Minnesota State Capitol Credit: Aine / Flickr

The student group held a news conference Wednesday asking for new regulations on greenhouse gases and fossil fuels.

A group of high school students Wednesday asked Minnesota’s new governor to pass an executive order to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and propose a plan to reduce the impact of climate change by promoting renewable energy.

A coalition of groups led by the clean change youth organization iMatter and Climate Generation’s Youth Environmental Activists have created an umbrella organization, Minnesota Can’t Wait, that offered lawmakers a 10-point “Green New Deal” platform. The initiative calls for generating all power from renewables, creating a statewide smart grid and ceasing construction of pipelines, including the controversial Line 3 Enbridge project.

The youth organization wants to end investment in any fossil fuel infrastructure and continue to make Minnesota a national green economy model.

The proposal is certain to meet some resistance in a state with a Democratic House and governor but a narrowly divided Republican Senate. Organizers said they remain optimistic because Gov. Tim Walz affirmed his support last year for the group’s regulatory proposal while campaigning. He also allowed the group to use his Capitol office for Wednesday’s news conference and agreed to meet with them.

Students affiliated with iMatter have already succeeded in pressuring city councils in Minnesota to create long-range climate action plans, including in St. Louis Park, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Grand Marais and Eden Prairie. At least 14 iMatter youth groups are active in the state.

Lia Harel, a senior at Hopkins High School in suburban Minneapolis, said she and several members of Minnesota Can’t Wait met with Walz in September and highlighted their proposal that the pollution control agency regulate carbon emissions. Walz has not shied away from speaking about climate change, mentioning it several times during his campaign and noting it again last week when introducing his new pollution control agency commissioner, Laura Bishop.

Minnesota Can’t Wait members said they understand the political barriers to greenhouse gas emission reductions, but Harel said they decided “we can no longer take action on just what is politically possible, but also what is necessary.”

Sophia Manolis, a senior at South High in Minneapolis, said Minnesota Can’t Wait is a response to the lack of action at the federal level fueled by a belief the state should remain a national level in combating climate change. “I’m optimistic,” she said. “We’ll see what he says. For the Green New Deal, I’m excited that some parts of it might get passed.”

Anna Grace Hottinger, a sophomore in the EdVisions Off Campus statewide online school, is new to political activism but quickly recognized what they’re up against. Many politicians, she said, receive money from fossil fuel interests, making change toward a clean economy all that much harder. Still, she believes the state could at least agree to a moratorium on future pipelines and pass Green New Deal legislation.

The argument that jobs could be lost during a transition to clean energy can be countered with data showing jobs in renewable energy now outnumber those in the fossil fuel industry, Hottinger said. The reality that climate change “impacts everyone” is becoming more apparent, she added, as the fires in California showed. Celebrities and lower middle-class residents saw their homes go up in smoke, she said.

Minnesota Can’t Wait grew out of the work of iMatter, Climate Generation and a group of youth intervenors who testified against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in regulatory proceedings at the Public Utilities Commission. They came together last year to lobby then-Gov. Mark Dayton to try to get him to require the pollution control agency to develop rules to regulate carbon emissions, said Sarah Goodspeed, youth and policy manager at Climate Generation. Dayton declined to take action.

The students’ proposals were put together with legal assistance from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and supported by several other environmental and clean energy organizations. Kevin Lee, the center’s climate and energy program director, worked with Minnesota Can’t Wait on the rulemaking proposal. The Legislature has granted the pollution control agency the power to regulate greenhouse gases, he noted, leaving the governor the option to simply give it the direction to begin the process.

Where that might lead remains a question. Minnesota could join one of the nation’s two cap-and-trade marketplaces, one in the East and other in California, Lee said. Or it could impose pollution limits on, say, industrial facilities or businesses.

Should the executive order come to pass, Minnesota Can’t Wait will want to see progress, quickly.

“What’s most exciting about this is that our youth are feeling a great urgency that their future is being put at risk,” Goodspeed said. “They don’t want to bicker about the details. They want urgent action because it’s their future on the line.  They’re putting a moral call for action out there.”

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College. Frank covers the state of Minnesota.