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Republicans want China to reduce emissions before Minnesota does

By Friday, more than 11,000 Minnesotans had sent comments to the Public Utilities Commission urging it to shut down two of Sherco's generators.

By Friday, more than 11,000 Minnesotans had sent comments to the Public Utilities Commission urging it to shut down two of Sherco's generators.

The Clean Power Plan, a federal law asking the nation for a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, is just part of President Obama’s plot to crush Minnesota jobs, Republicans in the state legislature say.

Since global warming is, after all, a global phenomenon where the biggest culprits are China and India, any effort that America takes to reduce emissions would be mostly pointless, says Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), chairman of the Minnesota House jobs and energy committee. 

On the other hand, Minnesota would have a lot to lose if it complied with federal law, namely the Sherco coal plant in Becker. The plant is the largest in Minnesota, hiring workers 1,000 at its peak and accounting for more than half of Becker’s property taxes. Yet under the Clean Power Plan, Sherco would have to close, Garofalo insists.

“Every citizen’s property taxes would have to double, and that doesn’t take into account the hundreds of jobs that would be lost,” says Garofalo. “That power plant is well more than half of taxes in that school district.”

Depriving Becker children of schoolbooks does make a disturbing thought, but some locals would call that fear-mongering.

Rose Thelen, a Clearwater resident of more than 20 years, lives just six miles away from the Sherco plant. She can see the smokestacks billowing from her yard, a line of soot clouding the horizon. “It’s nasty,” she says. “It’s a monster.”

Thelen knows her local representative, Jim Newberger (R-Becker), would say that the coal Sherco burns is relatively low-sulfur coal, and that the plant has scrubber technology to capture most of the coal particulates before they're released in the air.

But she also knows that it takes but a mere teaspoon of mercury to pollute a 40-acre lake, and that there’s too much cancer in her neighbors, too much asthma in the schools.

“The other thing of concern was how politicized the issue became right away,” she says. “It was all about how this was going to destroy jobs, the local economy, as if we were going to be sitting in the dark with a candle for light and warmth.”

The concern for jobs is valid, Thelen says, but local Republicans and their coal lobbyists, who spoke at recent public hearings, might be more convincing if they contemplated how jobs might be created in the clean energy economy that America’s heading toward.

Turns out Xcel Energy's voluntarily picking up slack — it recently announced that it would increase renewable generation and retire coal in two of its units by 2026.

Garofalo, for his part, drives a Tesla and has dreams that everybody else in Minnesota might one day afford the $70,000 electric car as well. Last year, he proposed a bill that would take part of the state’s solar subsidies and put it toward incentives for electric car purchases. Gov. Mark Dayton ultimately rejected the measure.