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News Release: McKnight announces Midwest focus on climate and energy

April 8, 2013 - McKnight announces Midwest focus on climate & energy, starting with $25 million in grants to RE-AMP and Energy Foundation.

With the announcement today of $25 million in grants to two longtime program partners, The McKnight Foundation reveals a new strategic focus to help the Midwest United States become a leader in addressing climate change. Building directly on McKnight’s 2008 commitment of $100 million for climate change mitigation, the new Midwest Climate & Energy program also complements over 20 years of support to promote renewable energy in Minnesota and the Midwest. McKnight’s board adopted the refined focus because of the tremendous opportunities it represents for Midwest businesses and communities to innovate and lead toward a clean energy economy.

“America’s Midwest contributes 22 percent more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than the national average,” explains McKnight board chair Ted Staryk. “That hard truth also means we’re uniquely well-positioned to turn the dial the other direction. With the right vision and collaboration, we have an opportunity now to use the Midwest’s industries, geography, and bipartisan political will to our advantage for greater economic prosperity and an overall better regional future.” The tight regional focus affirms the board’s commitment to playing a lead role in reducing emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere. McKnight will channel funding to help the Midwest become an international model in addressing climate change by reducing such emissions in all economic sectors, while employing a sustainability lens that both informs strategies and catalyzes action.

“Over the past five years, McKnight has invested over $60 million globally through the ClimateWorks Foundation network, which has yielded major advances in carbon reduction and helped draw other funding into key areas around the world,” explains president Kate Wolford. “Now building on the Foundation’s history as a place-based funder, we will concentrate attention and funding in the Midwest. As the region experiences the impacts of more and more ‘once in a century’ floods and other weather events, we see a growing demand across local businesses, government, and communities to incorporate climate mitigation and adaptation measures into decisionmaking.” (ClimateWorks Foundation supports public policies that prevent global climate change and promote global prosperity.)

The Midwest’s impressive supply of renewable energy resources, fleet of aging coal plants, and strong industrial base all add up to enormous potential in reducing carbon pollution. McKnight’s climate-related work will pursue an integrated approach, engaging with the region’s public and private leaders, decisionmakers, and communities while aiming to scale up Midwest successes to national and global levels. Three key objectives will drive the work:
  1. Climate and energy policy: Support for grantees and networks to advance related Midwest policies in energy generation, efficiency, transmission, agriculture, and transportation.
  2. Community engagement: Support to advance community-level efforts that promote energy and transportation efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Resilient clean energy economy: Support to facilitate private-sector leaders and networks to develop, promote, and implement climate and energy objectives for the Midwest.
McKnight is jumpstarting the Midwest Climate & Energy program with funding to two key partners:

RE-AMP received $5 million over two years for networked efforts to promote policies in the Upper Midwest that advance clean energy and combat climate change. A grantee since 2004, RE-AMP is a network of over 150 nonprofits and 14 foundations working in eight Midwest states that seeks to make significant reductions in pollution that causes climate change.

Energy Foundation, San Francisco, received $20 million over two years to win new clean energy policies in the Midwest and help the Midwest reshape the national narrative around energy and climate. McKnight has partnered with EF since 1993, with a primary focus on public policies to encourage big new markets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“McKnight’s focus on the Midwest’s potential as a global leader to address climate change is right on point,” says Rick Reed of the RE-AMP network. “With support from more and more funders interested in advancing the Midwest’s clean energy goals, organizations like RE-AMP and Energy Foundation are cooperating like never before toward shared goals.” Adds the Energy Foundation’s president Eric Heitz, “This investment builds on the successes of our 20-year partnership with McKnight. We agree the Midwest should lead the nation in advancing clean energy markets — and at the same time reap the economic, health, and environmental benefits that come from this work.”

No additional Midwest Climate & Energy grants will be considered in 2013. Grantmaking guidelines for the new focus will be announced in 2014. Interested grantseekers should keep an eye on McKnight’s website for the latest information.

Aimee Witteman will direct the new Midwest Climate & Energy program. Hired as an environment program officer in 2010, Witteman came to McKnight with deep experience in the environment field, including expertise in federal environmental policy, advocacy, coalition-building, and efforts to build the capacity of community- and state-based organizations. In partnership with McKnight’s board, senior staff, and field stakeholders, Witteman also played a leadership role in planning that led to the program’s refined Midwest focus. Prior to McKnight, Witteman served as executive director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in Washington, D.C. Previously, she held positions at Oxfam America and the Northwest Service Academy and was a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow. Witteman has a Master of Science degree in agriculture and environmental science and policy from Tufts University in Boston. Among other achievements, she co-authored NSAC’s 2008 policy position paper Agriculture and Climate Change: Impacts and Opportunities at the Farm Level.

The McKnight Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations through grantmaking, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Minnesota-based family foundation had assets of approximately $2 billion and granted about $85 million in 2012. Of the total, about $7.4 million went to support carbon reduction and renewable energy.

The new Midwest Climate & Energy program also builds on McKnight’s longtime environmental interests in protecting the Mississippi River Basin. Going forward, the Mississippi River program will continue to be led by director Ron Kroese and operate under current guidelines. This April, McKnight will post a position opening for a new Mississippi River program officer to replace Witteman in her former role. Visit the job openings page for the latest hiring updates.

Tim Hanrahan, McKnight Communications Director, 612-333-4220