Do you know that feeling when you are approaching the end of the school year and your teenage kid has spent the past four months telling you they are doing fine in class, and when you get their report card you finally see that after all of this time, their grades are deeply, deeply disappointing? At this point you realize the only thing that could fix the issue is summer school.
Well, that’s the feeling I had when the Minnesota Legislature adjourned on May 23 without passing meaningful bills proposed this year, including ones that promised to promote energy justice, security and equity for the state.
As our country prepares for higher energy bills from AC use, recession and more COVID spikes, any and all good news would have been welcome. The state Legislature could have offered us a slice of comfort and positivity. With a historically large state surplus plus federal funds available for leverage, the Legislature could have drastically improved the lives of communities across the state. The bills introduced this past session and agreed upon in conference committees promised jobs, lower energy bills and clean energy funding for schools. But instead of helping us, the Senate failed to pass any of this much-needed legislation.
The agreed upon bills would have invested in public schools, renewable energy, infrastructure, Native American schools and jobs. The Climate and Energy Omnibus bill alone would have invested almost $67 million into programs to benefit communities across the state. There could have been $42.45 million invested in solar, including the Solar Rewards and Solar for Schools funds, allowing schools to add low-cost solar to their buildings.
Further, Minnesota could have leveraged federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Those are our federal tax dollars that we now won’t be able to use in our own state. And after so many lost jobs from the pandemic, the Legislature failed to pass provisions allowing for grant money that would have helped transitioning communities from closing fossil fuel plants to jobs in renewable energy.
Our state needs these programs and investments, especially as some communities experience environmental injustices at higher levels than others. Minnesota comprises various regions, all suffering from differing levels of inequity. Often, the color of your skin and economic status here dictate the intensity of exposure to air, water and land pollution. Higher risk of exposure means increased risk of mental and physical health problems. The air pollution in predominantly Black neighborhoods is not something we can ignore. Black Minnesotans younger than 65 experience death from asthma at rates six times higher white Minnesotans. We don’t just need more solar panels to lower bills, but to save lives.
Minnesotans do not deserve legislators who drag their feet. We cannot wait until the next official session for these bills to be deliberated on again without any promise of passage. The current pace of change is failing those suffering from dangerous levels of pollution.
What we need now is the legislature’s version of summer school — a special session. The governor must reconvene the Legislature and urge lawmakers to pass these important policies and budgets. If Republican leadership is truly committed to their constituents, they will do so without further needless delay.
To those legislators who put politics above the health and economic prosperity of our great state: I am not mad, I am just disappointed.
Jenna Warmuth is the Midwest regional director for Vote Solar, focusing on Minnesota and Michigan.