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Committees told capital projects should be ready for climate change

Minnesota’s weather is expected to get warmer, wetter and more violent. How can the state’s infrastructure be ready?

That was the topic of a joint meeting of the House Capital Investment and Climate and Energy Finance and Policy committees Friday. The discussion addressed the changing climate and how to not only slow its effects, but focus upon resilience in the state’s roads, bridges and buildings as changes occur.

To frame the issues, University of Minnesota Climate Science Professor Heidi Roop offered national statistics saying that 2020 tied for the warmest year on record, that 22 disasters occurred that cost $1 billion or more, and that damages from disasters cost a combined $95 billion.

The scientific consensus is that greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, among its most severe symptoms being extreme heat, drought, storms and floods.


Warmer, wetter and getting worse

Ten of Minnesota’s wettest and warmest years have occurred since 1997.

Roop said the state’s average annual temperature has increased by nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with winter lows in the northern third of the state up over 7 degrees.

And studies project it will likely get worse.

By mid-century, average winter minimum temperatures are expected to be nearly 10 degrees warmer than in 2010, and Minnesota will experience five to 15 more days above 95 degrees each summer.

Roop said extreme heat creates material stress on roads and buildings, bridge expansion joints, water infrastructure and railroad tracks.

Studies also project that winter and spring precipitation are expected to increase by 30% through the end of the century. By 2050, average annual flooding damages are projected to exceed $500 million in present-day dollars.


How could the state prepare for this?

Roop suggested a combination of mitigation — decreasing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions — and adaptation to the impending changes.

As to what adaptation may look like in the state’s capital projects, Jessica Hellmann, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, recommends a shift from being reactive to proactive. She offered examples of enhanced flood control, including Seattle increasing the size of its wastewater pipes and Washington D.C. investing in rain gardens, “green roofs” and permeable pavement.

Sam Rockwell, executive director of Move Minnesota, suggested Minnesotans drive less in order to slow climate change. Specifically, he cited a study showing that – to reach the state’s emissions reduction goals set out in a 2007 law – Minneapolis needs 38% fewer vehicle miles traveled, St. Paul 50% fewer.

“Every single car would have to be electric by 2030 in order to reach our carbon targets,” Rockwell said.

Transportation being the chief source of emissions was supported in the Pollution Control Agency’s new greenhouse gas emissions report, presented by Climate Director Frank Kolasch.

“Where we’re having the most focus, we’re seeing the most progress,” said Kate Knuth, policy consultant for the National Caucus of Environmental legislators, referring to a significant drop in emissions from electricity generation. “We are in a moment where we have a huge opportunity to make a more climate-safe Minnesota.”


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