Saint Paul Capitol at sunset

A Clean Energy Victory & Unfinished Business

by Nels Paulsen,
Policy Director

Usually, the final day of the state legislative sessions is eventful, as both the House and the Senate scramble to pass numerous policy and budget bills before time runs out. Monday was this year’s final day of regular session, the Legislature did not meet this deadline, so a special session will be required.

Before adjourning, the state Legislature did pass significant legislation that will help drive Minnesota toward a clean energy future. The ECO Act was passed by both the House and Senate and is now expected to be signed into law by Governor Walz.

The ECO Act of 2021—the Energy Conservation Optimization Act—is a bipartisan bill authored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) and Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City). ECO builds on the state’s successful energy efficiency plan, the Conservation Improvement Program. The legislation increases annual energy-savings goals and raises commitments to energy conservation programs for low-income households. In doing so, the ECO Act contributes to emissions reductions, energy innovation, job creation, and consumer cost savings.

The ECO Act is part of Governor Walz’s package to put Minnesota on a path to 100% clean energy by 2040. This bill was a major priority for Conservation Minnesota this session and proves it is possible to find innovative bipartisan solutions rooted in compromise and coalition building. We’re proud to see it advance to the governor’s desk.

Before session adjourned, Governor Walz, Speaker Hortman, and Leader Gazelka agreed to general budget targets, initial federal funding guidelines, and a tentative plan for completing legislative business during a special session in June. This agreement dedicates a $30M increase in the state’s environmental budget, and it dedicated $12M in federal funding to help support the Minnesota Zoo. They did not make specific budget or policy recommendations, and the Legislature has work to do to complete unfinished budget and policy bills.

The special session is expected to begin by June 14, leaving just two weeks to reach compromise to avoid a government shutdown on July 1. While we are excited by the passage of the ECO Act and what it could mean for the future of bipartisan compromise, many of our priorities are included in unfinished Omnibus bills.

Progress has already been made on the Commerce & Energy Omnibus and the Legacy Omnibus, but the Environment & Natural Resources Omnibus Bill remains stuck at an impasse. Republican Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen has threatened to withhold environment funding unless Governor Walz agrees to delay the Clean Cars Minnesota rule by two years, jeopardizing the future of the rule and threatening progress toward reducing transportation emissions.

The environment bill impasse threatens important funding for the state environmental agencies, including our state parks, the Minnesota Zoo, and the Science Museum. If compromise can’t be reached before a government shutdown, state parks will close as we head into 4th of July weekend.

Additional legislation such as Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) recommendations, toxic PFAS reduction, local climate resiliency grants, pesticide restrictions, and environmental justice policies also hang in the balance.

As the Legislature continues its work through June, we will coordinate with our allies and partners on both sides of the aisle to fight for Minnesotans' priorities. Despite missed deadlines and partisan conflict, there is still an opportunity to come together and pass important legislation. We’ll keep you informed on progress and provide opportunities for you to protect the Minnesota you love.