Bree Halverson: Buying clean and fair for workers and the environment

Bree Halverson is Midwest states director for the BlueGreen Alliance.

Infrastructure is at the forefront of the minds of policymakers in our state. Minnesota will see an influx of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden last year. The Minnesota Legislature is focusing on the state’s significant budget surplus, and the prospect of a bonding bill this year could mean long-awaited improvements to our water and transit systems, roads and bridges, and more. These investments will put Minnesotans to work.

Our state desperately needs this investment. Our overall infrastructure was given only a “C” grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2018 report card. In particular, our drinking water infrastructure is in dire need of repair. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates Minnesota will need over $7.5 billion in investment in our water infrastructure over the next 20 years. Doing that work will make our drinking water safer and create good-paying jobs for workers around the state.

It only makes sense that as the state makes these investments, we use materials and products for these projects that are made in places like Minnesota – and the rest of the country – with high environmental standards. That’s the basic concept of a policy called “Buy Clean.” It is a policy to promote spending taxpayer dollars on materials that are manufactured in a cleaner, more efficient, environmentally friendly manner. This reduces industrial pollution and health impacts, while supporting family-sustaining jobs and building globally competitive domestic manufacturing.

Buy Clean is something the BlueGreen Alliance and our partners have advocated for in other states. And we’ve achieved victories. Since its passage in California in 2017, states like Colorado, Washington and, most recently, Oregon have all adopted Buy Clean for materials used in infrastructure projects.

In Minnesota, a study of Buy Clean and Buy Fair policies was passed by the Legislature in 2021, with the leadership of Reps. David Lislegard (D-6B), Jamie Long (D-61B), Frank Hornstein (D-61A) and Zach Stevenson (D-36A), and was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz. Buy Fair is a related policy which takes into account how companies treat workers, in the same way that Buy Clean weighs the emissions from making the products and materials.

The study called for in the 2021 bill was conducted by the University of Minnesota and presented to the Minnesota Legislature. Using the study as a guide, Minnesota House Climate and Energy Committee Chair Long and Rep. Lislegard are working to craft a Buy Clean and Buy Fair policy to be introduced this session that will help the state choose construction materials with the lowest amount of carbon, and that have been produced by companies that treat their workers right. They are working with unions, industry groups and government departments to make sure the policy will support the unique resources we have here in Minnesota.

The bottom line is that we make steel, concrete and other materials in America, and we do it better and cleaner. When it comes to the materials we use to rebuild and modernize Minnesota’s infrastructure, our state should reward workers and companies doing things the right way to reduce the emissions driving climate change by buying clean and buying fair. We should pass Buy Clean and Buy Fair this session.

– Bree Halverson is the Midwest states director for the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of unions and environmental organizations headquartered in Minnesota.

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