Minnesotans weigh in on environment

The Minnesota Environmental Congress Citizen Forums will give state leaders a community viewpoint.

by Hailey Colwell

For the first time in 18 years, Minnesotans will have the chance to influence state environmental policy in a series of forums around the state.

The Minnesota Environmental Congress is holding six forums to facilitate discussions on what’s important to citizens about the environment. Content from the forums will be presented to Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration at the statewide Environmental Congress meeting in March.

Last week, University of Minnesota students and community members gathered in Bloomington, Minn., to talk about the Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card, a document detailing state energy, land, water, climate and air use. About 400 people showed up to discuss their environmental priorities.

Similar forums have taken place in Rochester and Duluth. Both drew crowds of about 200 people. Forums in Worthington, St. Cloud and Moorhead are scheduled for early December.

“I think folks are hungry to be able to come out and share their views on the environment,” said Dave Frederickson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and chair of the Environmental Quality Board.

University aerospace engineering and mechanics doctoral candidate Jason Bender said he attended the Bloomington forum because sustainability is a defining issue for students.

“It’s our generation that will inherit whatever problems we’re left with from our politicians and our regulators,” Bender said.

He said it’s important for students to be involved in state environmental decisions.

“We’re the ones that are going to be hit by climate change more so than any other nation.”

A ‘blueprint’ for Dayton

In 1994, the Environmental Congress established a number of goals, including establishing sustainable development as state policy and encouraging community input in environmental decision making.

Frederickson said Dayton made it clear in an executive order that he wanted to hear Minnesotans’ opinions on environmental topics.

Dayton charged the Environmental Quality Board with hosting the Environmental Congress, creating an environmental and energy “report card” for the state and making recommendations for governance and environmental review.

The next step for the Environmental Quality Board is to compile information from the forums into a report for Dayton’s administration, Fredrickson said.

“We have a lot of work to do when we get home to try and put all of this information together and make some sense of it, but we’re looking forward to that opportunity,” he said.

Former state Sen. Ellen Anderson, who now serves as Dayton’s senior adviser for energy and the environment, said it’s critical for Minnesotans to get the chance to voice their opinions on ecological issues.

“I think there’s a great interest across the state of Minnesota for people to talk to state leaders and to say what they think about environmental issues,” Anderson said.

She said it’s critical for state leaders to know Minnesotans’ environmental priorities to be able to use that to “create a blueprint and a vision for the future that state government can help support.”

Every forum thus far has surpassed the attendance goal of 100 people.

“I’m excited how many people have come,” Anderson said. “It’s just mind-boggling.”