“A New Adventure is coming up and I’m sure it will be a good one.” ~ Sigurd Olson – January 13, 1982
On a cold winter morning 33 years ago, 81-year-old environmental champion Sigurd Olson strapped on his snowshoes for a walk through 12 inches of freshly fallen snow outside his Burntside Lake cabin near Ely. While walking past the birthplace of his favorite little stream he called “Caribou Creek”, this great advocate of the wilderness movement passed away. Over his lifetime, Sig wrote many words to inspire the movement we are privileged to serve in today. When his son arrived back from Alaska for his father’s funeral, he discovered in Sigurd’s writing shed the last words he had typed out on a single sheet of paper:
“A New Adventure is coming up and I’m sure it will be a good one.”
Well thankfully I’m not dead yet, but I am off to a brand-new adventure, thanks in no small part to the wonderful people at Conservation Minnesota. This Wednesday I was privileged to receive the honor of an appointment to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from Governor Mark Dayton. This was not an appointment that I was seeking out, but several of my colleagues encouraged me to consider this opportunity.
Like my wilderness hero Sig Olson, I always want to be where the action is in the struggle to protect our great outdoors. I have learned from him the importance of promoting the wilderness ethic of leaving it better than we found it. That was the ethic I lived by in serving the members and friends of Conservation Minnesota. I was prepared to continue this fight for you in the the legislative realm, but I was convinced by many that the the most important environmental battles in the near future will be fought out in this little-known yet extremely important Commission.
The PUC traces its roots back to the early 1870s and its creation under the leadership of Minnesota’s 6th governor, Horace Austin. The plaque next to his gubernatorial portrait at the Capitol reads “Horace Austin – A reputation for clearheaded objectivity and disdain for contentious party politics enhanced the appeal of Judge Horace Austin as a gubernatorial candidate in 1869. Minnesota’s sixth governor was determined to bring legislative power to bear against the railroad barons. His advocacy of strictly regulated passenger and freight rates and his opposition to the wholesale allocation of state lands to railroad development earned him a second term.”
As a result of his leadership, Minnesota became a leader in this public/private compact to bring fairness to certain industries that had clear market dominance due to their natural structure. In time the need for regulation of railroads would wane with the development of the national highway system, and the old Railroad and Warehouse Commission would be renamed the PUC and refocused on protecting consumers in the power sector.
The governing authority of the PUC is a five-member board of commissioners to which I was appointed. Presently the PUC regulates three key service industries – electricity, natural gas and telecommunications. Their statutory mission is to create and maintain a regulatory environment that ensures safe, reliable and efficient utility services at fair and reasonable rates. Recently the legislature has empowered this Commission to ensure that this safe, reliable and fair system also is under undergirded with the mission to provide cleaner portfolio of energy. As a result, I will still be in the middle of that great battle to leave our great outdoors and the health of our communities to the next generation better than we found it.
I’m also proud to say that Conservation Minnesota is significantly better than I when I first won an award as an environmental champion from this great organization back in 2000 as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Thanks to the excellent leadership of our Executive Director Paul Austin, this organization has turned into one of the premier conservation groups in not only this state, but in the nation. My move to the PUC is made easier knowing that I’m leaving the lobbying efforts at the Capitol in very capable hands. Conservation Minnesota’s Public Engagement Director Jaclyn Urness is a dynamic, strategic thinker with a wealth of experience in the policy arena. Cheryl Appeldorn, Conservation Minnesota’s Policy Coordinator, is one of the most dedicated, well organized and conscientious environmental leaders I’ve ever met. Our contract lobbying team of Larry Redmond and Brian Halloran are two of the most respected and talented policy advocates in Minnesota. The rest of the team at Conservation Minnesota are simply phenomenal and have been so fun to work with.
As members and friends of this organization, I can assure you without a doubt you are being well served. Conservation Minnesota’s impressive list of accomplishments will continue to grow. If you want to be at the forefront of making Minnesota better place for our children and grandchildren, this is the organization to engage in and support.
Each year I have given out my “Sig” award for the people in the policy arena who help make Minnesota’s environment better. So my last act as a member of this great team at Conservation Minnesota is to dedicate my final “Sig” award to them. Keep up the good work and enjoy the many great adventures ahead of you.