A year-long process to inform Gov. Mark Dayton on Minnesota environmental policies culminated in a set of guidelines for the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board.
Hundreds of students and conservationists convened March 15 for the Minnesota Environmental Congress for a discussion of short- and long-term goals for the state’s climate and energy future.
University of Minnesota students in attendance said the event, which included breakout sessions to discuss environmental issues, came to vague conclusions to solve the state’s environmental obstacles.
“It’s difficult to put dozens of people in a room and have them discuss a topic and then come out with one sentence to summarize the most important idea,” chemistry senior Juan Medina Bielski said. “I fear that the impact will be less than desired.”
The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, a 14-member committee of government agency heads and citizens, led panels on the Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card, a document outlining state water, land, air, energy and climate issues.
The conference used input from six citizen forums held in November and December, where people across the state gathered to discuss the Report Card and voice their concerns on other issues like wolf hunting and silica sand mining.
Recommendations from the Congress will be compiled into a report to help the Environmental Quality Board and Dayton set environmental goals for the state.
Dayton told attendees that though debates on Minnesota’s budget are important, conservation work is the prerequisite for other political discussions.
“Nothing that we can accomplish will last if we don’t protect, reserve and improve this planet,” Dayton said.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar made a surprise appearance at the event, addressing participants about her efforts to develop and pass a farm bill that would also help with state resource conservation.
Klobuchar said the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam near the Stone Arch Bridge should be closed to prevent invasive Asian carp from swimming upstream and damaging the local ecosystem. In order to do this, research would need to be conducted to find an environmentally sound way to remove the carp, she said.
“It’s not just about closing locks,” she said. “It’s about putting protection in place.”
Though the Environmental Quality Board reported a low turnout from young people at the citizen forums, a number of students and youth from across the state addressed the Congress.
“Youth anticipate a future, and this future extends beyond semesters, graduation and fiscal years,” Medina Bielski said in his speech to the Congress. “You must make relatively moderate changes now to avoid forsaking future generations.”
He said politicians should make it easier for people to make sustainable choices by improving the public transit system and making streets more bike-friendly. They should also work to replace Minnesota’s fossil fuel use with more renewable energy generation, he said.
“We are not endowed with, but rather import, fossil fuels,” Medina Bielski said. “They will not be around much longer, and we must start acting like it.”
After the speeches, participants broke into groups and narrowed down priorities to present to the entire Congress at the end of the day.
Urban forestry junior Luke Midura discussed land issues like storm water and resource management at the event, he said.
Though the discussions brought out a variety of viewpoints, Midura said educating people on the political process may have made them more efficient.
“Some of the ideas that they came up with were pretty broad,” he said. “You kind of need to narrow down on some topics that you can actually work on.”
Midura said he hopes the work done at the Congress will influence political action to some degree and that the Dayton administration seems willing to take public considerations into account.
“You have to make your point pretty quickly, but they’re there to listen,” he said, “and it seems like there’s a genuine willingness to work on a lot of these environmental issues right now.”
Medina Bielski said by the time the groups’ discussion points were presented to the Environmental Quality Board at the end of the day, most of the ideas were vague and had a “low impact.”
Despite its drawbacks, he said the event was an opportunity to network and boost morale on environmental issues.
“It makes it seem more feasible to make change when you’re surrounded by people that are trying to work toward some of the same goals.”