Messages from the Council Chair

Earth Day — investing in sustainability

April 2023

Aerial view of the Empire wastewater treatment plant.We look forward to Earth Day every year because it’s a chance to reflect and celebrate the good work the Metropolitan Council does day in and day out to ensure a sustainable metro region for future generations.

From recovering energy and nutrients as we transform wastewater into clean water, to electrifying our bus fleet, we are investing in our planet — this year’s Earth Day theme. And while climate change is clearly a global challenge, what all of us do where we live makes an impact that multiplies.

As the region’s planning agency, it’s our charge to lead a discussion and help create a shared vision about how to create a sustainable region. But we also have a responsibility to lead by example.

Let’s start with our Empire Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dakota County. More than 15 years ago we transformed the landscape at the plant to eliminate stormwater runoff from our property into the Vermillion River, a protected trout stream. We installed infiltration basins with native plantings, created a 20-acre wetland meadow, and installed our first green roof, among other best practices.

Today, we are improving how we process solids at the plant so that we can use all the biogas we produce to generate power and heat for the facility. This project showcases our continuing focus on using renewable energy and reducing emissions across the Met Council.

You may be more familiar with Metro Transit’s work to transition our bus fleet to produce zero tailpipe emissions. Metro Transit was one of the first agencies in the country to deploy hybrid-electric buses, starting in 2002.

Our first fully electric buses went into service in 2019 with the METRO C Line between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, but not without a hitch. It took a few years working with the manufacturers of the buses and chargers to solve issues with this early technology.

Our experience taught us that we must move at a pace that balances our desire to convert the fleet as quickly as possible with how this technology is evolving and the financial resources we have. This month, we will release a study of the opportunities and challenges of transitioning our Metropolitan Transportation Services fleet (including Metro Mobility vehicles) from diesel and gasoline to electric or fuel-cell vehicles.

On the planning and technical assistance side, we are creating tools that help cities and townships adapt and plan for climate change. Last year we launched Growing Shade, a mapping tool that cities, towns, and nonprofits can use to prioritize equitable investments in the local tree canopy. Soon we will release a regional greenhouse gas inventory and scenario planning tool that gives local governments the ability to model the impacts of different land use, policy, and development decisions on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Late last year, we approved our Climate Action Work Plan that commits the Met Council to accelerate the reduction of our own emissions and make our facilities and services resilient to climate change.

These are a few examples of the many ways we at the Met Council deliver innovation while we serve our customers, wisely manage our financial resources, and invest to build a sustainable and equitable future for this region.

- Chair Charlie Zelle