Polar explorer and environmentalist Will Steger and other clean energy advocates urged state leaders to adopt a strong Clean Power Plan at the state Capitol on Wednesday — a plan all states are required to adopt as part of an update to the federal Clean Air Act that will put new limits on carbon pollution from coal plants.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule in June 2014 under the Clean Air Act that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants as part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
The EPA has been reviewing public comments on the rule and is expected to finalize it later this summer and assign states target numbers for reducing carbon emissions. At that point, states will start working on developing their own compliance plans.
The proposed rule would reduce emissions from power plants by an estimated 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — the equivalent of taking 150 million cars off the road.
Clean energy advocates say the plan could double the number of clean energy jobs in the state in the next 15 years. Minnesota currently has more than 15,000 clean energy jobs — an increase of 78 percent since 2000, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Steger said the Clean Power Plan will help build the state’s growing clean energy economy and has the potential to lift people out of poverty.
“It’s a moral imperative that we reduce our carbon emissions, and the Clean Power Plan provides us with a road map to reduce our emissions and at the same time build our clean energy economy,” Steger said, founder of Climate Generation, a nonprofit devoted to building a statewide climate movement.
J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Fresh Energy, a nonprofit focused on promoting clean energy in Minnesota, said the state is already on track to meet the proposed Clean Power Plan standards. It has one of the strongest renewable energy standards in the country, which requires utilities to provide 25 percent of their total electrical generation from renewables sources like wind and solar power by 2025.
The state is in the midst of a major solar energy boom with new projects planned around the state.
“Minnesota is proof positive that a state can cost effectively create excellent paying jobs and cut carbon very aggressively,” she said. “We think that the state will build on that.”
Jon Kramer of Edina-based Sundial Solar Energy said his business is experiencing rapid growth. The company is the leading installer of commercial and industrial solar PV systems in the state, according to its website.
“The time has come to trade a dirty outdated business model of the past for a clean, modern and healthy energy future,” he said at Wednesday’s event at the Capitol.
Kendra Roedl, a senior at South High School and member of Climate Generation’s Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN), offered a youth perspective on climate change.
“The Clean Power Plan is the biggest step the United States has taken to mitigate climate change, and we need to make sure Minnesota leads the way in implementing a strong Clean Power Plan,” she said.
The proposed changes to the Clean Air Act would also have a big impact on people’s health.
Robert Moffitt, a spokesman for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, said the proposed reduction in carbon emissions would prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks and up to 6,600 premature deaths each year.
“Many Minnesotans face considerable attacks from air pollution including children, the elderly, people with respiratory and cardiovascular disease, people with low incomes, and many ethnic and minority communities,” he said.
At a glance: EPA Clean Power Plan overview
— The Clean Power Plan would help reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels. (Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the country, accounting for one-third of domestic greenhouse gas emissions.)
— The plan would also cut pollution leading to soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2030.
— States will have the ability to adopt their own Clean Power Plans to meet the EPA’s rule.
(Editor’s note: For more stories on energy issues and strategies addressing climate change, go to www.southwestjournal.com/climate-change)