Translating complex environmental problems into plain language isn’t easy – and all too often, government agencies don’t even try. That stifles needed public engagement and debate. Nothing requires public participation more than the quality of the air we breathe and the water we fish in and drink.
So Minnesota state government deserves considerable credit for trying to render a comprehensible environmental and energy report card and taking it on the road for public discussion. Part of “the Minnesota Environmental Congress,” the citizen forums (which run through December 14) are an important opportunity for citizens not only to hear from government but for government to hear from citizens.
A quick review of the new Minnesota report card rates it a solid “B.” The language is clear (even conversational in places) and the problem selection and discussion apt. Including energy and climate change sections is an especially good judgment. These are interrelated and profoundly important matters.
The evaluation offered in the report card seems mostly fair and credible, but a reader will search unsuccessfully for letter grades or other conventional measures of quality. Government agencies have defensible reasons for shunning these measures – they are subjective and potentially oversimplifying – but they also promote understanding and accountability.
A good report card should evaluate how government environmental programs are performing in protecting the environment and where improvements are needed. But that job may be a self-evaluation too difficult for governments to perform. If so, an independent agency should take up the mission.
Ultimately, the report card comes across as saying some things are getting better, some things are getting worse, and some things are staying roughly the same. Does that mean Minnesota rates an environmental “C”?
What counts is what Minnesotans think – and how they respond. Information on the citizen forums and speaking out is here http://mn.gov/EnvironmentalCongress/forum.html.