In Minn., a GOP climate booster is out. Green Dems are in

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — Long viewed as a high achiever in a region of climate complacency, Minnesota will gain five fresh voices in the 116th House of Representatives. At least three of them will be advocating for stronger climate and clean energy policies.

Democratic Reps.-elect Dean Phillips, Angie Craig and Ilhan Omar have all pledged to do more to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions under control and prepare Minnesotans for the current and emerging stresses of climate change.

Newly elected Republicans Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn have raised questions about the role of anthropogenic emissions in climate change, but both say they support “all of the above” energy policies, including more renewable energy.

“We’ll be watching closely to see how these new members perform, but it all depends on actions,” said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based advocacy group. “We need to hold our elected officials accountable now more than ever.”

Less notable but still important are the exiting Minnesotans — Republican Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis, and Democratic Reps. Tim Walz and Rick Nolan.

Walz, who is vacating his House seat to become Minnesota’s new governor, was a consistent supporter of progressive climate policies, while Paulsen and Nolan are members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, whose Republican members took a beating in last week’s elections (Climatewire, Nov. 7).

Experts say Paulsen’s suburban Minneapolis constituents lost confidence in the five-term incumbent after he refused to hold town hall meetings and tried to walk a perilous tightrope between supporting and challenging President Trump.

Trump last week named Paulsen as one of a number of GOP incumbents whose losses were in part due to their lackluster support for the president.

“Erik Paulsen didn’t want the embrace,” Trump said. “I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it” (Climatewire, Nov. 9).

Phillips, who beat Paulsen, is a wealthy businessman and political newcomer. His four-point climate policy agenda reads like a climate activist’s wish list compared with Paulsen’s “Johnny-come-lately” climate concerns.

“We didn’t leave the Stone Age because we ran out of rocks; rather, we discovered better ways of doing things,” Phillips said in his “Combating Climate Change” platform published online. “It’s the 21st century, and it’s time to accelerate our transition to a clean-energy economy, reduce our carbon footprint, and preserve and protect our planet for future generations.”

Phillips’ 11-point win in the Minnesota 3rd District was mirrored by Craig in the neighboring 2nd District. Craig defeated the one-term incumbent Lewis, a climate change skeptic, by 5 percentage points.

Craig, a health care industry executive, said reducing greenhouse gases “doesn’t have to be onerous,” pointing to Minnesota’s long track record of business, science and technology innovation to address long-standing problems.

Also departing is Nolan, a three-term Democratic House member. He’ll leave Congress after an unsuccessful bid to become Minnesota’s lieutenant governor. Many believe Nolan may be one of the last Democrats to win the formerly deep-blue 8th District, which has become increasingly red during the past four election cycles as the state’s mining and logging economies have struggled.

Nolan’s successor, Stauber, is a former police officer and current county commissioner who has not staked out a position on climate change but said he supports an “all of the above” energy policy and is wary of regulation. Experts are doubtful that Stauber would join the ranks of the Climate Solutions Caucus after Nolan’s and Paulsen’s departures.

Just yesterday, Stauber announced that his chief of staff will be Desiree Koetzle, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to Paulsen.

During Paulsen’s first eight years in Congress, the GOP lawmaker was a soft-spoken but unapologetic climate skeptic, once telling an interviewer in 2008 that he was not smart enough to determine whether humans were contributing to global warming.

Sensing his views were falling out of favor with his Minnesota constituents, Paulsen quietly tacked to the left and joined the Climate Solutions Caucus last May.

He also broke ranks in November 2017 by voting with Democrats opposing a measure to roll back an Obama administration timeout for a highly controversial copper-nickel mine near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (E&E News PM, Nov. 30, 2017).

Yet despite a television ad featuring Paulsen paddling a canoe and pledging his support for protecting the Boundary Waters, he could not overcome a lifetime 16 percent voting record with the League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed Phillips in June.

Richard Carlbom, a spokesman for Phillips, said the incoming congressman made climate change “a top priority in the campaign, and we anticipate that will continue in Congress.” He also cited Phillips’ business background and preference for market-based solutions as a major distinction between the congressman-elect and other climate-focused lawmakers.

For example, Phillips has endorsed a carbon fee and dividend plan advocated by the Climate Leadership Council. Such a plan would impose a gradually rising carbon fee on polluters and return all of the proceeds to taxpayers in the form of quarterly dividends.

But he also supports energy efficiency incentives, the extension of federal tax credits for renewable energy resources beyond their current sunset dates and more federal support for the construction of a clean-energy electricity grid.

Craig, who also has pledged support for market-based carbon reduction policies, was endorsed by LCV last fall for championing public health measures and focusing “on green jobs and enacting policies to combat climate change.”

Lewis, a former conservative radio commentator, largely echoed Trump’s recent comments on climate change, telling a local Minnesota newspaper last month: “The climate is always changing, it always has and it always will. If you’re asking me specifically, has the climate warmed? Yes, it has. It’s also cooled.”

Lewis received a 0 rating on LCV’s 2017 scorecard.