2020 Special Session: Fresh Energy’s Recommendations

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Protests at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 31, 2020. Photo by Sgt. Sebastian Nemec.

Update: July 21, 2020

We are pleased to see the Minnesota Legislature take a meaningful first step with passage of Police Accountability Act. While there is much more to do, this progress is a credit to the hard work of the POCI caucus and we look forward to seeing more progress in future sessions.

Unfortunately, the legislature failed to complete work on an urgently needed bonding bill or appropriations from the Renewable Development Account. Minnesotans need to be put back to work, communities need to be rebuilt, and it is past time for these investments to be made.

We expect the legislature will reconvene in August to finish the job.

Update: July 6, 2020

The Minnesota Legislature met in special session from June 12 to June 20. While we were encouraged to see the Minnesota House pass a broad package of policy reforms proposed by the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) caucus, the Minnesota Senate failed to act on this package and these critical items remain unfinished.

The Minnesota Legislature is expected to reconvene in special session again in mid-July. Fresh Energy continues to advocate for meaningful policy changes to address systemic inequities in public safety and criminal justice, an equitable response to COVID-19 that prioritizes the most impacted and vulnerable communities, major bonding investments in public transportation and affordable housing, and full deployment of the Renewable Development Account in service to communities impacted by civil unrest in May and June.

State leaders would do well to recognize the historic nature of the moment. Fresh Energy stands with individuals and organizations working to challenge racism and injustice of all forms, and we look forward to continuing this work before, during and after the July special session.

On May 29, Fresh Energy released a public statement of solidarity with organizations and individuals calling for justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. As our Executive Director, Michael Noble, wrote, “…as an organization with power and privilege, we recognize our duty and responsibility to speak up and address racism and injustice in all forms.” 

We have been heartened to see organizations and individuals throughout Minnesota’s clean energy community speaking up and calling for justice and change. However, our collective responsibility to act extends much further than statements. Public policy that ‘does no harm’ is not sufficient; clean energy and climate advocacy must be actively rooted in anti-racism, and must speak with clarity and consistency to the needs of under-resourced communities.   

The Minnesota Legislature is expected to convene in special session later this week. While far larger changes are necessary than what we present here, Fresh Energy offers the following recommendations as immediate steps that state policymakers should take during summer 2020 special sessions to address the most urgent needs of Minnesotans first: 

1. Prioritize Transformational Police Reform and Community Recovery 

The killing of George Floyd on May 25 by Minneapolis police officers has sparked mass demonstrations throughout Minnesota and across the nation. Observations of systemic racism and inequality in policing and public safety are backed by significant data and science. For example, a study published in 2019 by the National Academy of Sciences found that Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. And in Minneapolis, police use force against Black people at seven times the rate that they do against white people, as highlighted in the New York Times.  

On June 2, members of the Minnesota House announced a proposed package of policy proposals intended to address systemic inequities in policing and public safety. A number of community organizations and other policy advocates have also offered proposals for specific policy changes that would require action by the Legislature. Fresh Energy recognizes that for communities to be healthy, they must be safe from the impacts of the climate crisis as well as being safe from the immediate harms of police brutality and systemic racism. 

In the weeks and months ahead, communities surrounding Lake Street, North Minneapolis, and Midway will begin the difficult but necessary work of rebuilding. We urge all decision-makers and civic leaders to listen fully to the needs and priorities of communities that have been directly impacted. Any decisions regarding community recovery and relief should involve and be led by those communities.  

Fresh Energy recognizes that, while these issues fall outside the scope of our organizational expertise, there is an immediate need for action by the Legislature and we encourage legislators to act without any attempt to leverage unrelated legislation.  

2. Protect Communities Disproportionately Affected By COVID-19 

State policymakers must additionally remain cognizant of the disproportionate public health and economic impacts from COVID-19 that are affecting communities of color in Minnesota. Consider: 

  • Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that death rates for African American (92.3 per 100K) and Hispanic (74.3 per 100K) persons are significantly higher than for white (45.2 per 100K) persons. 
  • The CDC notes a wide range of societal and environmental factors that likely contribute to this racial disparity, include inequitable access to paid sick time and health insurance (white persons are two to three times as likely to be insured as African American and Hispanic persons) and higher rates of underlying medical conditions. 
  • COVID-19 is an environmental justice issue. A high-profile study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people living in areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from COVID-19 than people who live in less polluted areas. In Minnesota, we know that 91 percent of communities of color and indigenous communities live in areas that have pollution-related risks above health guidelines according to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency data. 

We continue to urge statewide action to protect energy and water customers during the pandemic and through the recovery period. Fresh Energy believes that many of the recommendations included in our letter to Governor Tim Walz could also be included in legislation during a special session. Fresh Energy also continues to support funding for housing assistance, which would support rent payments, mortgage payments, and utility expenses. 

3. Prioritize Bonding Investments in Transit and Affordable Housing  

Among the highest-profile pieces of unfinished business from the 2020 legislative session is adoption of a bonding bill. While the bonding bill is ‘normal’ business for the Legislature, significant investments in the transportation and housing needs of under-resourced communities are not. 

recent report prepared by a number of partner organizations, including Fresh Energy, found that transportation expenses are a particular burden for Americans living in under-resourced communities. In addition to reducing the cost burden of transportation, a significant transit investment package would drive significant job growth and provide significant localized air quality benefits.  

The 2019 State of the State’s Housing report from Minnesota Housing Partnership, one of Fresh Energy’s Energy Efficiency for All partners, found that more than one in four Minnesota households are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of household income in housing costs. Forty percent of households of color experience cost burden compared to 23 percent of white households. Like transportation, including affordable housing as part of a bonding package would reduce the cost burden of housing, and access to quality affordable housing has significant climate benefits

We recommend full funding of the following items as part of any final bonding package: 

  • $149 million for Transit and Transportation Jobs 
  • $200 million for Housing Infrastructure Bonds 
  • $60 million for Public Housing Rehabilitation 

4. Allocate the Renewable Development Account to Energy Projects in Under-Resourced Communities 

During the final weekend of the 2020 legislative session, an agreement was reached on a partial spending package from the Renewable Development Account (RDA). The RDA is funded through an assessment on Xcel Energy’s dry cask storage of nuclear waste at the Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear plants, and is eligible to be used for research and development of renewable energy, advance grid modernization and other efficiency and system-level projects.  

We recommend that the full remaining balance in the RDA ($55 million) be allocated to grants that support energy efficiency, renewable energy, and grid modernization projects and programs that meet the following criteria: 

  • The project or program must be located within Xcel service territory and fall within a census tract with at least 50 percent of households having a median household income at or below 60 percent area median income of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Region. Alternatively, for multifamily buildings, the project should serve buildings that qualify under the Department of Commerce’s guidelines for 5+ unit buildings participating in CIP programs serving under-resourced households (also known as “low-income CIP”). 
  • Prioritization must be given to small businesses, residential property damaged in Minneapolis and Saint Paul in May and June of 2020. 
  • Projects or programs should also advance participation by single-family homes, 1-4 unit rental buildings, and multifamily (5+ unit) buildings in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. 
  • Eligible projects or programs should also include substation improvements and similar grid upgrades in under-resourced communities. 

Traditionally, a Special Session of the Minnesota Legislature is a time to tie up loose ends before closing the book on the legislative year. But this time Minnesotans expect more. Fresh Energy is committed to bold and decisive action by the Legislature to address police brutality, COVID-19, and systemic inequities in housing, transportation and energy. These problems took generations to create and aren’t going to be undone in a single session of the Legislature. But Minnesota can no longer afford to miss opportunities for change, and state policymakers must answer the call. 

Fresh Energy staff and leadership held a webinar discussing these recommendations on Thursday, June 11. View the recording here.

Take Action: 
1. Spread the word. Share these recommendations or the below recording of Fresh Energy staff and leadership discussing these recommendations with friends and colleagues.

2. Tell your legislators. Your legislators need to hear from you about your expectations for a Special Session in these unprecedented times. To help you get started, we summarized the above recommendations for you to copy, paste, and edit to best suit you. Click here for additional information and to view the letter.