Coast to coast and throughout the heartland, U.S. cities are struggling to keep up with a grueling fight to ward off the human, environmental, and economic tolls taken by climate change. It’s true that Minneapolis is known nationally as a progressive leader, and has taken important and pioneering steps to promote sustainability. But just because we’re far inland and already thinking about this stuff doesn’t mean our work is done -- far from it, in fact.
Recent fights over air quality near the Northern Metals site and HERC plant underscore the need to act decisively, and listen to those most affected by environmental hazards in our community. But sustainability isn’t just about fixing problems. It’s about finding dynamic solutions that work for residents, businesses, and even the city’s bottom line.
The city needs to ensure it has financial reserves on hand to address challenges posed by our changing climate and opportunities in our current marketplace. This includes small-scale things like ensuring adequate treatment of the icy streets and sidewalks like last winter’s chaotic freeze-thaw cycle brought, in addition to bigger-ticket items like renewable energy development -- which would enable Minneapolis to both curb its reliance on fossil fuels and save taxpayers money by reducing the city’s energy bills.
Renewable energy and energy efficiency are increasingly affordable, and we need bring more of each to Minneapolis. I currently work to find these solutions as part of the Environmental Committee of the Hale-Page Diamond Lake Community Association. We need to move forward in a way that addresses outsize energy bills that especially burden low-income households. The long-term solution is reliable, affordable energy that is both sustainably produced and equitably distributed.
In Hennepin County, households earning less than 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold spend an average of nearly 30 percent of their income on energy bills. That is simply unaffordable and unfair. And in a city that is nearly half renters, we need to be thinking creatively about bringing sustainable solutions to everyone.
A more sustainable housing stock would benefit all of Minneapolis. Our homes could reduce energy use through better insulation, while rooftop solar provides a cleaner option that allows residents to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. City leaders should champion programs that supports residents in reducing their energy consumption, and at the same time continue to promote growth in our citywide composting effort in order to reduce the waste we feed into environmentally destructive systems.
My sustainability priorities include city action on:
Inclusive financing, a common-sense idea that would enable every Minneapolis resident to make energy-saving (and cost-saving) improvements to their home or business with no upfront expense. Where implemented, the program has flourished with little risk and allowed widespread adoption of energy improvements.
Rooftop and community solar. Wherever possible, the city itself needs to walk its talk -- by using rooftop solar to power its buildings and supporting new community solar, for example. This would also create local jobs in the fast-growing clean energy economy, and the city should support workforce development and hiring programs that favor under-represented communities.
Utility planning. Minneapolis also has a first-of-its-kind partnership with the two utilities that serve residents, offering a unique opportunity to advance a progressive energy vision. I look forward to supporting staff and the citizen leaders who advise this Clean Energy Partnership.
Increasing the utility franchise fee a nominal amount to add more than $2 million to the city’s coffers specifically to support sustainability initiatives. Minneapolis can be a pioneer by truly putting its money where its mouth is on climate action.
Zoning reforms that support density, which can help individuals dramatically reduce their carbon footprints including by creating walkable neighborhoods.
Sustainable transportation infrastructure that enables pedestrians and cyclists as well as transit to flourish in our city. Our transportation sector is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and that deserves serious attention.
Taken together, these initiatives can help fortify Minneapolis against ongoing risks imposed by climate change.
Our city’s reputation for forward-thinking policy must propel visionary action in our transition toward clean energy and zero waste. And any policy set forth must be guided by a stronger commitment to equity and environmental justice. Energy infrastructure planning, power sourcing, and related decisions need to prioritize environmental concerns, while also delivering benefits shared among all residents of our city.
I look forward to helping all of Minneapolis, including my Ward 11 community, make commitments to sustainability that will serve our city now and for generations to come. We have so much opportunity at hand, and we can’t afford to wait to transform bold ideas into a better reality.