Cedar-Isles-Dean teen helps introduce Minnesota Green New Deal

Gabriel Kaplan, a 16-year-old Southwest resident who helped author the Green New Deal with youth climate-action group MN Can't Wait, speaks at a press conference at the state capitol on April 10. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.

A youth-led bill to transform Minnesota’s environment and economy through a Green New Deal was introduced by Southwest Minneapolis lawmakers on April 11.

The Minnesota Green New Deal, a sweeping piece of legislation largely authored by youth from the climate-action group MN Can’t Wait, was introduced to the legislature by Minneapolis DFLers Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble.

“This bill presents us the historic opportunity to not only address the climate crisis, but to utilize our solutions in a way that grows our economy and improves the quality of our lives,” said Gabriel Kaplan, a 16-year-old resident of the Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhood who helped write the legislation.

The bill aims to get Minnesota to carbon-free electricity by 2030, puts a moratorium on the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and offers job training programs that emphasize green energy with a focus on those currently working in fossil fuel industries and the communities most affected by climate change.

The legislation would create a new state board, the Climate Change Advisory Council, to help transition the state into a green energy economy. Various state agencies would be required to produce reports to build strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, lay out options for programs to help areas negatively impacted by transitions away from fossil fuels and to promote the export of green products made in Minnesota.

Hornstein said he helped the students at times, but the bill is largely their work.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Hornstein said at a press conference April 10. “This is a unique group of student leaders who are saying to us it is time to take bold action on climate. This is urgent and politics as usual on climate will simply not do.”

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) spoke about working with the youth behind the Minnesota Green New Deal at a press conference announcing the bill's introduction on April 10. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.
Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) spoke about working with the youth behind the Minnesota Green New Deal at a press conference announcing the bill’s introduction on April 10. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.

The bill would require the Department of Commerce to study the possibility of developing a Green Bank to finance renewable energy projects; state Green Banks currently exist in five states. The legislation mandates that the Minnesota Board of Investment examine divesting retirement and pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.

Kaplan said the bill’s goals are “aspirational, but they’re also achievable.”

Gaining support

The bill debuted with 17 committed co-sponsors, 14 in the House and three in the Senate. Students with MN Can’t Wait said several lawmakers asked them for more time to read through the bill before committing and that they intend to continue their lobbying efforts.

“We’re going to gather more co-sponsors,” Kaplan said, who added MN Can’t Wait is planning to speak with committee chairs to get hearings on the bill.

He said the students have spoken with Republican lawmakers, too, though none have yet signed on to be official co-sponsors.

A key portion of the bill is a declarative finding that climate change is real and affecting Minnesotans.

“Unfortunately, I still have colleagues who don’t accept that,” Hornstein said.

The students plan to organize youth-led town halls on climate in every senate district in Minnesota.

“As this bill gets more traction, we are going to make sure that communities of color and labor unions are brought into the fold so that their concerns are also brought into this bill,” said Tiger Worku, a junior at South High School.

A banner calling for action on climate change outside the press conference debuting the Minnesota Green New Deal. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.
A banner calling for action on climate change outside the press conference debuting the Minnesota Green New Deal. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.

A Southwest connection sparks bill process

When he was 14, Kaplan reached out to Hornstein, hoping to get involved with climate action and policy. At their first meeting, Kaplan brought his father. Now a sophomore at St. Louis Park High School, Kaplan and his local representative have stayed in touch.

In August, Kaplan was among the original group of about 10 youth who got involved with MN Can’t Wait. The group’s membership has since grown tenfold. Initially, they aimed to draft a climate inheritance resolution that would lay out the dangers posed by climate change and make a commitment to addressing them. But when the November election resulted in a DFL majority in the House of Representatives, they set their sights on legislation, Kaplan said.

That’s when the group reached out to Hornstein, who helped them through the process of writing the bill, along with state revisor’s office.

Many of the nation’s largest social rights movements were led by youth, Hornstein said, and climate change is no different. He is confident youth voices will continue to gather more legislative support for the Green New Deal.

“These students are very committed, and they’re going to be back,” Hornstein said.