District 42B: Have your voice heard on Minnesota’s environment and natural resources


Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn District 42B

Over the past two years, I have served on the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Besides lobbyists and agency staff, very few members of the public — Minnesotans like you — actually attend committee meetings or provide public testimony. Throughout the 2017-2018 legislative sessions, I continued to be surprised by this. 

Public testimony from people who aren’t paid to be there is common in many other committees but was incredibly rare on the Environment Committee. It is perplexing because water is critically important to our state, and I know how important fishing, hunting, camping and spending time outdoors is to so many of us. Despite this, the majority of the time the only voices heard in this committee were those of lobbyists and staff. 

Every committee meeting at the Minnesota Legislature is video or audio recorded. House Environment Committee recordings can be found at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cmte/Home/?comm=90008 but I’d venture to guess most folks aren’t aware of how easy it is to find this online. I encourage you to check out the recordings when you have the opportunity. 

In the meantime, I want to shed some light on what the Environment Committee is like and share some things you may find surprising. Many of the things that are discussed and voted on would give you a very different, and perhaps false, picture of what Minnesotans value.

 

Whose values?

First, you may be surprised by how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources are viewed. Oftentimes, other legislators show open disdain towards the MPCA and DNR. Ostensibly they see these agencies as barriers, when in fact the agencies exist to protect all of us. Our State Constitution Bill of Rights, in Article 1, Section 1, states that “Government is instituted for the security, benefit and protections of the people.” The MPCA and DNR both exist to uphold this fundamental principle. 

The MPCA’s mission is to “protect and improve the environment and human health.” They oversee things like wastewater treatment to make sure the water coming in to our homes is safe to drink. The DNR’s job is to conserve and manage our state’s natural resources and provide “outdoor recreation opportunities,” which include the activities so many of us value and enjoy. The MPCA and DNR play important roles in protecting people and resources now and in the future, something most Minnesotans value greatly. Instead of viewing these agencies with negativity, we should be making sure they have the tools to be successful in protecting our citizens and resources.

Second, you may be surprised by how public land is often devalued and unappreciated. Instead of viewing public land for what it is — land that belongs to each and every one of us as Minnesotans — some legislators view public land as something being withheld from private businesses, or detrimental to local governments because they can’t charge property taxes. 

This skewed perception is not how many people view public lands, especially those of us who spend time on those public lands hunting, hiking and spending time with our families. In fact, there are now organizations like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, made up of people from all political backgrounds, who support the important role of public land in our state and country. In addition, Minnesota has a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program that compensates counties for the loss of tax revenue from state-owned land. Unfortunately, these things are often ignored when we debate and vote on legislation relating to public land.

Finally, you may find it surprising that current legislative leadership has failed to take the concerns of deer hunters seriously, especially when it comes to stopping the spread of chronic wasting disease. CWD is a disease that is always fatal in deer and can be spread easily between deer and from contaminated soil. We know a lot about CWD and how devastating it can be for the wild deer herd, and thus, deer hunters and our economy. 

Often, outbreaks of CWD can be traced back to commercial deer farms. Deer in captivity spread the disease quicker than wild deer and often escape from enclosures, spreading the disease further. Instead of acting to increase fencing and identification requirements, current leadership has sided with deer farm business owners instead of hunters. There are approximately 500,000 deer hunters in our state and hunters contribute over $1.3 billion to our state economy each year. This resource is definitely worth protecting and the voices of hunters and other Minnesotans needs to be heard when we debate these issues in St. Paul.

I encourage you to become more engaged and share your views with legislators and the Environment and Natural Resources Committee when we convene next January. Your voices and perspectives are needed. Many legislators value transparency and accountability and we need you to help us uphold those values at the Capitol.

 

— Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn represents House District 42B, which includes Gem Lake, Little Canada and Vadnais Heights, along with parts of Roseville and Shoreview

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