Forums to guide the Dayton administration's task of creating a 'blueprint' for Minnesota's environmental future start today in Rochester. It's the first of six across the state.
The plan allows state residents to share their thoughts on what the state's top priorities should be regarding the environment. One of the people in the meeting this hour is Ellen Anderson, a former state lawmaker who's now the governor's senior advisor on energy and the environment.
She spoke to The Daily Circuit Monday about what Minnesotans can expect from these meetings and this effort.
ANDERSON: This is really the first opportunity that the Dayton administration has had to have a broad-based conversation with Minnesotans about environmental quality and how it affects our quality of life in Minnesota, and so we're talking about things on a very high level and we want to hear generally from people what their concerns are, what their priorities are, and how they think we should address those priorities, so it's really a starting point for planning.
WEBER: But when you create a kind of a long-term vision like that, doesn't it sometimes also become that thing you have to, kind of think about whenever you are passing those in the weeds, pieces of policy, "Oh yeah, we have that blueprint, does this fit with the blueprint?" and does the fact that that long-term vision exists become some kind of a burden, that keeps us from passing this thing or that thing?
ANDERSON: Well I think you do want to set forth what are your principles. You know, what do we believe as Minnesotans are important? For example when the Legacy Amendment was passed in 2008, you know a record number of Minnesotans came out and said that, we believe that it's important to insure we have clean water and habitat and parks and- and trails for- and the arts of course, for future generations and we're willing to some resources into making sure that we protect those.
So, those are values that guide us moving forward for the 25-year timeframe of that amendment. And so you should have values and principles that you use as a benchmark when you make big decisions, but there's a lot of ways you can get there. And there's no reason to assume that one particular set of prescriptions are going to get you there.
I think part of the reason we want Minnesotans to be engaged in this conversation is because so much of our environmental quality comes down to everybody. It comes down to everybody's participation, everybody's behavior, everybody's day-to-day life. It's about making choices about how we do things. And so, it's shared responsibility. It's not just about the government passing laws.
WEBER: How do you create a big kind of big picture vision for the environment here in Minnesota when there are so many factors taking place outside of Minnesota's purview? I'm reading this report card that this group put together and they talk about how walleye's the most abundant in Minnesota lakes, but one of the food sources for walleye is Cisco, and they've declined since the '70s and there's evidence that climate change is to blame. There's another section talking about how the moose population has declined and we could maybe look to climate change factors.
How do you create a vision and a blueprint for Minnesota's environment when you have these factors- world-wide factors contributing to it?
ANDERSON: That's a hard question, but that's exactly what this conversation is about: hard questions. So, first of all you have to figure out what you do know and what you can figure out, and we have all kinds of scientists in Minnesota at our universities- colleges and universities that are helping us answer some of those questions.
You know, how are different species doing? How are- how is the water doing? What are the trends and what are some creative and innovate ways we can fix some of these problems. Or at least start with identifying what the problems are so we know where to focus our attention. So we have to pay attention to that.
We have to support research, and we have to support science-based information. And then the state has to figure out what can we do, and citizens have to figure out what can they do to make a difference. We can't solve every global problem, but we can certainly... figure out how our contribution, makes it better or worse.
Now when it comes to climate change that's a huge global issue, but every contribution makes a difference. When it comes to water, you know we are- you know over 90% of our water originates right here in Minnesota so, that's of course, water is a global issue as well but what we do right here on our own homes and our own cities, on our highways, on our farms, everywhere in our, um, in our state, affects water. And so we know a lot about what we can do to make a difference.
WEBER: When you're making policy though, - regardless of what the issue is- maybe it's frac sand mining, maybe it's building roads, maybe something related to hunting or fishing - when you make those decisions in Minnesota, is there a step along that process in which the question has to be answered, "How does this affect climate change?" Or "How does this affect the environment?" Is that happening now, or- or is that something that could come from this blueprint? Where we actually have to take time to answer that question?
ANDERSON: That really raises the question of the Environmental Quality Board. The EQB is sponsoring these forums, and that's a board that consists of a majority of Governor Dayton's cabinet members.
And the purpose of the EQB is to look at those big-picture issues, how environmental policy - climate change, settlement patters, population, everything - how it all is intersected with environmental policy and how these things cut across different jurisdictions in state government?
And so, that's one of the questions in front of these forums: do we need a place that focuses on that in state government? The EQB recently sent its recommendation to the governor just a few weeks ago which I strongly support that said that we need an environmental quality board that does pay attention to these issues, and does focus on a long-term strategic plan that- for these issues, that cuts across state agency jurisdictions.
I think that's an important function, and it's been almost, - it's almost disappeared over the last couple of administrations and so the question in front of the governor now is: should that be, ah, beefed back up, and should we make that a- an important part of state government moving forward?
WEBER: Do you think this series of meetings that we're starting, leads to specific legislation next year that will be debated at the Capitol and, maybe passed, maybe not?
ANDERSON: I think that's very likely, it will be a process to get there. It won't all be decided at one meeting in one community, but that's the start of that. And I think by the end of this year, absolutely we will be putting together some very specific policy ideas. I think that's very likely but it goes through a process, it goes through the Environmental Quality Board, it starts with the citizen forums and then what input we gather from those forums will be reported at a statewide congress in March, and then those results will be compiled again and refined and brought to the EQB, the Environmental Quality Board, to the state agency leadership, to work on them and use them to help create that set of ideas for moving us forward.
WEBER: But what specific policies that might be, we don't know yet.
ANDERSON: We don't know yet. That's what we're going in asking people for.
For more information, visit the Minnesota Environmental Congress Web site. You can submit your thoughts online if you are unable to attend a forum.
(Transcription by Ben Martin, MPR News)