Minnesota River cresting (copy)

Flooded Minnesota River water swallowed up trails and roadways around the Interstate 35 West bridge in Burnsville during the river’s crest in early 2019. Rainfall and flooding have increased around Minnesota over the past several decades due to a warming climate, state scientists say.

Minnesota can and must do more to address climate change and other environmental issues, three Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates for Savage’s state Senate seat said Thursday evening.

Lindsey Port, Kevin Shea and Richard Tucker all spoke on their climate policy stances during a public forum held by the advocacy groups MN350 Action and the local Southwest Metro Climate Majority Project over Zoom and Facebook.

State Sen. Dan Hall, the District 56 Republican they hope to unseat in November, was invited but didn’t attend, organizers said. The primary vote to choose which candidate will face Hall is in August.

Port, Shea and Tucker broadly agreed on multiple points, including that climate change is happening, humans are responsible and society will face grave consequences if it doesn’t change its use of coal and other fossil fuels.

The trio also supported several of the same policy goals, such as pushing Minnesota to 100% renewable energy, a tax of some kind on companies’ carbon emissions and improving public transit. Shea, an attorney, pointed to the idea of opening up the Dan Patch Line rail to commuters in particular.

“We need big, bold solutions. We cannot continue to put a Band-Aid on things,” said Port, a nonprofit director who has received the DFL Party and MN350’s endorsements in the race. “It’s not working, and we don’t have time.”

Carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are capturing more heat from the sun, disrupting weather patterns and harming ecosystems, crops and people, according to climate researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and around the world.

Over the past century or so in Minnesota, these changes have mainly led to warmer winter temperatures and more rainfall and flooding in the average year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has found. Federal and state scientists also expect those trends to continue without a drop in emissions.

As a result, Minnesota has adopted a mandate requiring that a certain portion of its energy is renewable, and Gov. Tim Walz and other Democrats have pushed to raise those standards.

Legislative Republicans have generally opposed those efforts as unnecessary and heavy-handed. Some have been open to driving down carbon emissions by allowing more nuclear power or encouraging the use of technology to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Several remain skeptical or dismissive of the problem, including Hall, who has previously said he believes climate is beyond human influence and that there are more important issues to worry about.

“I do not believe the world will end in 12 years or a hundred years,” Hall said at the GOP caucus night in February at Prior Lake High School.

MN350 has said it hopes to flip Hall’s district because of such sentiments, and the three DFLers criticized him and others.

Shea said some Republicans are “living in some parallel universe” where climate isn’t a concern. Tucker, a Realtor, said he would love to partner with Republicans who acknowledge the problem and find shared solutions.

“What a novel idea,” Tucker said. “We have kicked the can down the road for 40 years — for more than 40 years.”

The three candidates also repeatedly noted environmental problems, such as pollution from power plants or the routes of freeways, disproportionately harm poorer and non-white people. Environmental policy is intertwined with racism, health and other societal issues, they said, and must adapt to them.

“I look at it as a human rights issue,” said Shea.

The candidates differed on some points, such as their higher priorities or specific policy details. Tucker several times mentioned the need to electrify buses and cars, for example.

Shea emphasized the use of incentives, such as rewards for businesses choosing more sustainable operations and penalties for doing otherwise. Port said the free market isn’t the solution to the crisis and that the state should throw its weight around, such as by investing heavily in renewable energy.

Port, Shea and Tucker shared some of the steps they’ve personally taken to be more environmentally friendly, such as composting and eating a more plant-heavy diet. But they all said wider policy changes, and the representatives to make them, are needed.

“Your vote is the single most important individual action you can make,” Port said.

Community editor

Dan Holtmeyer is the community editor for the Prior Lake and Savage papers. He grew up in Nebraska and worked as a journalist in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas before coming to Minnesota in 2018.

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