No Time to Spare: Minnesota Needs a Green New Deal

The most contentious election season in living memory has come to a close as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the US. Thanks to the Biden administration’s Covid Relief package and the approval of new coronavirus vaccines, an end to the pandemic is finally in sight. Biden’s administration will certainly have its hands full dealing with the societal and economic fallout from the last year. However, the climate crisis faced by Minnesotans–and the country at large–cannot wait for another election cycle. Now that Federal relief is on its way, and the state is now forecasting a budget surplus of over one billion dollars, Governor Walz needs to introduce, pass, and implement a Minnesota Green New Deal. Minnesota cannot seriously address the crisis that climate change represents to the state’s ecosystems, people, and economy without a large investment in transforming the state’s economy and infrastructure. There is no time left to spare. 

Transportation is Minnesota’s largest source of carbon emissions. The state cannot even begin to approach its carbon reduction goals while continuing to prioritize cars and highway transportation over other forms of transportation. It’s never been cheaper for the state to borrow money, and the state economy is in desperate need of stimulus due to the coronavirus recession. The Governor needs to prioritize green fiscal stimulus, focusing heavily on transportation, as part of his plan to lift Minnesota’s economy out of recession. The Minnesota Green New Deal can be funded by a mixture of new or higher taxes: raising the gas tax and the mineral excise tax, imposing a temporary 10-year two percent millionaires’ tax on income and capital gains, issuing of Green Bonds, and taxing motor vehicles by weight.

Carbon emissions must be taxed as part of any credible Green New Deal. Pricing carbon generates revenue for green infrastructure projects and reduces the public health consequences of air pollution. Minnesota needs to implement its own carbon tax, following the lead of countries and provinces around the world. Minnesota needs to couple this carbon tax with an increase in taxes on mineral extraction. Then, instead of simply directing that revenue into the state’s general fund, the Minnesota State Treasury must then create what is known as a sovereign wealth fund to invest these revenues in the stock market. This fund would provide financial dividends to Minnesota residents as well as important revenue for new green infrastructure projects. The sovereign wealth fund would be modeled on the Alaska Permanent Fund, long hailed as a success story around the globe. Even Minnesota’s neighbor North Dakota has seen the success of its own sovereign wealth fund. This would provide the Minnesotan Green New Deal with a steady stream of funding for projects, all while reducing carbon emissions and sharing the wealth from Minnesota’s mining industry for future generations. 

The Minnesota Green New Deal will create a network of electrified regional rail lines around the state. Minnesota can aggressively pursue electrified interurban regional rail lines by lobbying the Biden administration for capital investment funds and imposing a moratorium on highway expansion and freeway conversion. Minnesota must begin this process by providing true all day regional-rail service on the North Star line and extending it in three phases: first to St. Cloud, then Brainerd, and ultimately Bemidji. The state simultaneously must begin construction on rail lines that have been discussed for decades as outlined in the MnDOT’s State Rail Plan. This could connect Minneapolis-St. Paul to Rochester, Des Moines, Eau Claire, Mankato, and Duluth. The state could also provide funds to run more frequent service on the Empire Builder to Moorehead and Winona, and even eastward to Chicago. This would allow cities across Minnesota to begin planning for less vehicle traffic and more dense, sustainable land-use policies.

While cities like Denver, Seattle, Austin, and Portland have spent billions of dollars on public transportation investment, Minneapolis and St. Paul have fallen behind their peers. Any bonding bill that the Governor signs this year needs to prioritize public transportation expansion in the Twin Cities in order to build 30 of the Met Council’s arterial Bus Rapid Transit lines by the year 2030 and update non-arterial bus service to be frequent and reliable. Additionally, a Minnesota Green New Deal should tax suburban office development and offer incentives for employers to encourage their employees to commute by public transit. It should also prioritize light-rail lines based on ridership projections–not how easy it is to build them. The Minnesota Green New Deal will direct the Met Council to implement a parking limit in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, using Calgary’s successful program as a model

While improving transit ridership is a critical goal, the MNGND must also address the fact that Minnesotans are buying larger and larger motor vehicles. This explosion in truck and SUV sales has produced more carbon pollution and increased pedestrian fatalities over the last several years. A Minnesotan Green New Deal will tax passenger vehicles by weight, at both the point of sale and at the time of registration. If a vehicle uses more gas, puts more strain on Minnesota’s roads, and injures more pedestrians, the state should require the driver of that vehicle to pay more taxes in return. The additional revenue from these taxes should be used to finance traffic calming projects, encourage subsidies for cycling and e-bikes, and expand transit service. 

Finally, any Green New Deal must focus on exponentially increasing the availability of cheap, non-carbon-derived electricity. Minnesota’s Green New Deal will provide financing to fund non-carbon energy projects to ensure that the new electrified transportation infrastructure is powered without any fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. This will be accomplished by ramping up public utilities’ investments in renewable energy, and upgrading or constructing transmission lines to neighboring states and provinces with significant non-carbon electricity production. 

From past experience, it’s clear that the Minnesota GOP will complain about new taxes, regulations, and state investment in regional rail and decarbonization. It will be difficult to pass meaningful climate related policy through a GOP-controlled state senate. However, climate change remains a top priority for young DFLers, suburban women, and urban progressives, and regardless of Minnesota politics, President Biden is a well-known supporter of rail infrastructure. Minnesota will have ample opportunities to pursue federal funding for capital projects thanks to the Amtrak enthusiast who now occupies the Oval Office. Additionally, investing in public transit, new green energy, and the creation of the Minnesota Climate Fund will lead to economic growth in all corners of the state as it deals with its worst recession since the 1930s.  

Minnesota needs a Green New Deal. The state is already on borrowed time when it comes to the fight against climate change. With the 2020 election now in the rearview mirror, and the escalating twin crises of the novel coronavirus and climate change looming large over 2021, now is the time to pass a bonding and tax bill to transform the state’s energy, transportation, and economic infrastructure. Minnesotans need relief from this once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis, and the state has a responsibility to future generations of Minnesotans to take bold, decisive action against a changing climate.

Speed Rogers

About Speed Rogers

Speed Rogers is an anthropologist, medical student, and housing activist based in Minnesota. His research interests include how transportation and housing policy affect health outcomes. You can follow him on Twitter @jspeedrogers