A Metro Transit Green Line light rail train passes by U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A Metro Transit Green Line light rail train passes by U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Credit: Tony Webster / Creative Commons

The regional planning agency for the Twin Cities plans to take a closer look at its year-old climate action plan as part of its participation in a federal climate program.

The Metropolitan Council operates transit, wastewater, housing and other services for the seven-county metro area including Minneapolis and St. Paul, making it a key player in climate planning.

In 2022, the agency adopted its first climate action work plan, which calls for accelerating greenhouse gas emission reductions over the next five years from its own operations as well as the region as a whole.

With the ink barely dry on that document, regional officials now have a chance to scrutinize the plan’s potential impact thanks to a $1 million grant under the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

The council is among 46 states and nearly 70 metro areas participating in the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program. An initial round of funding this year is offering jurisdictions between $1 million and $3 million each to draft, update or evaluate a climate action plan. By participating, they will also become eligible later to seek implementation grants from a much larger $4.6 billion fund. 

The Metropolitan Council’s climate plan already emphasizes environmental justice, citing a need to focus on those who are “vulnerable due to a range of historical, social, and economic factors” and thus “have less ability to prepare for, deal with, or recover from climate change impacts.” The IRA grant will fund a benefits analysis to more closely study how its plan will affect various populations.

“We not only identify strategies that are going to have the biggest greenhouse gas emissions impact but will also promote outcomes that are good for communities typically burdened by climate impacts today, past actions and other environmental justice concerns,” said Lisa Barajas, the council’s executive director for community development.

Aurora Vautrin, legislative and political director for the 100% Campaign, a clean energy advocacy organization, said the federal grant allows the Met Council to dig deeper into regional data. By targeting low-income and disadvantaged communities, the agency could reduce carbon emissions and air pollution in areas that are overburdened.

“If we’re not paying attention to equity in these decisions, in places that are already feeling the impacts they’re going to continue to feel them at an accelerated rate,” Vautrin said. 

The agency will use some of the federal grant to continue gathering and analyzing greenhouse gas emissions, heat and tree canopy mapping, transportation data, community surveys, and data from federal agencies such as NASA, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Barajas said the council is also working on tools to help local governments, nonprofits and neighborhood groups use data to test different scenarios and make plans for mitigating climate change impacts.

“The research we are doing will provide data for cities, counties and neighborhoods to make sound decisions on adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change,” Barajas said. 

The Met Council will contract with community-based organizations serving environmental justice-defined populations and low-income and disadvantaged communities, she said. 

Barajas hopes the agency’s participation eventually leads to more funding from the larger, competitive grant pool set to open after the initial funding is dispersed.

“We want to bring together a plan where we’re identifying shared priorities and strategies that can impact the entire region,” Barajas said. “I think it’s an exciting opportunity.”

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.