Center of the American Experiment unequivocally opposes the DRAFT Recommendations: Integrating Climate Information into MEPA Program Requirements changes to Environmental Assessment Worksheets and Environmental Impact Statements that would force project developers to account for their greenhouse gas emissions and identify mitigation strategies for projects emitting more than 25,000 tons per year.
We oppose the proposed changes because they will impose significant costs on Minnesota job creators and responsible governmental units (RGUs) for zero measurable environmental benefits. The changes will also allow the permitting process to become more politicized, especially as it pertains to replacing future oil pipelines and the proposed copper-nickel mines in Northern Minnesota.
Requiring these projects to conduct greenhouse gas emission estimates will open the door to frivolous lawsuits from environmental special interest groups, especially if a standardized format is not provided. I am therefore asking the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to withdraw this proposal from consideration.
Lastly, if EQB charges ahead with these misguided rules, we offer suggestions to improve them to address factors that play a larger role in regional warming than greenhouse gas emissions, which we believe is the more appropriate use of state and local regulations.
No Legal Basis
American Experiment does not believe there is any legal basis for these changes because the Next Generation Energy Act establishes greenhouse gas reduction goals, not mandates. As a result, these non-binding goals provide zero statutory authority to craft policy beyond the scope of the renewable energy mandates imposed in that law.
Furthermore, on April 1, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously ruled that the City of New York’s climate change lawsuit against Chevron and a group of other energy producers is without merit and must be dismissed. The court upheld the federal district court’s decision that the City’s claims are barred, holding that municipalities cannot “utilize state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions.
While recognizing that “[g]lobal warming is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today,” the court explained also that “[g]lobal warming presents a uniquely international problem of national concern” and “therefore is not well-suited to the application of state law.”
The purpose of state and local government is to address state and local problems. By enacting these new permitting requirements, the state of Minnesota is pretending that non-binding goals are mandates, and imposing additional burdens on RGUs.
Many States, and Countries, are Falling Short of Their Goals
Minnesota missed its first target of a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, but not for lack of trying. Since 2005, the state has spent tens of billions of dollars building wind turbines, solar, panels, and transmission lines to facilitate the development of renewable energy resources.
Minnesota is not alone in failing to meet its own greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. A new report from the Environmental Defense Fund shows that by 2030, 25 states and Puerto Rico are collectively projected to reduce emissions by 11 percent from 2010 levels, rather than the 45 percent needed to stay on track with their 2030 targets.
Furthermore, a new study from the Global Energy Monitor has found that China constructed an enormous amount of coal-fired electricity capacity in 2020. In total, China added 38,400 megawatts (MW) worth of new facilities, the equivalent of 40 Minnesota coal plants, specifically the Boswell Energy Center, which serves as the backbone to the Iron Range’s mines and paper mills.
The reasons why these governments are missing their goals are myriad. Reducing emissions is difficult and costly, and it often results in governments picking more expensive but less efficient technologies to replace reliable, affordable, carbon-emitting technologies.
For example, in late 2018, Metro Transit boldly proclaimed the agency would add electric vehicles to its fleet and stop buying diesel-powered buses entirely by 2022. However, after experiencing numerous problems with its eight electric buses in a pilot program, the agency has smartly announced a $122 million plan to purchase 143 buses that run on “biodiesel.”16 As the Department of Energy notes, “biodiesel” vehicles and conventional diesel vehicles are one and the same.
Federal, state, and local policymakers all have a poor track record of picking losers instead of winners when attempting to meet their climate goals. This is why EQB’s headlong rush to promulgate new permit requirements for non-binding goals is so misguided.
Huge Costs, Immeasurably Small Benefits
The proposed changes to the current environmental review process are onerous. Requiring project proposers to quantify how their projects may be affected—and affect—Minnesota’s climate trends will likely require hiring an outside consultant. Projects emitting more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent will also be required to identify potential mitigation strategies.
For example, EQB states the goal of the report is to:
“Support Responsible Governmental Units (RGU) in the quantification of their GHG emissions in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for all mandatory categories, the EQB should develop and disseminate guidance and tools, including a consistent and simple calculation method.
“All EAWs should provide a narrative discussion of the project’s climate adaptation and emission mitigation opportunities.”
“Additional stakeholder engagement should take place before any recommendations are implemented.”
All of this sounds good on the surface, but this bureaucratic happy talk quickly melts when you try to implement these programs.
How exactly do you calculate the greenhouse gasses emitted at projects?
In the case of a dairy farm, will project proposers simply be required to estimate how much methane the cows will emit based on enteric fermentation? How much is too much? Is there a limit? What is the reason for the limit? What is the enforcement mechanism? Will someone from MPCA audit the farm to make sure they don’t have “too many” cattle at the facility?
Should the emissions incurred to grow feed for the cattle be calculated, as suggested by environmental activist groups like the Land Stewardship Project? Should emissions from land-use changes be accounted for? Will land-use changes be required to “mitigate” emissions, such as expanding the buffer strip requirement?
What if the milk or cheese is sold out of state? Do you assume all of those emissions are attributable to Minnesota, or should the emissions be prorated to out-of-state users? Do you consider the emissions of farms in other states that may ship products to Minnesota?
These are thorny questions that will be difficult, if not impossible, to resolve using a simple calculator. As a result, these requirements will likely constitute an enormous cost for data that serves no practical function because completely eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions in the state of Minnesota would have zero measurable impact on future global temperatures.
Future Temperature Impacts Too Small to Measure
Using the same logic used by the Obama administration in developing the Clean Power Plan, which was widely considered to be the administration’s most sweeping climate change initiative, Center of the American Experiment has estimated the temperature impact of a net-zero Minnesota.
Had it not been stayed by the Supreme Court, the Clean Power Plan would have averted 730 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector annually, which would have averted 0.019 degrees C by 2100, according to the Obama administration’s own climate models. This amount is too small to accurately measure with even the most sophisticated scientific equipment.
Completely eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from Minnesota (achieving net zero) would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 161 million tons, or 146 million metric tons. This means completely eliminating emissions in Minnesota would yield a future temperature reduction of 0.003 degrees C by 2100.
If eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota will have zero measurable impact on climate trends, then there is zero credible basis for the EQB to argue that it is necessary or reasonable to force project proposers to quantify emissions from individual projects in the state. We must be realistic about what regulations in Minnesota can, and cannot do for the environment.
Politicizing the Permitting Process
In a December 2020 meeting where some aspects of the draft recommendations were discussed, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop implied that the data collected by these new requirements could one day be used to approve or deny new projects if new laws or regulations are enacted.
Using greenhouse gas emissions as a reason to approve or deny a project is problematic because greenhouse gas emissions are a global phenomenon. This means the marginal increase from any project in Minnesota will be small within a global context. This means the ultimate decision as to whether a given project is “worth the emissions” will be highly subjective.
For example, would a new sports stadium potentially be denied due to its carbon footprint? Because many people in the general public enjoy professional sports, it is highly unlikely that a politician would deny the construction of a new stadium based on its potential greenhouse gas emissions.
For more contentious projects though, like oil pipeline replacement projects or new iron or copper mines, regulators may declare that the emissions are too high. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where companies that donate to certain politicians find that their permits are approved, while companies that the politicians don’t like will see their permits delayed indefinitely as “more study” is undertaken.
This has inappropriately occurred with the Line 3 pipeline under the Dayton and Walz administrations without these greenhouse gas requirements, and the refusal to “follow the science” on pipeline safety instills zero confidence that this new criteria for approving or denying permits will be fairly applied.
Allowing greenhouse gases to play a role in whether a proposed project is approved or not approved appears to be the long-term goal of Commissioner Bishop, but this new regulatory power is ripe for abuse and will undermine the public’s faith in the permitting process. It may also drive economic development out of state.
Regulations Affect Business Decisions
Enacting onerous regulations in Minnesota could drive economic activity and jobs out of state and result in increased emissions. We have already seen that Minnesota’s regulations can cause companies to move out of state. Verso Paper and Gerdau Steel have closed their operations in Minnesota and may move their operations to other states or nations to escape high electricity costs in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s arcane liquor laws recently hampered our economy by sending would-be job creators out of state, as Tattersall distillery has announced they will be building a large cocktail hall in River Falls, Wisconsin, to avoid these onerous regulations.
When our regulatory environment incentivizes companies to leave the state, it harms our economy and likely causes a net increase in global emissions because in 2020, approximately 53 percent of Minnesota’s electricity was generated from resources that do not emit carbon dioxide.
Increasing the regulatory burden in Minnesota could have unintended consequences, such as incentivizing economic development to move to other states with higher carbon footprints or sending development to border towns. This would be a net negative for Minnesota’s economy and environment, as other states would gain jobs, and Minnesotans would travel further to access goods or services, increasing their carbon footprint.
Adding additional information that is ripe for political abuse to the already drawn-out EAW/EIS process will further delay new projects as opponents of those projects will challenge the accuracy of this subjective greenhouse gas information and write endless comments that would need to be answered by the project proposer.
Encouraging More Litigation
Minnesota has seen litigation over dairy farms that are seeking to expand their operations, this troubling trend will continue if the draft recommendations are adopted. Many local government officials are part-time public servants, not full-time experts.
Collecting data on greenhouse gas emissions and posting it publicly will provide ammunition to environmental groups who will encourage their members to barrage local government officials about the need to approve or deny a project based on greenhouse gas emissions. Or, they may use public pressure to increase the mitigation measures for projects over 25,000 tons per year.
Representatives from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy claimed these rules would reduce the lawsuits filed against the state for not having these requirements in place, but if the requirements are in place, organizations like MCEA will simply start suing RGUs, claiming they did not adequately consider the impact of greenhouse gases in a given permit. The end goal will be to delay projects the organization doesn’t like under these flimsy pretenses until project proposers give up and go away.
These additional permit conditions will increase the cost of development in Minnesota and eat up valuable time at meetings that may be better spent addressing other local government issues. By requiring greenhouse gas emissions for a given project to be posted, it will empower well-funded environmental activist groups to bully local-government officials in the hopes they will deny permits for new development.
Mitigation Requirements Will Drive Up Costs and Harm Low Income Communities the Most
Requiring companies to identify mitigation techniques for projects with more than 25,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions does nothing but increase the costs of projects, especially if RGUs require the adoption of some of these techniques to approve the permits. The problem with this scenario is that it drives up project costs, which ultimately harms the end consumer of the product. It is always low-income rural and minority communities who are harmed the most.
In fact, a group of Black and Latino Civil Rights Leaders in California, called The Two Hundred, are suing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) because the policies enacted by CARB to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are disproportionately harming these communities.
“California politicians are using anti-racist and environmentalist words to hide the regressive impact of their climate policies on the poor and people of color,” said John Gamboa, the co-founder of The Two Hundred, a coalition of prominent civil rights leaders, which filed a lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in Superior Court.
The lawsuit alleges that “the most staggering, unlawful, and racist components of the [state’s climate policies] target new housing” and are contributing to “resegregation.”
Hernandez has been a vocal critic of CARB policies requiring mitigation for new housing developments. These mitigation requirements often require reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) at new developments. For instance, if a person drives to multiple places a day — work, store, soccer practice, etc. — all of those miles are counted up. Then the VMT fee is calculated for the development.
The Two Hundred coalition estimates the cost of a house in San Bernardino County will jump anywhere from $40,000 to $400,000 because of VMT’s required mitigations. Unfortunately, the amount of VMTs that will require offsets will be determined by the state. Early guidance from California suggests that some areas of the state must reduce those miles by 15 percent. But Hernandez worries the language is vague and states that 100 percent of VMT must be offset in all projects. That is why there is such a wide fluctuation in cost estimates.
By increasing the cost of housing, Minnesota regulators would be perpetuating generational inequities by making it harder for low-income families to build equity in housing. Latino homeownership rates in California are well below the national average. In 2016, only 31 percent of African-Americans in the Bay Area owned homes, well below the already low rate of 41 percent black homeownership in the rest of the nation.
Making it more difficult to permit businesses in Minnesota will make housing more expensive and force good-paying manufacturing jobs to seek states where their operations are viewed as assets rather than liabilities.
Climate Impacts of Wind Turbines Must be Analyzed at Each Project
We unequivocally believe these rules should be withdrawn from consideration. However, if EQB is determined to move forward, we believe the temperature impact of wind turbines and solar panels must be addressed in the permitting process because an academic study by Harvard faculty in the peer-reviewed journal Joule, has concluded that wind turbines cause significant local warming near the earth’s surface that are orders of magnitude higher than those that would be caused by Minnesota’s emissions. Denying this science could make EQB and other state agencies vulnerable to lawsuits.
Wind turbines and solar panels produce electricity with no point-source carbon dioxide emissions, but However, this does not mean they have no impact on surface temperatures in the areas in which they operate. This significant local surface warming occurs near wind facilities because wind turbines redistribute heat within the upper and lower atmosphere by mixing boundary layers.
The study finds this surface warming caused by wind turbines exceeds the amount of warming that would be averted through reduced emissions, defeating the purpose of building the wind turbines in the first place.
According to the study, at least 40 papers and 10 observational studies link wind power to climatic impacts. Three of these studies relied on ground-based measurements, and seven relied upon satellite readings, thus demonstrating a real impact on local temperatures from turbine operation.
The study describes how wind turbines affect surface temperatures in detail, which we believe merits extensive direct quotation:
“The climatic impacts of wind power may be unexpected, as wind turbines only redistribute heat within the atmosphere, and the 1.0 W m-2 of heating resulting from kinetic energy dissipation in the lower atmosphere is only about 0.6% of the diurnally averaged radiative flux. But wind’s climatic impacts are not caused by additional heating from the increased dissipation of kinetic energy. Impacts arise because turbine-atmosphere interactions alter surface-atmosphere fluxes, inducing climatic impacts that may be much larger than the direct impact of the dissipation alone.
“As wind turbines extract kinetic energy from the atmospheric flow and slow wind speeds, the vertical gradient in wind speed steepens, and downward entrainment increases.15 These interactions increase the mixing between air from above and air near the surface. The strength of these interactions depends on the meteorology and, in particular, the diurnal cycle of the ABL.
During the daytime, solar-driven convection mixes the atmosphere to heights of 1–3 km.3
Wind turbines operating during the daytime are enveloped within this already well-mixed air, so climatic impacts such as daytime temperature differences are generally quite small.
At night, radiative cooling results in more stable surface conditions, with about 100–300 m of stable air separating the influence of surface friction from the winds aloft. Wind turbines operating at night, with physical extents of 100–150 m and an influence height at night reaching 500 m or more, can entrain warmer (potential temperature) air from above down into the previously stable and cooler (potential temperature) air near the surface, warming surface temperatures. In addition to the direct mixing by the turbine wakes, turbines reduce the wind speed gradient below their rotors and thus sharpen the gradient aloft. This sharp gradient may then generate additional turbulence and vertical mixing.”
Real-Life Temperature Observations
The study in Joule details real-life temperature observations from wind facilities in Texas. The study highlights a single Texas location where one of the world’s largest clusters of operational wind turbines (200 km2, consisting of open space and patchy turbine densities of 3.8–4.7 MW km 2) has been linked to differences in surface temperature in three observational studies.
Weighting the observations by the number of observed-years, the Texas location is 0.01 degrees C warmer during the day and 0.29 degrees C warmer at night.
If similar warming occurs in Minnesota due to the operation of wind turbines, then the amount of increased warming from wind turbines would be 2.6 times greater than the global warming averted through achieving a “net zero” Minnesota by eliminating all emissions (0.0038 degrees C by 2100) during the day and 76 times greater at night.
More Wind Equals More Warming
The Harvard study also sought to model the local surface temperature impact of generating 0.5 TWe of electricity in the United States using wind turbines. Temperature impacts were assessed using general circulation models (GCMs) and comparing these results to the observed warming impact measured by wind turbines in several other regions of the United States.
Figure xwindturbinewarming from the study shows that Minnesota would see temperatures rise by 0.3 to 1 degree C, on average, under this electricity generating scenario. This amount of warming would be more than 75 to 250 times higher than would be averted by completely eliminating the 161 million tons of GHGs (146 million metric tons) emitted by all sectors of Minnesota’s economy in the state in 2018.
Figure 1. According to the study in Joule, temperatures in Minnesota would increase, on average, between 0.3- and 1-degree C due to increased atmospheric boundary layer mixing caused by wind turbines. The increase in temperatures would be most significant at night, increasing temperatures by up to 1.1 degrees C.
According to the study, the amount of warming Minnesota would experience by generated 0.5 TWe of electricity (0.3 C to 1 C) would greatly outweigh the climate impact of achieving a net-zero electricity grid within the entire United States, which is lower than 0.2 degrees C in all emissions scenarios (See Figure xwindwarming2).
Figure 2. According to the study in Joule, generating 0.5 TWe of electricity with renewables will increase warming over the wind farm region by an average of 0.54 degrees C. In contrast, generating this amount of electricity would avert less than 0.2 degrees C in all emissions scenarios.
We believe this academic research indicates that there is legitimate scientific evidence suggesting there are serious climate drawbacks to EQBs suggestion that renewable energy certificates from wind can be used to offset greenhouse gas emissions from proposed projects.
In fact, the evidence is clear that ignoring the large, localized warming of wind turbines would be a much bigger disservice to the people of Minnesota than quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from a few hundred projects per year.
For example, in Appendix A of the draft recommendations, subsection 11 Water Resources, b, discusses various ways and circumstances in which permit applicants will need to estimate how climate change could affect water resources.
However, any possible increase in future global temperatures from rising emissions would be dwarfed by the large, localized warming of nearby wind turbines. This could increase melting rates for snowpack in the spring and potentially lead to much larger, more localized, and more immediate flooding than might occur if the turbines were not in operation.
Will EQB seek to “follow the science” when it comes to permitting wind and, to a lesser degree, solar projects based on their influence on local temperatures? Should RGUs consider these temperature impacts along with other factors like noise, traffic etc.?
Because policies meant to limit carbon dioxide emissions are ultimately designed to limit the warming of future global temperatures, EQB must consider the local surface temperature impacts of wind turbines and other generation resources as part of the permitting process if it decides to move forward with this misguided rulemaking. Failing to do so could open state agencies to lawsuits.
The concept of a green roof is essentially nonsense because, unlike white roofs, green roofs do not offset climate change. According to an academic study conducted by Berkeley Labs in the journal Energy and Building, concludes that so-called “green roofs” are a complete waste of money and achieve very little environmental benefit. The abstract of the study reads:
“White and “green” (vegetated) roofs have begun replacing conventional black (dark-colored) roofs to mitigate the adverse effects of dark impervious urban surfaces. This paper presents an economic perspective on roof color choice using a 50-year life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA). We find that relative to black roofs, white roofs provide a 50-year net savings (NS) of $25/m2 ($2.40/ft2) and green roofs have a negative NS of $71/m2 ($6.60/ft2).” Despite lasting at least twice as long as white or black roofs, green roofs cannot compensate for their installation cost premium.
Owners concerned with global warming should choose white roofs, which are three times more effective than green roofs at cooling the globe.”
Conclusion: The Costs Outweigh the Benefits
I believe Minnesotans should strive to reduce our emissions in the smartest ways possible. This means pursuing “no regrets” emissions reductions that result in fewer emissions and help save money. Requiring more red tape to the permitting process will harm our economy for zero measurable environmental benefits.
Because Minnesota’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions is so small, using these emissions as a criterion for approving or denying projects will be more subjective than scientific, paving the way for politicized permitting decisions.
For these reasons, I am asking the EQB to withdraw these changes to the EAW and EIS from consideration.