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Minnesota’s Green New Deal bill is powered by young activists

"We may not be the experts, but our voices have value."

Pedestrians brave the cold to go for a walk on the Stone Arch Bridge on January 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. CREDIT:  STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images
Pedestrians brave the cold to go for a walk on the Stone Arch Bridge on January 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. CREDIT: STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images

Minnesota is taking a first step toward enacting legislation inspired by the Green New Deal Wednesday, with lawmakers set to introduce a bill that will put the state on a path to 100% clean energy by 2030 while also creating green jobs and protecting vulnerable communities.

The “Minnesota Green New Deal” draws inspiration from the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), akin to other policies introduced in cities and states across the country. But unlike other states, Minnesota’s lawmakers actively engaged with young people in crafting their bill.

A group of teenagers led the press conference announcing the Green New Deal-style bill on Wednesday afternoon; the bill already has more than a dozen co-sponsors with several more expected.

“This one is very much driven by the youth, we were very much there right along the legislators,” said Lia Harel, a senior at Hopkins High School in Hopkins, Minnesota. Harel told ThinkProgress that the resolution being announced Wednesday is largely the result of young activists reaching out to lawmakers about climate action.

Wednesday’s bill, Harel said, is “very representative of the youth [climate] movement across the world.”

That distinction is one the bill’s backers take pride in. Marketed as the “first youth-led effort of its kind on a state level,” the bill reflects the growing power of young people involved in climate action efforts, at a time when groups like the youth-led Sunrise Movement are catapulting to national prominence.

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“The youth are delivering a strong, clear message to the state: ‘We must take bold and meaningful action to address climate change; politics as usual on this issue is unacceptable,'” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein (D) in a statement to ThinkProgress.

Sponsored by Hornstein and state Sen. Scott Dibble (D), the legislation relies closely on the language of the federal Green New Deal proposal. Under the bill, Minnesota utilities would have to transition swiftly to providing 100% carbon-free power to customers in the next decade. All sectors in the state are similarly expected to run on clean energy. In the process of that transition, the state would create green jobs and work to center Minnesota’s frontline communities, echoing the social justice tenants underlying the federal resolution.

A full copy of the legislation was not available as of publishing time, but according to talking points circulated by the climate action group MN Can’t Wait, the bill would create an advisory council to help shape Minnesota’s energy transition. 

Part of this would be facilitated by the creation of a green jobs training program, with an emphasis on training young people, people of color, indigenous communities, and current fossil fuel industry workers. Fair wages and union rights are also enshrined, and the bill would require Minnesota to report on strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions associated with sectors like agriculture and transportation. The bill also calls for the creation of a “Green Bank” to finance energy regulation and renewable energy projects.

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It is unclear what chances the bill might have of passing; next steps would likely involve a committee hearing. But young activists are hopeful about the bill’s odds.

“We’re saying, we want to build this new world. We want to go into this new world with everyone at an equal starting point,” said Tiger Worku, a junior at South High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Worku described the Minnesota Green New Deal to ThinkProgress as a “20 birds with one stone” approach to tackling climate action, one that addresses social inequalities along with an energy transition.

That component is important for many young activists. Worku became involved with climate action efforts in Minnesota because he felt there was “a need for diversity” in the movement. Environmental crises disproportionately impact low-income people and people of color, a reality Worku said is evident in many parts of Minnesota.

Minnesota is far from the only state eyeing major climate legislation. Around the country, cities and states are increasingly leading the way on climate action as efforts falter at the federal level thanks to resistance from some lawmakers and President Donald Trump. New Mexico and New York are among states pursuing their own ambitious carbon emissions reduction targets paired with job creation and social justice.

But the young activists driving Minnesota’s Green New Deal bill argue that their state has a particular need for such legislation.

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“People associate climate change with the forest fires in the west, hurricanes in the east… but Minnesota is one of the fastest-warming states in the nation,” said Harel. “It’s damaging our infrastructure.”

As an agricultural state, Minnesota also has a lot to lose. “We know already that farmers are going to be the first to be impacted by uncontrollable weather,” said Worku, referencing the devastating flooding across the Midwest, which has destroyed crops and hit farmers hard; floods in the region are only expected to worsen with climate change.

Still, the ultimate goal for activists is to have widespread legislation across the country — something they hope Minnesota can help prompt.

My hope is that once Minnesota passes this legislation, other states will see our economic growth and will see how we’re not only using climate as an issue, but as an opportunity to enhance the way we do energy, enhance economic factors,” said Worku, who emphasized that “if federal government won’t act, states will.”

Harel agreed, indicating her disappointment with inaction at the federal level. But she also emphasized the key role young people are playing in the broader climate movement, something she said can help Minnesota’s legislation stand out and serve as a model for others.

“We may not be the experts, but our voices have value,” she said.