWA) passed nearly unanimously. MNIPL members showed support through the session and faith leaders were present during final votes on the bill.

For a more complete look at the equity provisions that passed this session, MNIPL’s Juventino Meza, and high school senior and MNIPL intern Dureti Gamada, have compiled the 2023 Legislative Session Equity Analysis

Thank you to everyone who has played a part in this session and the work that led up to it. From dreaming about a better future, to showing up at rallies and town halls, to writing to legislators and talking with your neighbors, these wins are the result of your efforts to be part of a growing and focused movement for what matters most.

Of course, all is not assured. Even now we know deals with catastrophic consequences – e.g., the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure – are being made, negotiated and voted upon. 

We must be clear-eyed: fossil fuel infrastructure will undo our progress.  

This is not a time when we can just hope the good will outweigh the bad that continues. 

Our work is not over. Not even close. 

But we can look to tomorrow’s agenda with renewed hope and joy. Because after so many years of inaction, we’ve seen that our efforts added up to something big in 2023. And with this past session to guide us, our impact will grow stronger everyday.