In the early 2000s, I became involved with the Environment Committee of the West Side Citizens' Organization. When we'd moved into our home on the West Side in 1998, I could see a large smokestack through my bedroom window. I was shocked to learn that the High Bridge power plant was a coalburning utility, right in my neighborhood. This started my volunteer activism: I researched the negative effects of coal-generated electricity, started the Clean Energy Now coalition, and helped organize community members here and in Minneapolis to band together and empower people to ask for what they wanted.
Together we created a big victory when Xcel agreed to convert both the High Bridge and Riverside plants to natural gas. Since the 1970s Clean Air Act, only 3 coalburning utilities in the entire nation had converted plants to natural gas. We got two more to convert right here in the Twin Cities.
That's the kind of progress and leadership St. Paul needs to take on energy policy — and to address other issues.
This short documentary shows you how we did it.
So what's next? We can't stop there. Natural gas is just a stopgap measure. Let's invest in community-owned solar and help people (especially low-income renters) to live in energy-efficient housing and save money.
I'm a strong believer in both locally-owned businesses, and living wage policies. In 2005, I wrote and produced a short documentary shown on Work Day Minnesota that was considered for the national Media Matters award. It shows how the assumed benefits of having Wal-Mart come to St. Paul didn't measure up to the reality, and how our civil society often has to absorb the real economic and social costs of big box stores.
So what's next?
I support the $15 Now campaign. We need to pass a phased-in $15 per hour wage so individuals and families can pay for the basics in life. A Minneapolis study says 71,000 families are lifted out of poverty with a $15/hour wage. If we believe work has dignity, then all work needs to be compensated so that people can live with dignity.