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The Tent of MN Environmental Protection

March 01, 2012 By Andrew Slade, Hindsight Community Fellow

Political writers often use the metaphor of a tent. In northeast Minnesota, there’s a classic tent that most of the outfitters used to provision for trips into the Boundary Water Canoe Area. There was nothing fancy about the Eureka Timberline, just five metal poles holding up two nylon walls with a triangular door at one end and another triangle of screen at the other. The floor of the tent was made of extra-thick nylon, to stand up to months of use every season. A heavy-duty rain fly went over the whole deal. The tent worked year in and year out. You could replace a missing pole from a new version with a pole from a tent years older.

In a sense, that tent is like our Minnesota environmental protections: Strong and sturdy in rough conditions. Just as the tent keeps rain and insects out of the sleeping area, our environmental regulations have kept pollution out of our water and air. Remarkable progress has been made in the last 40 years.

As the 78 environmental and conservation nonprofits that make up the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) prepared for the 2012 Minnesota legislative session, leaders looked for ways to improve Minnesota’s natural resources and environmental policy. In other words, how can we ensure our tent stays strong and sturdy?

In one initiative, MEP member groups hope to make it easier for schools, police and fire stations and other public building to install solar projects on their facilities. That’s a good idea that stands on its own merits…who wouldn’t want clean, renewable solar energy? In fact, 82 percent of Minnesota voters support a policy that would simplify and encourage the installation of solar panels on public buildings.* To extend the tent metaphor, it’s like an easy design tweak that will let more evening sunlight in so we can save on flashlight batteries. That initiative now has a bill, House File 2413, though we are waiting for legislative hearings to push it forward.

A second initiative would secure money to fight exotic species like zebra mussels and Asian carp, which have devastating effects on Minnesota’s waters. By increasing boat license fees by $2 to $7 over three years, depending on the size of the boat, Minnesota would have more resources to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. Minnesotans understand the importance of this fee increase – in fact, 79 percent of voters polled say they favor it.*

A third initiative would increase hunting and angling fees to ensure adequate funding for the Game and Fish fund, which supports our fisheries and wildlife programs.

Additionally, our coalition is working to protect our existing environmental laws from being weakened or repealed. Unfortunately, in this legislative wilderness, the threats to our environmental policy foundation are real. It’s like the environmental tent is not just facing the same old rain and mosquitoes, but also attempts to remodel, even destroy, the whole thing.

In the first few weeks of the session, bills were introduced to repeal all environmental rules (Senate File 1922 / House File 2169) and to cut out public participation in environmental permitting (House File 2273). Thankfully, the full rule repeal was removed from the bills, but the remaining sections still unjustifiably target laws that protect our health, air and water.

Threats to conservation funding are particularly dire. In 2008 voters overwhelmingly passed the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, primarily because they wanted to better protect our clean water. Yet some legislators want to raid these funds for other purposes. Not surprisingly, 71 percent of Minnesota voters polled said we must not let elected officials raid constitutionally dedicated funds to solve short-term budget problems.* Traditional funding from the general fund for environmental causes has dropped in the years after the amendment was passed: This is another cause for concern.

This session, MEP member groups and conservation-minded citizens and legislators can rally behind proposals to increase solar energy and to properly fund Aquatic Invasive Species management and fish and wildlife programs. We can enjoy the sunshine and the comforts of our campsite. We’ll also have to work to keep the whole tent standing.

For more about what the Minnesota Environmental Partnership is working on this year, download our 2012 Priorities Packet. To keep updated on what’s happening with these environmental issues at the Capitol, sign up to receive Action Alerts or follow #ProtectMN on Twitter.

*From a statewide telephone poll of 500 registered Minnesota voters, conducted Jan. 9-11, 2012, for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. The margin of sampling error for the full statewide samples is 4.4 percentage points, plus or minus; margins of error for subgroups within the sample will be larger. See a report about polling results and more on MEPartnership.org.

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