I attended one of the EQB forums last week at Normandale Community College and came away mightily impressed. Attending many similar events over the years, I expected to see a lot of familiar faces from the environmental community I know and like. But there were a sea of faces I didn’t know at all in the 500 citizens that showed up in Bloomington.
The EQB board members had to be excited, and frankly were caught off guard, at the number of citizens that did come to last week’s forums. The first one, last Tuesday at Rochester, had 200 people that came. Coupled with the Bloomington gathering, and the next one in Duluth where 300 folks turned out, the first three forums had 1,000 citizens in attendance.
One attendee said this was a good effort at participatory democracy in action. The forum organizers handed out tally clickers to folks who could then choose answers to statements on environmental issues read by John Linc Stine, Commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency. Instantaneous results were shown on screens in the meeting rooms so participants could see how their colleagues reacted.
Former state senator Ellen Anderson, now Governor Dayton’s senior adviser on energy and environment, played a big role in organizing the forums and compiling the state agency report card on issues that was done beforehand. Department of Agriculture Commissioner and current EQB Chair, Dave Frederickson, also a former state senator, helped the forum’s citizens to get engaged in small group discussions on prioritizing issues that were reported to the large group as a whole. My small group, consisting mainly of people I did not know, had a spirited discussion and many important issues were brought forth and articulated.
Not only were the mainstream environmental issues of the day registered in the large group afterwards, but one could hear the frustrations of citizens among the aftermath of the recent election. “We need to take the money out of politics” and “the system needs serious fixing” were heard loud and clear. Several citizens commented that it was important and unusual to see so many heads of state agencies in one place (there were six, along with three EQB citizen members). Others said that the current EQB makeup, with the agency heads on environmental issues represented, could be revitalized to address big-picture issues and those that cut across state agency jurisdictions.
I came away from the Bloomington forum both heartened and encouraged. The number of people that showed up alone, sharing many important issues in a caring manner, should give Governor Dayton the motivation and courage to craft a strong environmental agenda. With the economy still struggling, and the fact that education, healthcare and other issues have risen to the top recently, it is still clear that the environment is clearly a foundational issue for Minnesotans and one that should be continually addressed by governmental leaders.