At Fresh Energy, we’re driving clean energy progress that secures an equitable, decarbonized future for all who call Minnesota home, and we can’t do that work without the support of communities across our state. That’s where our Public Affairs team comes in. As public engagement and advocacy experts, Justin, Anna, and Eric bring enthusiasm, in-depth knowledge of how to strategically navigate the various levels of Minnesota government, and, if we’re being honest, the perfect amount of humor too. Read on to get to know each of them better!
Where the personal and professional collide
Fresh Energy’s Public Affairs team, comprised of Lead Director Justin Fay, Senior Associate Anna Johnson, and Coalition Communications and Policy Associate Eric Fowler, along with contract lobbyist John Berns, is building a shared commitment to climate action by focusing on coalitions, collaboration, and leadership; opportunities for individual action; and policy design and advocacy. Each member of the team comes to Fresh Energy with a different background.
Justin, lead director of the Public Affairs team, is a master of legislative and policy venues, having filled numerous roles with Sierra Club North Star Chapter, the campaign to pass the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the Nature Conservancy, and the Campaign for Conservation, among others. When asked about his personal climate journey, Justin admits that being raised by parents who enjoyed the outdoors played a key role—the family went camping on summer weekends, and that informed a large part of how Justin views the world. He wanted to be able to have those experiences as an adult too.
He adds that high school debate also played a key role: “Every year on the debate team there was a different topic, or resolution, that the teams focused on. My sophomore year of high school, the resolution was about renewable energy. And this was very, very early on in the conversation—where people were simply asking, ‘Hey, should we do this thing one day?’ And I remember thinking it was the most fascinating subject I’d ever wrestled with.” Although it would be years before Justin encountered climate and clean energy advocacy with his career, he remembers that time as the moment the seed was planted.
Anna, senior associate, is an outdoor enthusiast. Before joining Fresh Energy, Anna co-founded an environmental education nonprofit, worked at the Minnesota House of Representatives, was a Research Assistant with the Minnesota Prison Doula Project, and interned at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She remembers her introduction to climate advocacy fondly: “I had the great privilege and benefit of going to summer camp when I was younger. It was very formative. We did a lot of canoeing in the Canadian wilderness.”
Recalling one camp memory in particular, Anna mentions how, one summer, she was in the middle of the lake canoeing, in a place where she felt completely secluded. “Out of what seemed like nowhere, I heard a buzzing sound,” she says, “So I asked my counselor about it, and they told me it was loggers, cutting down trees nearby. It was a moment of realization for me, where it became clear that the wonderful world I loved was being threatened. And I felt very deceived.” From that moment forward, Anna remembers hearing about climate change on the news and in various conversations, all along knowing that she wanted to help protect the places we live and the people who call them home.
Eric, coalition communications and policy associate, comes to Fresh Energy with over half a decade of experience in external communications and advocacy, having filled key roles at the Chicago Jobs Council and as founder of the Transit Table coalition, where he advocated for public transit on behalf of community-based organizations and helped pass legislation ending driver’s license suspension as a collection tool for ticket debts in Illinois.
When asked what drew him to climate and clean energy advocacy, Eric says, “Climate is one of the many intersectional issues that I care a lot about. I really want everyone to survive and thrive as much as possible, and that is connected to my previous work that, although had almost nothing to do with climate, was related to folks’ access to transportation and their ability to succeed in that realm.” About his current role in climate and clean energy advocacy with Fresh Energy, he adds, “Being able to now work on climate is another opportunity to come from a different angle to ensure that as many of us as possible survive and thrive—that there’s a world all of us, not just a handful of billionaires, can enjoy decades from today. And I truly believe that we have to come at it from that equity angle.”
Building a shared commitment to climate action
Justice, equity, and access are baked into all of Fresh Energy’s work, particularly the Public Affairs program as it spearheads Fresh Energy’s nonpartisan climate and clean energy advocacy at government and community levels. Justin says, “In the broadest possible way, our advocacy work with public decisionmakers is fully inclusive, and we think about our relationship with them as a partnership.” Justin adds that working alongside public decisionmakers to elevate community priorities is key: “When we go to the state legislature, a public agency, or city hall, we are holding the relationship of partners with that entity, to help support them in making decisions that don’t just align with Fresh Energy’s mission and vision, but that, based on the best data and technical advice, are in the best interest of all Minnesotans,” he says.
Fresh Energy has been a driving force behind the clean energy transition for nearly 30 years, using data, science, and expert knowledge of what is possible and what is needed to shape and drive bold policy solutions that achieve equitable, carbon-neutral economies. And the Public Affairs team’s role is crucial to our work—because our clean energy future also requires public and political will.
That’s why Fresh Energy is doubling down on reaching and inspiring people, driving nonpartisan public engagement to ensure that people from across the political landscape in Minnesota and the Midwest are mobilized toward a common vision of building an equitable, prosperous, decarbonized clean energy future for all who call our state home. Climate change must be addressed at the global scale just as it is addressed in individual communities, towns, and cities across Minnesota, the Midwest, and the United States as a country. “Climate change requires action at all levels,” says Anna. “By serving in this role and helping decisionmakers make the best, most informed choices, we are pulling the highest lever necessary in order to equitably decarbonize our economy,” she says.
Thanks to their individual skill sets and their ability to wear a number of hats at once, Justin, Anna, and Eric have a system down. “We work well together and communicate well,” Anna says, adding that—although there’s a fair amount of interaction between their respective responsibilities—she leads the team’s work at local government venues, Eric takes on federal government work, and Justin drives state level work as well as coordinating amongst the three of them and with other key Fresh Energy team members. Justin notes, “We have very specialized staff at Fresh Energy. The specialty of Public Affairs is that we’re all a little good at everything. That’s what allows us to work so well as a team. We might not all be good at exactly the same things, or think the same way, or have the same work styles, but there’s a high degree of interchangeability among the three of us.”
Besides Fresh Energy’s internal experts, the Public Affairs team also works closely with former State Representative John Berns. John began his relationship with Fresh Energy in 2007 while serving on the conference committee for the landmark Next Generation Energy Act and officially started working as a contract lobbyist for Fresh Energy in 2014. Now as a private attorney and lobbyist, John has continued that close collaboration with our team, providing key insights into the ever-changing politics and priorities in the Twin Cities and beyond.
Eric, whose role consists of supporting both Fresh Energy’s Public Affairs and Energy Transition programs, agrees: “As a team, we are strategic. We know that we don’t each have to know all of the content that encompasses the clean energy and climate spaces because we are able to channel the research and expertise of our deep bench of policy staff at Fresh Energy. And there’s so much value in that.” And, thanks in large part to the work of the Public Affairs team, 2021 has been a big year for Fresh Energy.
Sights set on 2022
Minnesota is unique in that it has a divided government and the only split-control legislature in the country. In Minnesota’s case, that means the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state auditor. At the Legislature, the Republican Party controls Minnesota’s Senate, while the DFL Party controls Minnesota’s House of Representatives. “It’s been that way here for several years, and, in many ways, that’s been the big challenge facing energy and climate advocates, especially Fresh Energy as we continue to drive nonpartisan climate and clean energy advocacy at all levels of the government,” Justin says.
He adds, “There’s been this overarching question of, ‘How do we navigate this divided political climate that we’re all living in, and actually get something done?’ And, in 2021, we did it! We had some breakthroughs and got some things done that had been years in the making.” In 2021, Fresh Energy successfully advocated for Minnesota to become the 15th clean cars state in the country, helped pass the bipartisan Natural Gas Innovation Act (NGIA), and championed and secured critical updates for Minnesota energy efficiency policy. Beyond the Legislature, Fresh Energy helped advocate for a stronger Hennepin County Climate Action Plan and worked with U.S. Senator Tina Smith to support a suite of landmark federal climate policies.
But the journey doesn’t end there. Justin, Anna, Eric, and John are confident that this climate and clean energy progress made within a divided legislature paints a picture of what’s possible across the Midwest and even nationwide. Justin says, “The fact that we could accomplish all that we did in a divided setting was useful beyond Minnesota and will have some regional or national reverberations. Looking ahead, our big challenge is to build on that and make sure 2021 has been the start of a new era and not an outlier in Minnesota’s political trajectory.”
With the Public Affairs team helping build strong, collaborative partnerships with decision makers and stakeholders at all levels of government and with consumers, elected officials across the political spectrum, labor unions, businesses, and communities—especially those most vulnerable to climate change—those of us at Fresh Energy are confident we’ll see continued climate and clean energy progress in the years ahead. Follow along with us as we continue working toward an equitable and prosperous clean energy future for all.
As Fresh Energy celebrates 30 years, we are shining the spotlight on the teams of staff that are carrying forward Fresh Energy’s long legacy of supporting an equitable, clean energy future for Minnesota and the Midwest.