How Minnesota's Transportation Bill Addresses Climate Change
The state's new transportation bill, backed by Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders who control the state Legislature and governor's office, will require agencies to pursue projects that reduce carbon emissions.
This article is a companion to the feature article, Big Transit Investments Included in Long-Sought Minnesota Budget Deal.
Urban transit gets a big boost in Minnesota’s new transportation bill, and that investment could have benefits to the environment and carbon emissions if more people decide to take a bus or train rather than drive a car. But the bill goes a step further to fight climate change as well, with new requirements for state agencies to track greenhouse gas emissions and make plans to minimize them in accordance with statewide carbon reduction goals.
“All of these entities have flowery, poetic language about how they want to address the climate crisis,” state Rep. Frank Hornstein, who co-sponsored the bill, says of state agencies. “But there’s a big difference between rhetoric and implementation.”
To help lower statewide emissions, Minnesota’s bill takes a page from Colorado. In 2019, Colorado passed a law setting timelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in various sectors. As part of the implementation process, the state’s Transportation Commission adopted a new planning standard, which requires the Colorado Department of Transportation and the state’s five metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to evaluate the emissions impact of their transportation plans and of individual roadway expansion projects, and to make plans for meeting their targets.
A related policy was proposed by the Federal Highway Administration last summer, which would require states and MPOs to set targets for emissions reductions and monitor progress. But the Colorado rule has more teeth, with guidelines for evaluating projects and achieving progress toward emissions reductions.
In Minnesota, as in Colorado, agencies will have to evaluate the impact of transportation plans by projecting travel demand. If a project would knock the agency off course to achieving its stated emissions reductions, it could use one of a number of mitigation measures to lessen the impact. Those measures include things like expanding transit service or infrastructure on a planned roadway, adding bike lanes, managing travel demand through vanpooling, promoting denser land use and transit-oriented development, and restoring natural areas, among other measures.
State Sen. Scott Dibble, a co-sponsor of the bill, notes that it also includes “historic investments” in active transportation, including bike infrastructure and trails.
According to an analysis from RMI, a clean energy think tank, Minnesota could save up to $91 billion by building more mobility options and reducing vehicle miles traveled in accordance with state goals. Savings come in the form of lower costs for drivers, fewer traffic injuries and deaths, and health benefits from cleaner air, among other things, according to the analysis. Hornstein cited those savings as another benefit of the bill’s climate components.
“I think this is actually very good fiscal policy as well as climate policy,” he says.