August 7, 2020

Climate groups call on Duluth state senator to return campaign money to MN Chamber of Commerce

Erik Simonson is favorite of state group with history of supporting fossil fuel interests, opposing climate solutions

DFL state Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth received more campaign money from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce than any other Minnesota candidate, according to a pre-primary contribution report filed last week with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board. Now three Minnesota environmental organizations, MN350 Action, Sunrise Twin Cities, and Duluth Youth Climate Strike, are calling on Simonson to return the $750 contribution.

“The Chamber has been out of step with Minnesota values for a long time, opposing protections for our climate and our communities,” said MN350 Action’s Danielle Trajano. “Sen. Simonson needs to give the money back now to show he stands with Duluth and all Minnesotans.”

Simonson in 2019 was named a legislative “energy champion” by the Lignite Energy Council, a coal industry group, earning him the moniker, “Sen. Coal.”

Simonson also is the ranking minority member on the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee, which helps control the pace and planning for Minnesota’s transition away from fossil fuels. That transition has been too slow, according to climate activists, who call the committee’s coal-reliant Clean Energy First legislation a Fossil Fuels Forever bill. Simonson in 2019 proposed amendments to the legislation that would have raised electric bills for Duluth-area families an average of $250 by shifting costs away from large industrial customers.

Simonson is in line to become chair of the committee should the DFL become the majority party after the November election. Most of the Chamber’s other contributions to legislative candidates in 2020 have gone to Republicans.

“Minnesota has a chance to be a leader in combating climate change and transitioning away from fossil fuels,” said Sasha Lewis-Norelle of Sunrise Twin Cities. “We must take drastic and radical action to prepare for the worst consequences of the climate crisis and reduce our GHG emissions. By accepting donations from the Chamber of Commerce and supporting the Line 3 pipeline, Sen. Simonson has actively worked against this goal. He is not the kind of politician we need in Minnesota.”

Sydney David, an organizer with Duluth Youth Climate Strike, said: “We support the call by MN350 Action and others in urging Erik Simonson to return the money from MN Chamber of Commerce to effectively show his support for climate action. Keeping the money does not support what voters of all ages in Duluth want and need for sustainable environmental change.”

Simonson is being challenged for the DFL nomination in the Aug. 11 primary by Jen McEwen, an environmental lawyer who has received endorsements from both the party, which rarely goes against incumbents, along with MN350 Action and Sunrise Twin Cities. McEwen has criticized Simonson’s record on the environment, which includes support for the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, an expansion that would triple the current pipeline’s carbon pollution.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which advocates on behalf of member businesses such as the Flint Hills Refinery, has a checkered history of blocking common-sense legislation to address the climate crisis. The group has testified against the proposed ECO Act, which would increase the availability of energy efficiency projects. It also opposed Gov. Tim Walz’s 100% clean energy proposal, which would transition the state to renewable energy by 2050, and supported the same Line 3 expansion as Simonson.

“Duluth voters are looking for climate champions who’ll provide bold leadership on stopping the climate crisis. Accepting money from a group that supports the destructive fossil fuel agenda is the exact opposite of that,” Trajano said. “That’s why we’re urging Sen. Simonson to give the Chamber its money back. Duluth wants candidates to work for the people, not for corporations.”

MN350 Action, Sunrise Twin Cities, and Minnesota Youth Climate Strike also are calling on state Sen. Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis to return five contributions from fossil fuel lobbyists and PACs, which he received before signing MN350 Action’s No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge.


MN350 Action is the political and advocacy home for Minnesotans concerned about protecting our climate. It is the companion organization to MN350, a statewide group with 20,000 supporters working to make Minnesota a national leader in a just transition to a clean energy economy.

The Sunrise Movement is a youth-led political action organization that advocates political action on climate change, fighting for a Green New Deal to stop climate change and create millions of green jobs.

Duluth Youth Climate Strike is a group of students from across the Twin Ports who are committed to fighting the climate crisis. Its mission includes making the climate justice movement intersectional by bringing in Indigenous, people of color, queer and disabled communities and other underrepresented populations.


Brett Benson, MN350 Action
(651) 368-1226

Sasha Lewis-Norelle, Sunrise Twin Cities
(608) 338-4056

Sydney David, Duluth Youth Climate Strike
(218) 591-5601