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PCA: Greenhouse gas emissions dropping, but not nearly enough

Transportation, electricity generation and agriculture account for 70% of Minnesota's emissions. Electricity generation emissions fell 29% between 2005 and 2018, PCA officials say, but overall reductions haven't met the state's goals. File photo

In 2007, the Next Generation Energy Act was signed into law. It set in statute several goals for the state, including specific reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Are we meeting those goals?

Not according to the Pollution Control Agency.

The act set a goal of 148.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. But the state produced 165 million tons that year and only went down to 161 million tons in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available.

That’s the main upshot of a presentation to the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday. But PCA Climate Director Frank Kohlasch went further in breaking down the agency’s greenhouse gas emissions report by sector.

Together, transportation, electricity generation and agriculture account for 70% of the state’s emissions. While emissions were down 29% in the electricity generation sector between 2005 and 2018, the transportation sector is only down 7.5% while agricultural emissions are up 8.3%.

 

Transportation

Kohlasch said transportation is the largest source of emissions, being driven by light- and medium-duty vehicles, which make up more than half of all transportation emissions. In 2018, light-duty trucks produced over 15 million tons of emissions; passenger cars 8 million; heavy-duty trucks 6 million; and aviation 4 million. Kohlasch added that increased fuel economy standards are the chief reason transportation emissions have gone down.

The agency made recommendations on how best to meet the 2007 law’s emissions standards. In the case of transportation, it said that the implementation of clean car standards would make the biggest difference. Increased use of electric vehicles is a big part of that conversation.

Electricity generation

Electricity generation is a close second to transportation in greenhouse gas emissions — each sector produced about 40 million tons in 2018 — but it’s the sector that’s closest to meeting the emissions goals set out in the Next Generation Energy Act. Changes in the means of producing electricity are driving the drop, according to an accompanying Commerce Department report.

Between 2005 and 2019, coal has gone from producing 62% of the state’s electricity to 30%. Meanwhile, renewable sources like wind and solar accounted for 6% in 2005 and are now up to 24% of the total. Also quadrupling its percentage of the electricity producing load was natural gas, up from 5% to 21%. Nuclear power has held steady at 24%.

The PCA advocates for a move to 100% clean energy to sustain the emissions reduction momentum.

 

Agriculture, forestry and land use

Because these three categories are grouped together, the emissions report is a mixed bag. Kohlasch said nitrous oxide and methane emissions produced in agriculture have a higher climate impact than carbon dioxide emissions that make up the bulk of the transportation and electricity generation sectors. Meanwhile, forest regrowth offers a significant offset for emissions.

House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee 01/19/21

For the sector overall, crop agriculture is the chief source of emissions, with about 27 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2018. Animal agriculture is next at 11 million tons. Kohlasch said the rise in agricultural emissions from 2005 to 2018 was chiefly due to more acres put into production, but said that increased adoption of best management practices — such as cover crops and conservation tillage — would shift the emissions trend.

The report said that residential emissions are up 32%, industrial emissions 18%.

“They’re smaller sectors,” Kohlasch said, “but they’re going in the wrong direction.”

“Farmers are saying that these best practices help their soil and their bottom line,” said Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield). “I really appreciate the state’s goal of having 1 million acres in best practices, but that’s still only 4% of our farmland.”

Rep. Shelly Christensen (DFL-Stillwater) asked if the PCA has any data about what COVID-19 has done to reduce state emissions.

“The latest numbers I’ve seen say that, in 2020, scaling back transportation and industrial, we will see a 7% reduction,” Kohlasch said. “But we believe that we will return to pre-COVID emissions within a year.”

Rep. Greg Boe (R-Chanhassen) asked what was driving the increase in emissions from agriculture.

“The biogeochemical processes for crop agriculture release methane and carbon dioxide,” Kohlasch said. “That’s why you can see lower emissions with more cover crops. There are a lot of opportunities in that sector. In the animal sector, we’re looking at methane from manure. Some of that is burping, but also the waste management.”

Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) asked if the state was looking to place mandates in agriculture similar to those in the transportation sector.

“We’re looking to build upon the existing practices that Minnesota has put into place,” Kohlasch said. “We’re excited about the land and water management programs.”


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