A Single Courageous State: Climate, Jobs, and Justice, Episode 1
The Center for American Progress’ From the State House to the White House initiative describes how bold climate action by state, local, and tribal governments can be implemented at the federal level. In this video, Rep. Jamie Long (D-MN) discusses his state’s recent progress on clean vehicles, energy efficiency standards, the Line 3 pipeline, just transition, and environmental justice, as well as what’s next. CAP, in partnership with the League of Conservation Voters and the BlueGreen Alliance, released a report called “The Clean Economy Revolution Will Be Unionized” that highlights specific examples of pro-labor climate actions undertaken by states such as Minnesota.
Are you a leader in climate, labor, and justice? If so, we want to hear from you. Whether you are an elected official, a field organizer, or anyone in between; whether you work at the state, local, or tribal level, contact Chris at email@example.com so we can hear your progress.
Chris Chyung is the campaign manager for the State House to the White House initiative with the Energy and Environment War Room at the Center for American Progress.
Chris Chyung: Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “A single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Today, state, local, and tribal leaders are boldly taking on those risks and pursuing innovative legislation and executive action to shape the pro-climate, pro-labor, and pro-justice vision for the future. Today, we’re kicking off a new series called “A Single Courageous State: Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” With us is Rep. Jamie Long of Minnesota, chair of the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee. Welcome.
Rep. Jamie Long: Great to be with you, Chris. Thanks for the invitation.
Chyung: Let’s dive right in. Give us the lay of the land in Minnesota. Politically, I think it’s the only state with a divided legislature: Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats controlling the House and Governor’s Office. I think I saw a law supporting energy efficiency pass; you’re shepherding your state under this energy bill; an ambitious clean cars law survive[s]; you’ve got controversy over the Line 3 pipeline; and so much more. So what’s going on up there?
Rep. Long: Well, it’s a busy time for energy in our state and yes, we’re the only divided legislature in the country. So we have to work closely together across party lines to be able to move any legislation forward at the State Capitol. And we had a really busy year. You highlighted some of our big successes. We updated our energy efficiency standards for the first time in decades, and we are already at a really good starting point. We’re typically ranked fifth or sixth, in Minnesota, for energy efficiency. And I think this is going to push us into the top tier for sure in terms of updating our energy efficiency, allowing folks to do fuel switching, and increasing our standards for energy efficiency targets. And we also had some big wins in solar deployment as well and made a big focus on trying to help with a just transition and help our workforce in the state.
Chyung: Yeah, if you can expand a little bit more on that. I know with “just transition”—and the labor partners that Center for American Progress works with, they can feel a little frustrated because sometimes they feel like that term gets thrown around so offhanded and not really in terms of a sincere way of making sure that those folks have jobs for the future. So how are the things that Minnesota is doing—are they kind of different from the approach to bringing labor into the green revolution and not just excluding them?
Rep. Long: Well, we’ve been very intentional about working closely with our labor partners and trying to make sure that we are hand in hand as we’re looking to the future. We know that there’s transition happening even without policy. Minnesota has a great wind resource in the state. We have a really good solar resource too. We’ve seen the cost of clean energy come down dramatically in our state. And so coal is losing out in our state even if we don’t take action at the state level, but we also, of course, have climate goals that we are committed to as a state. And we know the health benefits and other benefits of moving towards clean energy. So we were one of the early adopters of a renewable energy standard, which was also done on a bipartisan basis in our state too.
So we know that the energy economy is changing dramatically. We have two large utilities in our state that have both committed to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Xcel Energy was the first to do so in the country. And we had Minnesota Power announce that they were going to do that this year. And they’re a really interesting utility. They represent the northern part of our state that is the part of our state where there’s a lot of mining and logging activity, a lot of really large industrial users. And 15 years ago were 90 percent coal. And now they are committed to going to 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. So that’s just a dramatic turnaround for that utility. But we all know the benefits. We all know the reasons why they’re doing that, but it does mean that there’s a number of communities and workers—and these tend to be cities where this is the largest employer, largest tax base for the entire city. They’re good jobs, they are union jobs and through no fault of their own, the energy economy is changing.
So we have made a real commitment to try and help those workers, help those communities. And last session, we gave some planning money to a number of cities to start to do the hard thinking about what will their community look like without a coal plant, and what is it going to take for that community to thrive in the future? And then this session, we just took it to another level, I think, and we’ve enacted a brand new Energy Transition Office that we’ve created at the state level that’s going to be staffed and funded to do the really hard work of planning for the future, looking at what it means at the statewide level for us to be having this transition, how can we help these communities? How can we help those workers? So I think that’s pretty unique across the country that we were able to put state staffing towards this challenge and towards this question.
And then we also are making sure that we are funding the work that is happening here too. And so we are putting money towards new opportunities for folks on the Iron Range, we are helping expand a solar manufacturing plant in the Iron Range, which will, when they add a second line, probably be the second-largest solar manufacturer in the country. So I think that’s a good message to send that we’re not just looking at moving away from the old jobs; we’re trying to create new opportunities.
And then we’re also looking at how we can use our public dollars. So we are trying to push forward on buy clean and buy fair to make sure that the public dollars that we’re using as a state—we buy a lot of steel, we buy a lot of concrete, steel that we know could come from the iron mines [that] are in northern Minnesota. And a lot of those companies have committed to decarbonization. So why wouldn’t we reward that as a state, right? Why wouldn’t we make sure that when we are using our public dollars, we’re supporting companies that are also committed to decarbonization? So those are a few of the things that we’ve been able to do this session.
Chyung: Yeah, that’s very comprehensive and it’s really heartening, I think, to hear that there’s actual money being put behind some of these initiatives to ensure for that transition and not just rubber-stamping some brand new, disruptive plan without putting those dollars behind it. I want to touch on something that you had just mentioned in your answer regarding the Iron Range specifically. I know that politically for us, it’s interesting because I think that it’s arguably—well, maybe you can disagree as well and feel free to provide your opposing viewpoint or so, but there’s an interesting dynamic with those workers who might be more culturally conservative but still pro-labor. And right now, they’re kind of politically, they’re a jump ball as to which party is going to be able to claim them in terms of their interests. And I feel like now the Republican Party might be aiming to refashion itself a little bit more as a working-class party or at least attempting to. Do you kind of see it the same way and how does this labor, environment, climate—how does this debate play into that, if at all?
Rep. Long: Yeah. I think there is a lot of political flexibility and change happening on the Iron Range in particular. It was an area that Democrats won for a long time with its sort of pro-labor bent. It was represented by a Democrat in Congress for decades, but recently it is split; now it’s represented by a Republican. It’s kind of gone back and forth at the presidential level as a region. So there is a lot of change happening in those communities. I do think that when that comes to the policy discussion, it creates some willingness for bipartisanship. I think that whereas there are some communities that might be identified exclusively with one party or another, and it might be a little harder to get bipartisan interest in helping those communities, the Iron Range in particular, I think has support across party lines. And I think that’s helpful for us because when we’re making the clean energy transition, there have been a number of coal plants located in northern Minnesota that are going to be closing. And those are in real small communities.
And that’s an area too that I represent: Minneapolis. We have a lot of employers, a lot of density, but if you’re in Cohasset and you have a coal plant close, you’re probably going to have to move, you might have to leave your community to find a new job unless we’re able to help with the transition there. So I think there’s an understanding, and I’m a Democrat. I think that the folks on my committee who are Democrats have also embraced that we need to help these communities and that is the right thing to do for the state. And so I think that’s been a good unifying principle for our committee and for the work we’ve been doing.
Chyung: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And then another question I had kind of in a similar vein is about Enbridge Line 3, and I know it’s controversial and there are a lot of different stakeholders and they can kind of get crossways when they come to a coalition-building and whatnot. And just for the audiences’ edification, my understanding is that unlike Keystone XL, this pipeline is built and operational, but they’re debating whether to create a newer portion of it and update it. And then on the other hand, there are similarities, including of course the environmental sensitivities, tribal sovereignty, environmental justice, the connectivity to Western Canadian oil sands and all the bag of worms that comes with that and organized labor’s position, et cetera. What’s your take on this debate? Where do you kind of fall and what are the viewpoints that you see?
Rep. Long: Well, it’s a hot issue in our state right now and one that I think is getting a ton of attention from the environmental community, from those who care deeply about our climate, and for good reason. It is the same oil, same tar sands as are going through Keystone, or would have had that pipeline been built. There is an existing pipeline, but it’s only operating at 50 percent capacity. And so that’s why they want to build a new pipeline. The new pipeline is the same diameter and the same rate of flow as Keystone. So we’re really talking about the same thing.
And Keystone had, I think, years and years of organizing and activism dedicated to stopping it; Line 3 is currently under construction. So there we lost the court battles to be able to stop it at this point. I think we would take federal action to stop the construction before it finishes. And so far we haven’t seen that, but it is a real difficult challenge for our state. There’s a lot of tribal opposition to it. We’re talking about a pipeline that’s crossing tribal sovereignty areas. And obviously, there’s a lot of opposition from the climate community, myself included. So we’ve been pushing hard on it, that is not an issue where there’s bipartisan agreement at the Capitol. We’ve had more of a split. So it really hasn’t been something that the legislature has been able to reach agreement on, one way or the other. And so it’s been playing itself out at the courts and at the administrative level with the approvals of the pipeline.
Chyung: Yeah. I think that’s really good to know, really clear context from your perspective on what’s happening on the ground. And I think a lot of the stakeholders who are opposed to the pipeline are kind of leaning on the secretary of the interior and the federal government to intervene in some fashion like they have in a few other projects of the era. Now, kind of pivoting to a different vein though, I understand that Minnesota passed a first-in-the Midwest, clean cars law recently and there was a lot of legislative, I guess not chicanery is the right word, but a lot of intrigue, I should say, to getting that passed. So what was your perspective of that process?
Rep. Long: Why I was an extremely strong supporter of the governor’s efforts there, was under the Clean Air Act, Gov. Walz was able to take that initiative on his own, but the legislature, yes the Democrats in the legislature didn’t have his back, not every step of the way as he was moving forward. We are the first Midwest state to become a clean car state, which we’re extremely excited about. And so this is going to be really meaningful for making sure that we’re headed on the right path to get to our carbon targets, transportation as the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state as we’ve been cleaning up our energy supply. And we know that as a result, it means that electrifying our vehicles is going to be even cleaner. We also know that there are other states that have adopted low emission vehicle, zero-emission vehicle, targets, and that as a result, they get a lot more options for consumers.
The car companies are selling into those states vehicle models that really aren’t available in Minnesota right now. My old car kicked the dust a couple of years ago, and I went out to buy an electric vehicle and I had to drive a long distance to find an auto dealer that had the car I wanted. So it’s not that easy right now to get electric vehicle adoption in our state. And this is something that’s going to make it a lot easier. We know that manufacturers are moving in this direction with the really exciting commitments we’ve seen from General Motors and Ford and others this year. And so this is just an opportunity, I think, to bring more consumer choice to the state and to really help aggressively meet our climate goals in the transportation space.
Chyung: Yeah, that’s very interesting to hear. Excellent. And then I also saw recent coverage about the Safe and Skilled Workforce Act. And I kind of wanted to get your perspective. I think the coverage I read specifically was about, there was a Senate majority in your state, had supported it, but then had pulled their support a little bit later due to some specific concerns over oil production. Is that kind of the right picture, or what’s going on up there on that?
Rep. Long: Well, so back to your question about labor and some of the changing dynamics with the two parties, there has been some more attempts from Republicans in Minnesota and elsewhere to appeal to the building trades to try to bring some of the union workforce who build our roads, bridges, and also maintain our refineries in the state. Our labor force at one of our larger refineries in the state has been locked out since December. And so there has been an effort to try to make sure that we are having a safe workforce at those refineries. And from our view, that means you have to have a workforce that’s well-trained and knows the facility, is not just coming in crossing a picket line and for a couple of months but has actually been doing that work for a long time.
And the Senate had an opportunity to pick essentially between Big Oil and labor and they chose Big Oil, to put it very bluntly. So they had an opportunity to decide whether or not they were going to stand up for the labor workforce at one of our large refineries, but they did not. And so that’s unfortunate. I would much rather take the policy win than any political win that comes from that. I just think we need the workers there to be safe. We need a safe facility. We did stand up for labor and for our friends who are doing the hard work every day of maintaining our refineries while we still are using gas as our source of fuel.
Chyung: Yeah. That’s very important. I think it also draws a similar comparison to the recent revelations we’re talking about in D.C. as part of the green groups, that I think an Exxon federal lobbyist was caught on a hidden camera making some, maybe too honest of statements in terms of how they conduct their business and how they work against science when it comes to moving away from fossil fuels. So it just kind of threads the needle between what’s happening in D.C. and what’s happening on the ground in Minnesota. And just my last question, I want to leave it open to you, Representative. Is there anything that you want to cover that I didn’t get a chance to answer, any interesting topics or anything that you see?
Rep. Long: Well, I think just on that last point, we have in Minnesota, the largest refinery for the Koch brothers. So they go by the name of—Flint Hills, in Minnesota, is their company name, but they’re owned by Koch Industries. It’s their largest refinery anywhere in the United States. And so we have certainly seen our share of fighting back against efforts, particularly in the transportation space to move towards electrification, the move towards cleaner fuels. But they typically aren’t the public face. So that Exxon interview that you referred to hit home because they’re operating through the state Chamber of Commerce instead of usually being out front and just open about, “Well, we’re an oil company and we want our market share. And so that’s why we oppose vehicle electrification.” It’s been trying—to make often misleading arguments from the Chamber of Commerce and others, to try to stop that.
So I think that that’s only going to get you so far. I think that we’ve seen—the business growth in the clean energy sector in Minnesota has been really remarkable. We have because of the renewable energy standard that we adopted many years ago, we got some first-mover benefits from that as a state. And so we had wind companies start up, construction companies in our state get into the wind business, and in the last decade, over 50 percent of all wind turbines that were installed across the United States were installed by Minnesota companies. So we’re creating jobs here, over 60,000 jobs in the last decade in the clean energy economy in Minnesota. So we know what the future is. We know that we’ve seen what it can do to our state, to be policy leaders in this space. We’ve seen that it means good jobs for our workers and to build wind turbines down in the southwest part of our state where it’s really windy or to build solar panels up in northern Minnesota on the Iron Range. I think we’re ready to be leaders in the clean energy space. And I don’t think we’re looking back.
Chyung: Well, that’s great to hear and I think a great note to end on, especially as our initiative focuses on the state-level, bold, progressive initiatives and how we can uplift them to the federal level and demonstrate that as a model. So thank you so much for your time today Representative, we look forward to hearing more about your progress in the state of Minnesota and building the pro-climate, pro-justice, and pro-labor future for us all.
Rep. Long: Well, thank you. Thanks so much for your interest in the state level. There’s a lot happening here and a lot, I think, that we can be proud of.
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