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Minnesota Republicans no-show for environmental debate. All of them.

This scene, from a hiking trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), was probably not on the agenda at the College Republicans' fundraiser.

This scene, from a hiking trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), was probably not on the agenda at the College Republicans' fundraiser. Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

A dozen of Minnesota's candidates for governor were invited to present their plans to address the state’s pressing environmental issues at last week’s “Our New Environment” Minnesota Governors Forum.

Only six of those invited showed up. None were Republicans.

DFL candidates, among them DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, and former Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen convened at Hamline University on Jan. 24 to debate water quality, renewable energy, the controversial Enbridge Line 3 replacement, and the PolyMet copper-nickel mine.

The Republicans had other places to be. Republican candidates Jeff Johnson, Keith Downey, GOP Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dillworth, and Phillip Parrish were at a fundraiser for the University of Minnesota Duluth College Republicans at Glensheen Mansion. 

According to a Facebook event page, the fundraiser was intended to help send 22 members of the College Republicans to the Conservative Political Action Conference, to “become educated about the current political environment and develop conservative values.” CPAC is generally known for viewing climate and environmental science with wariness, if not outright hostility. Last year’s attendees were treated to presentations such as “Fake Climate News Camouflaging an Anti-Capitalist Agenda.”

Another GOP candidate, Woodbury mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, had a better excuse for missing the environmental forum: she was at a city council meeting that night. (Matt Dean, for his part, withdrew from the race the following morning.) 

In dodging the debate, the Republican hopefuls have left voters to make their own hunt for the candidates' positions. If they have them.

Johnson’s campaign website doesn’t expand beyond his pro-farming, mining and logging stance. Downey’s says he’d “approve the mines and pipelines to create clean industry and great jobs,” and Stephens’ website takes a strong anti-regulatory tone, saying farmers, miners, and loggers are “the best stewards of God’s creation.” Parrish’s website doesn’t mention anything related to the environment.

None of the Republican candidates’ websites mention climate change, renewable energy, or water quality.

Reached by phone, Parrish said he thinks government regulations are too burdensome to farmers, and that he supports pipelines and mines. He also called alarmism over climate change “a culture of death,” and raised suspicion over the transition from the term “global warming” to “climate change”—a frequent dog-whistle sounded by climate change skeptics.

For the record, global warming refers to the upward trend in average surface temperature and climate change refers to the effects of that temperature change such as extreme weather events, according to NASA. In Minnesota, climate change will mean increased flooding, hotter summers and disrupted natural processes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

City Pages reached out to Johnson’s, Downey’s and Stephens’ campaigns to clarify their environmental positions. The candidates either declined to comment or said they would not be available in time for this story.

As for the forum itself, the DFL-only event was congenial, but not without conflict.

The PolyMet copper-nickel mine was particularly divisive, with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Paul Thissen and Tim Walz in support. Walz said the metals it would mine are “part of the new energy economy,” because of their use in solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries.

DFL Rep. Tina Liebling, R-Rochester, and Rebecca Otto vehemently opposed mining near the Boundary Waters.

Acceptance of the danger of climate change was universal. On the Enbridge Line 3 replacement plan, Thissen and Walz said they they are open to replacing the existing line if a different route was chosen, while Coleman said he'd prefer a new pipeline to the aging one currently in use; the other candidates were more firmly opposed to a new Line 3. 

“I believe climate change is an emergency,” said Liebling. “We should not be building new infrastructure to continue with greenhouse gas emissions.”

“It is time for us to move as quickly and as swiftly as we can toward renewable sources,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. “I do not think the Line 3 pipeline makes sense.”

Thissen said he wanted to make expanding battery storage Minnesota’s “moon mission,” while Otto flaunted a clean energy strategy which includes tax credits for electric vehicles.

The Republicans’ absence was not lost on the attendees. “All candidates for governor were invited to participate tonight, only Democratic candidates showed up,” said Coleman. “Why on God’s green Earth would a Republican not show up to have this important conversation?”

The forum can be viewed in its entirety below.