U, State release new enviroment study

The 18-month study looks at improving Minnesota’s Natural Resources.

University researchers, local businesses and state lawmakers released a study Tuesday focused on how to best improve Minnesota’s environment and natural resources.

The study, a culmination of 18 months of research by University professors and private firms and organizations, is called the Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan , and it was presented to a Legislature board that deals with allocating money for environmental projects and research.

“We want this to really not be another report that gets put on the shelf ,” Interim Director of the University’s Institute on the Environment Deborah Swackhamer said. “We do feel that it will be a living document that will help guide the Legislature in the future.”

The plan was commissioned by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Natural Resources, a board made up of lawmakers and community members which make recommendations to the Legislature on how to allocate more than $20 million for environment projects.

The 344- page final report details many different approaches to helping the environment, from offering economic incentives for those working with natural resources to protecting and restoring habitats in Minnesota.

Lawmakers themselves were optimistic about the impact the study will have on policy.

“It’s not a political document,” Sen. Ellen Anderson , DFL-St. Paul said. “Maybe this can provide that opportunity for all of us to come together from all different points of view to move this (environment) agenda forward.”

David Hartwell , the citizen co-chair of LCCMR, said many recommendations hinged on one thing.

“The LCCMR will do its piece, but clearly we need more funding to deal with our environmental challenges,” he said.

The new conservation plan recommends many new investments, including:

-Biofuel and “energy crop” research.

-Reducing energy consumption in ethanol plants.

-Public education on energy consumption.

-“Databases and tools needed to support land use and conservation decisions.”

The LCCMR gets the funds it distributes from the state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund , which comes from the state lottery.

In this legislative session, the LCCMR recommended more than $22 million be allocated from the fund to environment projects around the state.

The LCCMR received 118 project proposals – it funded only 36.

“As far as (funding) going up that really depends on what the priorities of the commission are for each given year” Mike Banker , spokesman for the LCCMR, said.

Swackhamer said the report is meant to build collaboration between state agencies to help the environment.

“We felt the biggest contribution of this document is to present a coherent, unified plan addressing all the resources together,” she said.

Banker said only certain points of the recommendation fall under the group’s jurisdiction; LCCMR doesn’t deal with issues of policy, for example.

“As for other agencies,” he said, “we don’t know how each of them will be using it. That will be up to them once they have the plan in their hands.”

The University’s Swackhamer said the Legislature would need to analyze the document before making decisions based off it.

“You could start working on these programs right away,” she said. “It’s just that they wouldn’t be completed in a single legislative cycle.”