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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

Our Thoughts: 2013 Commissioners Forum

April 18th, 2013

Why would Environmental Initiative hold the first policy forum of the year the day after a spring snow storm?

Besides the fact that we’re all hardy Minnesotans who secretly enjoy the unusual weather, we find ourselves at a unique time. We’re halfway through Governor Mark Dayton’s first term and changes in legislature can sometimes shift priorities and possibilities for state agencies. Added to this, Minnesota has state agency leaders who have stepped into new roles to coalesce with the establisheAttendees at the 2013 Commissioners Forumd leaders.

With all this in mind, Environmental Initiative wanted to gather state agency leaders to provide the community with a unique opportunity to have a conversation about their priorities and opinions on the environmental issues that matter to Minnesotans.

Leaders from the Board of Water & Soil Resources, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discussed their priorities during two panel discussions last Friday. While there was a lot of good discussion, some common themes emerged throughout the morning including concerns about water quality and quantity, climate change, collaboration, and Minnesota’s Environmental Congress. (more…)

Eric David

POSTED BY:

Program Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Policy Forum Recap: 2013 Legislative Preview

January 2nd, 2013

On Thursday, December 20, a bipartisan group of legislators along with a crowd of over 200 members of Minnesota’s environmental community gathered in downtown Saint Paul for our annual Legislative Preview Policy Forum. Each year, the event gives an audience from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors the chance to hear from Minnesota lawmakers about their environmental priorities for the coming legislative session.

A short presentation from Minnesota Management and Budget’s John Pollard and Michelle Mitchell highlighted future budget uncertainties the state will have to contend with this year. They also reminded us of the relatively tiny share of funding that is allocated to environment, energy, and natural resources (0.7 % of general fund spending, and 3.2% of total state spending).

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Georgia Rubenstein

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Focus on the Loon

December 10th, 2012

This past summer I had the pleasure of facilitating the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project, which brought together leaders from the three major parks and trails providers (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, and Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails) to determine a consensus-based allocation of about $40 million per year in Legacy Amendment dollars.

In past bienniums, the money was allocated based on what some called “a food fight at the legislature,” that left most parties dissatisfied. Our project was set up to avoid a similar fate when it came time to the allocation for FY 2014 – FY 2015. The idea was that nine reasonable parks and trails professionals, three from each provider, could meet six times and come up with a more thoughtful, sensible and consensus-based approach. Common Loon in breeding plumage

I worried that the food fight had just been moved from the Capitol to my meeting room.

Yet in a year that saw so many issues obstructed by divisive rhetoric, I was impressed by the calm, amenable discussion during our six meetings. Although at one point I did have to encourage them to quit being Minnesota nice and state their positions or we’d never reach our goal! (To which one group member memorably replied, “You’ve got a room full of alpha dogs here, just circling and taking each other’s measure.” So true!)

It was interesting to see the different approaches each team member took to the task at hand. Some were focused on data, trying to discover a clean mathematical answer to the allocation of funds. Others took a more philosophical approach, keying in on ideals and goals all the groups shared.

But all the members agreed on one thing: that Parks and Trails dollars from the Legacy Fund should be used to improve the recreation experience for all Minnesotans. “The people using Minnesota’s parks don’t care which group built them or maintain them – they just want to have a good experience,” summarized one group member.

I used a small plush loon as a visual totem of this idea, and it sat in front of me at every meeting. I was very gratified that many group members referred to the loon throughout the process to remind them to think of the whole state before their own professional positions.

I’m immensely proud of this project’s success and all the players involved: Environmental Initiative, which doggedly believes that civilized discussion can solve contentious challenges; the State of Minnesota for investing time and funds to host the discussion, and especially the nine parks professionals from diverse background who worked so hard to come to an informed agreement.

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A note from Environmental Initiative:

Marian Bender facilitated Work Group meetings for the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding project from April – October 2012. Consensus was reached on an agreement to allocate parks and trails funding for FY 2014 – FY 2019. The final report and process recommendations are available on the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project page.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Headquarters via Flickr.

Marian Bender

POSTED BY:

Facilitator, Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project

Policy Forum Recap: Managing Minnesota’s Groundwater Supply

December 5th, 2012

The news of Minnesota’s ongoing drought and the recently filed lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over low water levels in White Bear Lake was fresh in the minds of 130 attendees at last week’s policy forum, “Minnesota’s Groundwater Supply: Policy Challenges and Opportunities.”

As we heard last Thursday, some parts of the state are already seeing groundwater shortages, and the problem is likely to worsen in the absence of new approaches to governance, allocation, and consumption. The need for better data about our state’s groundwater supplies, and for more proactive, holistic management – instead of the current practice of issuing long-term permits on an individual basis, without allowing for potential new or changing information about supply – were some of the primary topics of discussion.

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Georgia Rubenstein

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Presenting at the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Conference

October 5th, 2012

Recently, I had the pleasure of heading up to Cragun’s Resort just outside Brainerd, Minnesota to present the draft recommendation for parks and trails legacy funding and an overview of the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project at the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association’s 75th Annual Conference. This presentation was given in coordination with Al Leiffort and Jeff and Kathy Schoenbauer, who presented information on the $175,000 study being done for the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Coalition. Thanks again to Al, Jeff and Kathy for sharing their time!

The purpose of Minnesota Recreation and Park Association (MRPA), through its members, is to improve the quality of life in Minnesota by providing excellent park and recreation services. The MRPA was originally formed in 1937 and has now grown to include over 1,000 members across the state.

The Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group members have been meeting since April to reach consensus on a recommendation on how best to allocate legacy dollars to the three parks and trails providers in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
  • Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails
  • Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails

Below is the presentation I gave which includes information about how Environmental Initiative facilitated the process to reach consensus and the draft recommendation.  Work group members met earlier this week to finalize their recommendation. The final report will be made available over the next several weeks.

Thanks again to the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group for their efforts during this complex process. And thanks again to Al Leiffort and Jeff and Kathy Schoenbauer for giving Environmental Initiative this opportunity to present the information to MRPA conference attendees.

 

Eric David

POSTED BY:

Program Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Policy Forum Recap: Natural Gas and Minnesota’s Energy Future

September 27th, 2012

There is no doubt that the energy industry, and those interested in energy policy, in Minnesota and elsewhere, are abuzz with both hopes and fears when it comes to the sudden and rapidly changing role of domestic natural gas in our energy resource mix. This interest was on full display at the policy forum on September 21, 2012, Natural Gas and Minnesota’s Energy Future. There were over 130 attendees, many with challenging and thoughtful questions. Where (and whether) prices will stabilize in the coming years is still up for debate, and along with price uncertainties come many unknowns related to distribution and how we best capitalize on this resource to support our goals of a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy system in Minnesota. Although the forum did not provide all of the answers, it did point out several key themes related to how we might best focus on the opportunities and risks posed by low cost natural gas: (more…)

Kevin Johnson

POSTED BY:

Attorney and Partner, Stoel Rives LLP

The Hike to Consensus Continues For Parks and Trails

August 17th, 2012

Outdoor recreation participation has been on a downward trend nationwide since the 1990s. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, declines in activities like hunting, fishing, and boating among young adults and their children, are driving the changes. These challenges, as well as a set of strategies to overcome them, were identified in the Parks and Trails Legacy Plan. Over the next two decades, Minnesota parks and trails providers will play a crucial role in reversing these trends by helping connect people to nature-based outdoor recreation statewide.

The Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group has also kept these challenges in mind as they work to develop a recommendation for Parks and Trails Legacy Funding. During the most recent meeting, agreement was reached on a series of ideas that will likely end up in the final recommendation. The group has decided to establish a small “Opportunity Fund” to support efforts to jointly market and coordinate parks and trails of state and regional significance managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails, and Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails. (more…)

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Breaking Down Silos, Inside and Out, To Keep Our Air Clean

July 26th, 2012

It’s not a regular occurrence – and you never know when things will take this path – but air quality work has spanned Environmental Initiative’s event, dialogue, and action work. Air quality issues started as a policy forum idea, led to stakeholder convening and action work through Clean Air Minnesota and Project Green Fleet, and are now the center of attention in Minnesota’s Clean Air Dialogue.

While we’ve worked on a range of different types of projects, focused on many different environmental issues, Environmental Initiative’s efforts generally fall into three categories – events, dialogue, and action. We try to meet our partners – and the issues they care about – where they are, and know that different environmental problems are suited to different solutions. Some situations call for developing shared understanding; others, for productive discussion; and still others, for action. Our event work brings together people from many perspectives to share reliable information, connect, and create open dialogue. Our dialogue efforts facilitate conversations with environmental leaders to achieve policy and other environmental solutions for a cleaner, stronger Minnesota. In our action work, we implement on-the-ground projects to improve our air, land, and water. It is rare, though, for us to continue work on an issue through all three sectors. That’s where our air quality story begins…

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Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

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