Minnesota lawmakers tackle global warmingby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
It may be called "global" warming, but scientists, faith leaders and a polar explorer told a group of legislative committees that they can address it on the state level. Eight committees from both the House and Senate attended a rare presentation in the House chamber Tuesday night to bring attention to global warming and their plans to reduce the threat.
St. Paul, Minn. — The warnings of melting polar ice caps, the threats to Minnesota's moose population and the habitat the animal lives in are not new. But the presenters hoped the testimony would reinforce those who worry about global warming and would convince skeptics that it's occurring.
Polar explore Will Steger urged the lawmakers in the room to do something to slow the amount of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gasses being emitted.
"We have to act on this," Steger said. "The populace is demanding it and wants action. This is for anyone who is an elected official now, it's a golden opportunity for us to take some action on this."
Several lawmakers are using the presentation as a starting point for their legislation. Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, introduced legislation that would require a 30-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks by 2030. She says lawmakers won't solve global warming this year, but she's pleased that lawmakers are ambitious on the issue.
"You have to have a dream," she said. "Martin Luther King didn't say 'I dream that one day kids will be integrated into schools but workplaces will still be segregated.' He said 'I have a dream that people will be judged by the content of their character.' And so in the same way in global warming, we have to say 'What is the gold standard? What are we shooting for?"
Hortman isn't the only lawmaker thinking green. Over the past month, lawmakers introduced several pieces of legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. One measure would require utilities to use renewable energy, like solar and wind, for a quarter of their energy output by 2020. Another calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2015.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, has been one of the most aggressive lawmakers on global warming in the Legislature. She's hopeful that the two bills will pass this year.
"We have leadership in the House that for the first time, is committed to doing something about clean energy," she said. "I think the sky's the limit as far as what we could accomplish. Ask me again in May, but I think we can get there."
Anderson is expressing more confidence because DFLers now control the House and Senate. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is also proposing greater consumption of renewable energy and wants more conservation efforts. He says the state can't solve the problem of global warming alone but is hopeful lawmakers can address some issues this session.
"Ultimately we need a national and international progress on these issues, but we need to do our part," Pawlenty says. "And I think Minnesota has been a leader in renewable energy and it also opens the door to a broader discussion about containing and limiting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate against climate change."
There have been some concerns raised about these efforts. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is worried that a greater focus on renewable energy could increase energy costs for manufacturers.
One Republican lawmaker expressed concern that Tuesday's presentation didn't include alternative viewpoints. Sen. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, says no global warming skeptics were on the panel. Jungbauer says lawmakers are expected to take testimony from all sides before they vote on legislation. He agrees that temperatures are rising globally, but isn't convinced that carbon dioxide emissions are the only reason.
"I think the science is saying that 'yes we have an influence to what extent we're not sure,'" Jungbauer said. "And what part of that influence is actually effecting the climate and are what are other natural cyclical things that are going on in our environment."
There were also several groups who protested outside of the House chamber. One group, called Minnesotans for Global Warming, wore T-shirts saying they wanted to turn their snow shovels into lawn chairs. The spokesman, who would not provide his real name, said he doesn't think global warming is occurring since the temperature outside the Capitol was below 10 degrees.
- Morning Edition, 01/31/2007, 7:25 a.m.