2012’s Environmental Gains and Losses
Now that the 2012 Legislative session has ended and the commotion about the stadium has somewhat subsided, let’s look back at what our elected leaders did on some issues that garnered less press, but faced significant threats: Minnesota’s water and Great Outdoors.
Sadly, for those keeping score, the environment came up short: The results of this year’s session were out of step with Minnesota’s values. Fortunately, there is still opportunity for citizens to talk with their legislators about what matters to them.
Well, there were a few positive things:
- Fees on hunting and fishing licenses were increased for the first time in more than a decade to prevent the Game and Fish Fund from going in the red.
- Funds from the Legacy Amendment were appropriated, including funds to fight and research Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS).
- The bonding bill included a provision to help state schools, hospitals, police stations, and other public buildings install solar energy systems.
Unfortunately, the list of detrimental initiatives exceeds the good. Three of the most egregious environmental actions this session include:
- Log-rolling a provision that’s bad for wetlands into the Omnibus Environmental bill. Even though this provision increases exemptions to allow more wetlands to be destroyed without any replacements, Governor Dayton signed the bill into law in favor of other provisions he wanted. Log-rolling is a common political maneuver, but that doesn’t make it right.
- Weakening protections for land and habitat in Minnesota’s School Trust Lands. These 2.5 million acres of public land comprise a significant amount of our state forest system as well as other high-quality protected areas and, in many cases, have been identified as having outstanding conservation value. The law adds new layers of government bureaucracy to manage lands with an eye toward mining and logging instead of natural resource protection.
- Ousting Ellen Anderson. In a blatantly partisan move, the Senate ousted former State Senator Ellen Anderson from her position as Public Utilities Commission chair, calling her support for renewable energy developments, “extreme.” Our elected leaders need to move beyond the politically charged air of the Capitol and realize that Minnesota voters support clean energy and demand bold action from policy leaders to transition to a clean energy future.
It’s also disappointing that the legislature missed some key opportunities to help Minnesota’s outdoors. Despite strong support among Minnesotans to fight AIS like zebra mussels and invasive carp, the legislature failed – for a second year! – to move forward a bill to increase boat license fees specifically to stop the spread of AIS in Minnesota’s waters. Also, by failing to fund the Southwest Light Rail, the legislature missed a prime opportunity to invest in public transit and create 60,000 long-term jobs.
Disconnect between the Capitol and Minnesotans
It’s clear: Minnesota’s legislative leaders’ actions are out of step with Minnesotans’ values. Year after year, polling proves that a clear majority of Minnesotans want protections for our water, land, air and health, and expect their elected officials to do what’s right for our outdoors and Minnesota’s future.
For example, 2012 polling showed that two-thirds of Minnesota voters want tougher environmental laws or better enforcement of those laws. Only 12% think environmental laws are too tough and should be loosened up. The Minnesota Legislature’s attempts to weaken environmental laws show they’re catering to that 12% instead of the majority of Minnesotans!*
Talk with your elected officials
Though session is over, legislators are going to be out and about campaigning the next six months. This is the time to talk with them about what matters to you. Make sure they know where you stand on protecting Minnesota’s water and Great Outdoors—now and for future generations.
*Poll results are 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.
Steve Morse is the executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership www.mepartnership.org, a coalition of more than 75 environmental nonprofits working together for clean water, clean energy and investments in Minnesota Great Outdoors.