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Communities Still Wary of GreenStep Cities Program at 10 Year Mark

This week the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) heralds the ten-year anniversary of the GreenStep Cities climate change program that presses local governments to factor environmental sustainability into everything from budgets to ordinances, land use and long-range planning.

The program offers more than two dozen so-called Best Management Practices with 175 actions and lots of paperwork for participating communities. The recommendations include options that could significantly alter daily life like limiting parking places, reducing salt use in winter, mandates and bans on consumer products and packaging,  monitoring wood burning in fireplaces, encouraging keeping chickens and bees, even phasing in “bike, foot or horseback modes for police, inspectors and other city staff.” And that’s just the beginning.

On the GreenStep website and Facebook page, state officials tout the 131 cities and three Native American tribes involved in the program aimed at reducing communities’ “carbon footprint.”

Yet an American Experiment analysis reveals that a decade into GreenStep only a handful—a total of 15 Minnesota cities–has completed all five levels of the program. All but two did so within the last year.

At the same time, several cities have postponed or rejected participation in the increasingly controversial GreenStep program. Pushback from a group of concerned citizens led to a contentious public meeting in Little Falls that convinced local elected officials turn down GreenStep last year.

“We went in with about a dozen people and made a big stink,” said Greg Smith, a Little Falls resident. “We did our homework, we knew what we were talking about. We brought up all these issues and they promptly shut it down.”

The East Grand Forks City Council also recently discussed GreenStep but ultimately had as many concerns as the last time they passed over the program in 2014.

“At this point, it’s not on our front burner,” said David Murphy, East Grand Forks City Administrator. “We’re way up here in the northwestern part of the state and we try to stay off their (MPCA) radar as much as possible. We don’t go out of our way to invite them up here.”

RELATED: Plymouth Steps Back From Controversial GreenStep City Program

MPCA dangles the prospect of recognition by the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), grants and voluntary membership and compliance to entice city officials to join the program. Major funders and supporters include the Met Council and McKnight Foundation, along with leftist environmental organizations like the Great Plains Institute and Izaak Walton League.

But the program’s demands on city staff time, risk to taxpayers and threat to local control led the suburb of Minnetrista to avoid making the commitment.

“What many don’t understand is that the League of Minnesota Cities, the Met Council and the city engineering and law firms on LMC’s advisory boards all work together to promote these initiatives by unelected officials which are designed to grow government, increase taxes and give these organizations more control over private property,” said Minnetrista City Councilor Shannon Bruce.

The vast majority of cities and tribes that do join GreenStep—nearly 85 percent—remain at the program’s lower three levels with benchmarks often already met like tree planting and LED lighting for street lights and buildings.

The GreenStep Cities website indicates Nisswa has remained at the entry level since 2012. St. Cloud, one of six cities where the MCPA will celebrate GreenStep this week, has been on hold at step two since 2011. Hopkins and Newport have remained at step three since 2013.

Very few communities advance to the last two levels of GreenStep, where the program that bills itself as voluntary, imposes requirements to measure, report and show improvement on numerous “city performance metrics.”

“I think cities just find that it puts a lot of pressure on staff and they just abandon it once they realize that,” Bruce said. “That was one of my objections when they came to speak to us.”

A decade into GreenStep Cities, many Minnesota communities clearly remain wary of the program’s objectives and likely impact on their quality of life.

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