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Tannie Eshenaur: Collaborative Champion for Environmental Health

June 28th, 2017

There are many ways to define a champion. As someone who primarily follows and supports policy development and implementation, to me the most important “champions” in the environmental community are those leaders who share our organizational values. Particularly, the approach to decision making with the belief that we are better together— that diverse perspectives create stronger, lasting solutions for our environment.

In my years working with public-sector leaders across the full spectrum of “environmental” issues, there is a small group of individuals who stand out as true believers in that approach. Tannie Eshenaur is one of those individuals, and she came immediately to mind as a champion—through example—of someone who works each day to develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s environmental problems.

TANNIE ESHENAUR, ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL

Tannie grew up in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh and came to Minnesota to attend college. Following graduate school, she and her family lived for 13 years in Ethiopia, where Tannie provided health education about water and sanitation as part of a village water supply project and later taught the national language, Amharic, to new expatriates. Tannie came to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2001 and worked in the Site Assessment and Consultation Unit, specializing in risk communication for communities affected by environmental exposures to hazardous substances. Tannie currently works as Planning Director for Drinking Water Protection.

WHY PARTNERSHIP AND COLLABORATION MATTER, IN HER OWN WORDS:

Why do you believe that taking a collaborative approach to problem solving is important or valuable?
During our 13 years in community development in Ethiopia, we quickly learned that our technical expertise was not enough. The villagers had unique insight into their situations and social structures that was essential to the success and sustainability of our work. At first learning through them seemed to slow down our work – lots of cups of coffee and long conversations – but knowing their culture, dreams, and challenges helped us work together with them to create water supplies that fit their unique situations. The ultimate test was when we had to evacuate due to war for a year. When we returned, we discovered that the villagers had protected their water supplies when the government troops fled and then again when the rebels came through. In most parts of the country, development projects were destroyed in the struggle. Genuine collaboration means that all participants own the solutions; while there is give and take, each participant’s investment in the process increases their continuing commitment to the success of that work.

Here in Minnesota, we have a rich history and strong values that support a collaborative approach to problem solving, but we don’t always automatically draw on those strengths. No one perspective is enough to create durable, acceptable solutions that will endure into our shared future.

Why is it important to “hear all voices” when making decisions, particularly in the field of environmental health?
Environmental Health falls at the intersection of public health and environmental protection. That means that there are many, many different goals, missions, science disciplines, skills, and strengths at the table. Our goal is to create the conditions in which communities can be healthy. That means all sectors are appropriate for us to engage in; anywhere there is water, air, soil, food, or the built environment – we are engaged.

How did you first become involved with (or aware of) Environmental Initiative?
Even though Minnesota is my home, so many years spent in Ethiopia meant I was essentially a “newcomer” when I started working in Environmental Health here. Environmental Initiative’s forums were a great classroom for me to learn about the various partners engaged in issues and the many perspectives they bring to solving our environmental health challenges.

Environmental Initiative structures their forums so that key leaders and scientists are brought together with the environmental community for learning and discussion. I can be brought up to speed on an issue or concern in a morning or an afternoon. And, Environmental Initiative is careful to include time for networking, so in the same morning or afternoon, I can connect with current or future partners for collaboration. There’s also often national speakers or legislators that I would not otherwise be able to hear from.

In your opinion, what is the most important environmental issue that we should be seeking collaborative solutions to in Minnesota? Why?
Well, of course I’m going to point to Minnesota’s drinking water! We are rich in water and have an outstanding record of compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act – better than 99% year in and year out. But that very success can sabotage our future if we continue to take safe drinking water for granted. We should look to our Midwest neighbor states, learn from them, and take steps now to address the challenges they’ve faced. We need to ask the question, “Could this happen here?” Think of Des Moines and nitrate, Charleston and contaminant spills, Toledo and harmful algal blooms, and Flint’s infrastructure challenges. At MDH we are working hard to protect our drinking water sources and prevent these threats from becoming our reality, but we can’t do it alone. Minnesota’s drinking water future depends on many partners in drinking water protection – cities, homeowners, businesses, farmers, local government, water operators and residential well owners – each has a part to play in ensuring safe and sufficient drinking water.


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th anniversary, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do.

Meleah Houseknecht

POSTED BY:

Director, Environmental Policy

Member of the Month: Dorsey & Whitney

May 11th, 2017

As a former Board Chair of Environmental Initiative, I am pleased to support Environmental Initiative and its mission, and am thrilled to see the organization thriving after 25 years. The Dorsey firm is a proud member of Environmental Initiative’s Sustainer Partnership Circle. For the past few years, Dorsey has also been a sponsor of the Policy Forum Series, which has allowed us to support our community’s discussion of important environmental issues like fuel transport, community recycling, groundwater and materials management, and clean air.

Dorsey’s mission statement pledges loyalty and support to our clients, our communities, and our colleagues. Our clients benefit from the knowledge we gain through Environmental Initiative’s programming, knowledge that allows us to provide insightful and relevant legal and business advice on environmental issues. Our community benefits from the organization’s collaborative and open dialogue regarding sustainability and our colleagues benefit from the opportunities Environmental Initiative offers to participate in an important policy conversation.

We thank Environmental Initiative for its tireless dedication to a stronger Minnesota.

 


Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 8108 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Andy Brown

POSTED BY:

Partner, Co-Chair of the Energy Group and Chair of the Regulatory Affairs Group, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Major Pollinator Action puts Minnesota ahead of Other States

September 7th, 2016

In addition to all the fried food on a stick, the 2016 Minnesota State Fair also featured an announcement from Governor Mark Dayton on pollinator protection.

Beginning in 2007, the U.S. honeybee population began declining by 30 percent each year, an unprecedented rate. Minnesota lost over half of its bee colonies in 2013.

Minnesota is home to 18 bumble bee species, and several of those populations are in decline. There are many reasons for bee death, including habitat loss and pesticide use. One native species of bee has not been documented in the state for over a decade, the Ashton bumble bee, due to severe habitat decline. The decline of monarch populations has also been linked to the slow disappearance of milkweed in the Midwest.

Monarch on flower.jpgAt an August 26 press conference, Governor Dayton laid out a plan to protect Minnesota’s bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Currently, pollinators contribute an estimated $17 billion to the United States agriculture industry through both bee products and by pollinating a wide variety of crops.

Dayton’s plan includes heightened restrictions on certain types of pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids. Several studies and analyses, including the by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), have tied the use of neonicotinoids, in combination with other factors such as parasites and declining forage, to the decline of pollinator populations. The Governor’s Executive Order includes banning neonicotinoids on state-owned land and restricts their use on farmland. Additionally, state agencies must develop pollinator-friendly habitats on the land they manage.

These are major actions by the Governor and place Minnesota at the fore-front of pollinator protection efforts in the United States.

The process to get to this executive order was in part informed by participants at a full day stakeholder summit on February 12, 2016. Environmental Initiative and MDA convened a diverse group of Minnesota’s insect pollinator experts and interested stakeholders—from beekeepers to environmental advocates to farmers—to discuss actions the state could take to help support declining pollinator populations.

Through a combination of large and small group discussions, stakeholders were able to share their perspectives with MDA and other decision-makers. At Environmental Initiative, we create a safe space where people with different perspectives can come together to solve problems that create stronger, lasting solutions for our environment. We captured what we heard from stakeholders at the February summit in this report.

Nearly 90 percent of pollination requires support from insect pollinators. Insect pollinators help us eat healthy diets by allowing fruits, vegetables, and other crops to flower and grow. Learn what you can do to protect Minnesota’s foreign and native pollinators »

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Better Together for Bees

March 7th, 2016

On February 12, 2016, Environmental Initiative hosted a Pollinator Summit at the Wellstone Neighborhood House on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While we are still in the midst of digesting the massive amounts of input and information that came out of the summit, I want to reflect a bit on the experience and what it meant to live out Environmental Initiative’s values of “Open Exchange” and “Better Together” in the context of designing and organizing this event.pollinator summit participants

Research (and the headlines) reveal our pollinators are threatened. We know if we don’t do something soon, we risk losing many of our domesticated bees and entire species of wild pollinators. Participants at the summit heard from experts about the many different stresses pollinators face – from pesticide use, to habitat loss, to parasites, and a changing climate.

Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith set the stage for us at the beginning of the summit by channeling John Lennon and singing for us (!) a rallying cry “All we are saying, is give bees a chance!” And that was the goal of the summit — to gather real, meaningful ideas from the community that could be implemented by state government to support our wild and domesticated pollinators. The community grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Instead of the 100 or so attendees we initially planned for, we ended up with more than 200 registered participants!

DESIGNING FOR ENGAGEMENT

We had one of the most diverse communities gathered that I have seen in my time at Environmental Initiative. Farmers, lobbyists, hobby beekeepers, landscape architects, activists, academics, legislators, and local government all had a seat at the table. Environmental Initiative’s job was to make sure we designed and executed an event that gave every participant a voice.

So, that’s what we did. We designed a summit that forced participants to engage with others. We placed an emphasis on small group discussions and deliberately organized discussion groups to have a set of diverse stakeholders at each table. We also asked each group to report out up to three broadly supported ideas for action, which we then posted on the wall for all other groups to react to.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t disagreement. Of course there was. Not all of the ideas we generated at the summit will be able to be implemented, but some might. The point is we created a space where folks could talk with, rather than past, each other about all of the ways we could improve the outlook for our pollinators.

We’re in the process of reviewing all of the input generated at the summit and preparing a summary for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in this important conversation. Watch the blog and your email in the coming weeks for the summary of what we heard. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be reviewing all of the input from the summit to help inform their strategies for pollinator protection.

While it remains to be seen what ideas get adopted and put into practice, I walked out of the summit knowing that by living up to our values of “Better Together” and “Open Exchange”, my colleagues and I at Environmental Initiative did the best we could to give our insect pollinators a chance.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Pollinator Policy Forum: What’s the Buzz?

December 18th, 2014

If you have been paying attention to news channels for the past decade, you may have heard about the severe decline in honeybeesbee populations. Recently, these trends have gained the attention of many bee fans to collaborate for a solution. Governmental departments, academics at the University of Minnesota, and environmental organizations chose to focus on discussing creating habitats for Minnesota’s pollinators at Environmental Initiative’s recent policy forum. But what you might not see (as I didn’t) before attending the meeting was, “What do bees have to do with me individually?”

When I was a kid, honeybees were the source for sweet condiments on my chicken tenders after a hard day’s work at soccer practice. As it turns out, bees serve my zesty taste buds and nutrition more than I imagined. According to Marla Spivak, a leading bee researcher at the University of Minnesota, bees directly or indirectly provide for the bounties of our fruits and vegetables. Not only that, the ‘lil buggers pollinate about $15 billion worth of agricultural crops that sustain our nation’s appetite and economy.

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Tess Ergen

POSTED BY:

Student, University of Minnesota

Join the Discussion: Safe and Economic Transportation of Bakken Crude Oil Through Minnesota

November 25th, 2014

Bakken shale oil production has reached 1 million barrels per day, up from 200,000 in 2009 and is forecasted to be 1.6 million by 2017. Today, approximately 70% of Bakken shale oil is transported via railcars and each week over 50 million gallons of oil travel through densely populated regions, including the Twin Cities. As the train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota last December demonstrates, the emergency response system needs additional resources to address rail accidents.  The proposed Sandpiper pipeline route will travel through vulnerable and largely inaccessible Minnesota wetlands. However, it will reduce the rail car transportation and result in billions of dollars in infrastructure investments.

Given these challenges, how do we safely transport Bakken shale oil through Minnesota to refineries on the East and Gulf coasts? Join the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce – Upper Midwest Chapter for an event that brings global, national, regional and local experts together to discuss risk management practices as well as the economic impacts of the Bakken oil boom to the State and the business community.

EVENT DETAILS
December 4, 2014

9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (registration and refreshments begin at 8:00 a.m.)

Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Cowles Auditorium – University of Minnesota
301 19th Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Parking and Directions »

Registration is $35, or $15 for students. Pre-registration is encouraged, but you may also register the day of the event. Register here »

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Ole Koppang

POSTED BY:

Vice President, National Banking Division - Bank of the West

Green Chemistry is Big in Minnesota and Poised to Grow

January 8th, 2014

Increasingly companies of all sizes and types are looking at the chemicals used in their products and processes with an eye to reducing their environmental impacts. Many are using green chemistry and life cycle assessment as frameworks for increasing the sustainability of their products and processes and assuring the use of safer chemicals throughout their supply chains. These businesses recognize the value and cost savings from reducing toxic inputs, including reduced liability, regulatory compliance, and meeting consumer demand for safer products.

Fortunately, Minnesota is blessed with a cluster of businesses helping to meet consumer and business demands for safer chemistry. Companies like BioAmber, Segetis, NatureWorks, Reluceo, and others are utilizing biofeedstock to develop replacements for petroleum-derived plasticizers, solvents and plastics.  Biochemicals provide a high value use of agricultural and forestry feedstock that can help boost Minnesota’s economy. In addition to economic benefits, green chemistry affords environmental and health benefits from new, safer green chemistry products. (more…)

Kathleen Schuler

POSTED BY:

Healthy Kids and Families Program Director, Conservation Minnesota

Your Groundwater Questions, Answered.

December 23rd, 2013

Thank you to everyone who attended our December 17th policy forum Seizing Opportunities for Integration in Groundwater Management. Attendees learned about and discussed emerging strategies and plans for integrating groundwater management across state and local agencies and how these strategies may inform future planning and permitting decisions.

The audience had a lot of great questions – so many in fact, that we did not have time during the event to answer them all.  I asked our speakers to respond to some of we were unable to answer at the event.

Here are their responses:

What link is there between strategies in the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) and the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP)?

Dan Stoddard, Minnesota Department of Agriculture:

The Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan was developed independently of, and without consideration for, the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program.

The concept of certainty, protection from future regulations, for MAWQCP certified growers would apply to any new rules developed under the NFMP during the period of certification.  This means that if the Minnesota Department of Agriculture was to develop new rules under the NFMP we would assume that certified growers are meeting all required water quality goals and would write into the new rule that certified growers are exempt or considered to be in compliance with the rule during the period of certification.  This is reasonable since the requirements to adopt best management practices to become certified should meet or exceed the requirements in the new rule.

One of the goals of the revised NFMP is to work with local growers to consider changing land management practices in targeted areas to address local concerns with elevated nitrate in the groundwater.  Therefore we would still want to work with MAWQCP certified growers and involve them on the local advisory team and any other local activities.  Since these growers have demonstrated leadership by participating in the MAWQC program, we would seek them out as potential leaders in local response efforts. (more…)

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

The Future of Minnesota’s Electric Utilities: The Sequel

November 13th, 2013

Environmental Initiative’s recent policy forum on “The Future of Minnesota’s Electric Utilities” drew a block-buster crowd—you would have thought they were giving away free beer. Especially for a topic as potentially dry and esoteric as the future of electric utilities, one would have expected a much smaller crowd and the deafening sound of crickets. But the meeting room overlooking the iconic Como Zoo was packed and humming with conversation.

Timing is everything, and the electricity industry in this country (and elsewhere in the world) is undergoing seismic changes that deserve the kind of attention they got at Environmental Initiative’s recent forum. Indeed, for anyone working in (or just interested in) the energy sector, it’s impossible to escape talking about what the utility of the future might look like and how it might evolve. It is the right conversation to be having. (more…)

It’s Not Just About Minnesota Anymore

June 27th, 2013

On July 17-18 the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM) will host its annual Environmental Health and Safety Compliance Excellence conference at General Mills Inc.’s headquarters in Minneapolis. As part of this event, the members of NAEM’s Upper Midwest chapter will take the opportunity to discuss how local, regional and global compliance issues affect Minnesota business. Here are a few of the issues I expect we’ll address at the chapter meeting next month:

Karen Yeadon

POSTED BY:

Manager - Environment, Health, & Safety at Emerson Process Management
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