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Global warming seminar features Gore film, faith presentation

Energy conservation and renewable fuels measures cut across all legislative panels more than ever before, says Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids. "Things have changed in the Statehouse in Minnesota," Sailer said Saturday as keynote luncheon spea...

Energy conservation and renewable fuels measures cut across all legislative panels more than ever before, says Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids.

"Things have changed in the Statehouse in Minnesota," Sailer said Saturday as keynote luncheon speaker to a global warming seminar at First Lutheran Church.

The tone was set early in session, when a joint meeting of eight House and Senate committees heard about climate change issues from the experts, including Minnesota polar explorer Will Steger, and from the religious community.

"It made a huge impression upon me," Sailer said. "The fact now is that so many of the big businesses, even energy companies, with the exception of Exxon Mobil, have come to realize that this is a real thing, that we really have to do something about it."

"Global Warming: A Faith and Community Challenge" drew about 50 participants, which included two showings of former Vice President Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and a presentation on global warming from a faith perspective by Tim Kautza, an environmental specialist with the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

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Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann announced during the luncheon that next Saturday, with Sunday Earth Day, he will sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Sailer, who is vice chairwoman of the House Energy Finance and Policy Division, outlined a number of measures the Legislature is doing to cut Minnesota's dependence on foreign oil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a contributor to global warming.

They include one of the first bills sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a renewable energy standards bill which calls for 25 percent of all electrical power in the state to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2025. The measure moves Minnesota beyond just wind, Sailer said, by including solar, methane digesters, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen, hydro and other sources.

"Before, when we talked about renewable energy, a lot of it was just wind," she said. "We made sure that we expanded beyond wind in our bills, and expanded the definitions to talk about solar energy, biomass which could have big implications for our area, geothermal, so they all now will qualify for many programs and opportunities."

A wide range of measures in the House, she said, include:

E $3.1 million for a rural wind energy revolving fund.

E $2 million for a grant to the Center for Rural Policy and Development to create a rural wind energy program.

E $3 million to the University of Minnesota for its Renewable Energy and the Environment program, of which 15 percent is allocated to projects at a rural campus or experiment station.

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E $10 million for a renewable hydrogen initiative, to be matched privately.

E $2 million a year for four years to subsidize the installation of E-85 pumps throughout the state.

A number of smaller grants will foster research in plasma torch gasification to convert municipal solid waste to energy and slag, biomass gasification, geothermal and heat pump systems and renewable energy projects grants.

"We're carefully looking for policy that sends us forward, that is forward thinking," Sailer said, "and policy at the same time that will provide for economic development. ... A lot of what we're looking at is funding research, because if we're going to go from where we're at today in terms of our energy sources, we need to do some research."

And Bemidji State University is poised to join in that, she said. "We are very well situated here at Bemidji, with BSU and some great educational institutions that are poised and ready to go."

A controversial measure still on the table is the Global Warming Mitigation Act, which is opposed by utilities as it would bar new coal-fired power plants in Minnesota or additional power from new out-of-state power plants without a state "cap and trade" program in place.

A cap and trade program, which opponents say is several years away from being adopted in Minnesota, would place an emissions cap with a schedule for lowering it to help meet emissions reduction targets. A system for credits could be traded with projects in other states that show quantifiable emissions reductions below targets.

"We're saying that the state of Minnesota has a vital interest in preventing or mitigating the effects of global warming," Sailer said. "We need to fine ways to reduce Minnesota's greenhouse gas emissions."

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Planning now for long-term reductions will reduce the need for disruptive reductions later, she said, adding that "it's the ounce of prevention now that's worth the pound of cure later, and I hope that we're not at the pound of cure right now and still working on some ounces of prevention."

The act would also seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent below 2005 emissions levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

"We don't have a cap and trade system in place, but we are moving toward that," Sailer said. "I firmly believe getting a cap and trade is one of the more important things we can do."

With the seminar sponsored by Bemidji area churches and the Catholic Diocese of Crookston, along with several other environmental entities, Kautza focused on expected impacts of climate change in Minnesota and the world and how Scripture, Christian social principles, native wisdom and spiritual leaders call people to respond.

Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, who also spoke at the lunch, found it appropriate that the church she grew up in as a child, First Lutheran, was hosting the event.

"We've really made some wonderful strides in Minnesota," Olson said of current legislative work. "Minnesota is probably first in the country in terms of the standard we set for renewable energy."

Regardless of religious affiliation, she said, "we all appropriately feel a responsibility and have a responsibility for the type of Earth we leave behind."

For Christians, there are lots of citings of that responsibility in the Bible, Olson said. "Most faiths share that concern and that responsibility."

She asked participants of what kind of world would be left to our grandchildren with a 3 to 7 degrees change in northern Minnesota. "Most of us grew up and live here because we appreciate the beauty of our lakes and our woods, the opportunity to go out and hunt, to bring our children out fishing. That's part of our tradition.

"That 3 to 7 degrees climate change will basically eradicate those opportunities for our grandchildren," Olson said. "This will not be the same world that we've known and that has been here for all the generations up to this point."

Steps need to be taken now, she said, admitting that costs come with those steps. "In community like ours, where we're not particularly wealthy, as legislators we try to be cognizant of those considerations. But at the same time, we know that if we don't take steps, even if there is some cost involved, that the world we would leave behind is not the world we would want our grandchildren living in."

Lehmann, noting his time on the Bemidji City Council in 1996 when the city celebrated its centennial, said the council then dedicated the next 100 years to the city's youth.

"That's an easy thing to say," Lehmann said, "but it's what we leave to the youth of 100 years from now that is what's important. We can say things all we want, but if we don't take some kind of steps and measures to provide them the same opportunities and same environment that we have today, we've really missed things."

Lehmann plans to sign the climate protection agreement between 9 and 10 a.m. Saturday, prior to the start of a League of Women Voters of the Bemidji Area forum on Lake Bemidji's water quality at the Beltrami Electric Co-op community room.

The mayor also used the event to assure participants that an eventual regional events center OK'd by the City Council will be as "green" as possible.

"As we continue to investigate the possibility of putting an events center here, we've also made the commitment that this is going to be as green a building as is economically possible," Lehmann said. "We don't want to continue to add to the environmental issues that we are all struggling with today, but at the same time, it's also going to be more cost effective in the long run to provide the energy to operate the building that we're talking about."

The city has been proactive, he said, noting the shoreland overlay ordinance passed a few years ago. "We see the importance of the lakes and trees and the environment that we have here as something that not only we all enjoy, but as something we can market as a community."

But that also means being stewards of that environment, he added. "We're always striving to do things better."

Pat Welle, an environmental economics professor at BSU, said a faith-based approach to environmental stewardship aids him. "Our obligation to future generations is a great motivator. People with the least wherewithal can least adjust, so it is a social justice issue."

Welle said Americans "must do what we can to change our lifestyles, as global citizens."

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