You hear a lot in the news these days about choosing between clean air and water and jobs. That is so yesterday. In the 21st Century we need to be smarter than that.
Minnesota is an excellent example of how the two support each other. Just look at the impact of one environment-related industry on one (big) lake – Superior. According to a Minnesota Sea Grant study released in 1990, the recreational fishing industry (including charter fishing) on the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior contributed approximately $9.74 million in direct expenditures to the state in 1990. (The impact now is likely even greater). That’s everything from bait and tackle purchases to lodging and food. Estimates of the state economic impact can go as high as $34.43 to $49.06 million.
But in the bigger picture, Lake Superior’s total impact dwarfs even those numbers. The Great Lakes Commission says around 3.5 million people visit Minnesota’s “North Shore” every year. Tourism in the area has an estimated economic impact of more than $1 billion annually and supports over 20,000 jobs.
Turn Lake Superior from legendary sparkling blue waters to murky, fish-poor crud, and that impact will decline.
Imagine how many tourism and recreation jobs and dollars are generated because of Minnesota’s lakes, state parks, trails and more. And that doesn’t even count the benefit of clean air regulations, which reduce health costs from hospital visits and treatment for respiratory disease and other ailments. Avoided costs are rarely considered in economic equations. (Human health, of course, is important in its own right.)
There’s plenty of room for legitimate disagreement about environmental policies, but let’s get past the myth that environmental protections impede a healthy Minnesota economy.