Frontiers: Adventures in carbon reduction

Electricity transmission lines

Environmentalists in the United States have long pushed for reductions in carbon emissions. Now, it seems the era of carbon regulation may be upon us.

Portrait: J. Drake HamiltonBut implementing these complex regulations is complicated and takes place at both the federal and state levels. This was the topic of Fresh Energy science policy director J. Drake Hamilton’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture last Wednesday, April 30 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “Adventures on the Frontiers of Carbon Reduction,” Hamilton emphasized the need to educate the public on new and existing policies impacting carbon emissions for broader public involvement.

“As we go into this new world and some of the adventures of this new world of carbon regulation that has not happened before, everyone will need more of a working knowledge about what has already happened and what is possible, but we’ll need more people talking about these issues to policymakers, to opinion-leaders, and to their colleagues,” she said. “We will need much more engagement in order to be successful.”

A proposed rule expected to be issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency next month is bringing the issue of carbon regulation to the forefront. The regulation will impact existing power plants and is expected to be finalized after a year-long public comment period. By June 2016, states will need to develop implementation plans to allow them to meet the new standard.

Carbon reductions at the state level is where Minnesota’s policies surrounding energy have laid a solid foundation, according to Hamilton.

“We have a very strong base in Minnesota and in many other states in that in determining our mix of electricity we use least cost principles, and there have been very recent examples in Minnesota of how–based on just economics–wind power and solar energy have come out ahead of all other competitors,” she said. “In addition, Minnesota utilities or regulators or a combination thereof have found ways that we can retire and replace, so far, 10 coal burning units in Minnesota and those retirements and replacements are happening in every region of the state of Minnesota. So some of it is already happening because of good energy policy that is driving down carbon emissions and we need to move faster and further there.”

In order to make progress toward carbon reduction goals, Hamilton believes a collaborative approach bringing together multiple interests is essential.

“At Fresh Energy and with many of the partners we work with, we don’t think about people as opponents on an issue,” Hamilton said. “We think there is a great deal in the way of shared core values and shared world views. There are certainly divergences in world views, but I think that’s what makes life interesting and I think that means that we may need more people coming to the table as stakeholders to talk about how Minnesota is going to move forward on implementing carbon reductions because we will get a better outcome.”

To say that reducing carbon emissions is going to be a challenge is an understatement, but Minnesota is well-situated to be a leader in the field. Most importantly, it’s imperative not to become overwhelmed by the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from power plants. Inaction simply is not an option, according to Hamilton.

“When you look around at your future kids and grandkids and you think about what we knew about climate change, its impacts, what the world scientists were saying we needed to do right away and those future kids and grandkids ask you what you did back in 2014, we need to tell them we did everything we could to fight climate change,” she said. “And Fresh Energy goes on from there. We need to tell them we did everything we could to fight climate change, and it worked.” 

Watch Hamilton’s full presentation online.

John Sisser is a communications assistant with the Institute on the Environment.