Column: What 2017 holds for Minnesota
By Paul Austin, Conservation Minnesota MINNEAPOLIS -- As we start a new year, there is a lot of focus on how divided our society is and how difficult it can be for the gears of government to turn with such seemingly deep partisan division. And on...
By Paul Austin, Conservation Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS - As we start a new year, there is a lot of focus on how divided our society is and how difficult it can be for the gears of government to turn with such seemingly deep partisan division. And on many issues, this may be reality.
But the new year also brings with it a great opportunity for our elected officials to seek out what brings us together as a people and show that some things are bigger than politics.
Minnesotans have a strong connection to place. We truly revere this land and the legacy we all hope to leave for future generations. A future where our unique Minnesota traditions and experiences are available for children to share with grandchildren and the values that live in those traditions are safely delivered into the future.
In 2008, surrounded by uncertainty as our nation plunged into the “Great Recession,” Minnesotans from every corner of our state came together to overwhelmingly pass the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment that provided new funding for clean water, wildlife habitat, parks and arts institutions statewide. It was a bold and positive statement by voters about the future we all want for our state.
As part of that campaign, I traveled all over our state talking to voters. It was clear to me then that as important as clean water is to all of us, the Legacy Amendment wasn’t just about the specific initiatives it funded. Each conversation I had brought a different perspective, but they all connected to one central idea. The Legacy Amendment was important because it was a key strategy to sustain vibrant and healthy communities throughout Minnesota.
Today, we need more strategies to deliver vibrant Minnesota communities into the future so that young people can both envision and realize a prosperous future close to home. And there are plenty of ways that, once again, preserving this unique place we call home goes hand in hand with this goal.
For example, clean energy is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Minnesota economy. With wind energy having become the most cost effective type of energy to produce, our community colleges are working to keep up with demand for people trained for these good-paying jobs. A simple dedication to clean energy will have all the traditional benefits as well as helping to create more livable wage jobs for people throughout greater Minnesota.
Along similar lines, Minnesota’s sustainable working forests support both an important industry and our goals to keep water clean. We should work on incentives to expand the use of environmentally friendly forest and agricultural products that provide jobs throughout Minnesota instead of using more and more plastics and inheriting the legacy of pollution that comes with them.
Finally, one item that remains undone from Minnesota’s last legislative session is the passage of a bonding package that would fund clean water infrastructure projects to again put people to work in Greater Minnesota and also clean up our water. Funding the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program would also bring matching federal dollars to support our farming communities’ goals for clean water.
Protecting our health and natural resources go hand in hand with creating prosperous communities throughout our state. Our elected officials can choose to focus on the ways they don’t agree in hopes of gaining short-term political advantage. Or they can embrace who we are as Minnesotans, and look for ways to chart a path forward that creates prosperous communities while protecting the unique places, values and traditions that are such a critical part of the Minnesota we love.
Let’s hope they choose Minnesotans.
Paul Austin is Conservation Minnesota’s executive director.