Conservation Minnesota

What Would Willard Do?

I note with interest certain politicians attacking what they feel is over-regulation by the EPA federally.  Noted Arctic explorer and environmentalist, Will Steger, penned an article in the Duluth Tribune.  Conservation Minnesota’s Director, Paul Austin, had his most recent blog in the Star-Tribune.  Other people who care about our environment have been writing on this topic throughout the summer.

The continuous attack and blame is that government regulation, in this case for the environment, has caused job loss and curtails job growth. This same argument was brought forth by the Reagan administration in the 1980’s that also brought us James Watt and Anne Gorsuch.  In a free market economy, they argued, government should exercise great restraint with regulation, use “kid gloves”, and leave business alone to maximize their profits.

Then, as now, no empirical studies came forth that actually showed environmental regulation was hurting the economy and halting job growth.  But it sounded good and became an easy scapegoat.

The more I read about these attacks by folks in Congress, and sometimes members of our Legislature, I think about the late Representative Willard Munger, Minnesota’s “Mr. Environment.”

The environment was his cause and issue, he was totally committed, and it wasn’t about him, it was for future generations.  He always thought the economy and the environment should operate in harmony, and that a healthy environment for state citizens could mean a prosperous economy for growth and opportunity.  I remember at his funeral in 1999 that legislative colleagues and environmental activists were wondering and asking:  “Who could ever replace Willard, there is no one, maybe we all have to do it collectively.”

At various times in the first decade of this century, when major issues surfaced over the importance of environmental protection, I often heard the statement… “what would Willard do”?  And people who cared about the environment knew darn well what he’d do – support clean air, clean water, and clean land.  They must be clean for the public health of our citizens and to ensure thagt businesses can operate properly in a functioning economy.

After all, the environment is a public health, safety and welfare issue too.  We can’t go back on regulations for this purpose at the expense of our citizen’s health and right to live.  As Willard would have expressed, we have to make significant progress on cleaning up pollution as we all live together on Spaceship Earth.

About John Helland

John Helland

John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.

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LGHelly says:

it’s wonderful that willard’s legacy can live on through people like you. nice article.