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House committee hears that when it comes to climate change, where you live matters

Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls) presents his bill that aims to modify state policy to consider cumulative pollution before issuing state air quality permits during the Feb. 3 meeting of the House climate and energy committee. (Screenshot)
Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls) presents his bill that aims to modify state policy to consider cumulative pollution before issuing state air quality permits during the Feb. 3 meeting of the House climate and energy committee. (Screenshot)

Climate change has been cited as a cause for the increased frequency of some high-visibility disasters like forest fires, storms and floods. But its effects aren’t distributed evenly throughout the state’s population.

That’s according to multiple testifiers at Thursday’s meeting of the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee. Lower-income Minnesota residents and people of color tend to live closer to sources of pollution and have greater difficulty guarding against severe heat events, they said. And that means more illness and shorter life expectancy.

Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls) sponsors HF3146, a bill designed to address air quality issues in those communities. It would modify state policy to analyze and consider cumulative pollution before issuing an air quality permit. In other words, it would bring historical context to the decision-making process, and endeavor to not have the same communities living with poor air quality that have been doing so for decades or more.

While the bill, which lacks a Senate companion, is likely to make its first official stop in the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, it played a supporting role at Thursday’s climate and energy meeting, as the subject was “climate justice.”   

Providing the Biden administration’s perspective on what that term means was Cecilia Martinez, until recently senior director for environmental justice in President Biden’s Council on Environmental Quality.

Martinez said that group was a coalition of representatives from business, energy and various other areas. It had developed some basic tenets around climate justice, both at the national and international level: “no community will be left behind,” “climate is strongly intersectional with air quality,” and “a healthy transportation system” is needed.

“The more we can align at the state and local level with the federal government’s initiatives, the more we can make a difference,” Martinez said.

How climate change is affecting state residents was addressed by Frank Kohlasch, climate director for the Pollution Control Agency.

After speaking of how a rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases causes air pollution, extreme heat, floods, drought and ecosystem threats, he detailed such consequences as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, heat stress and illness, mental stress, and increased incidence of Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

Kohlasch added that these problems will be exacerbated in communities in which health care access and economic instability are prevalent. He used as examples those who don’t have access to air conditioning or live with high levels of toxins in their housing or neighborhoods.

Kathleen Schuler, policy and finance director for Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, suggested a carbon-free economy would go a long way toward bringing about climate justice.

Rep. Spencer Igo (R-Grand Rapids) contended that the issue of climate justice needed to extend to the mining industries providing the materials for carbon-free energy sources.

“These policies are leaving a lot of communities behind,” he said.

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