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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Department of Health’

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

We’re an Air Aware Employer. Are you?

May 4th, 2016

Let’s be honest. Minnesota isn’t Beijing or New Dehli. Our air quality is generally good and we currently meet all federal regulations for clean air. But, do you know what is a little bit scary? Scientists are observing negative health effects from lower and lower levels of pollution. A recent headline even links polluted air to weight gain. Seriously.

Dirty air and its connection to our health are just one of the reasons why Environmental Initiative is committed to working with our Clean Air Minnesota partners to voluntarily reduce emissions – regardless of where federal air quality standards are set. And, it’s why we’ve signed up to be an Air Aware employer. air-aware-badge-300-134

The Be Air Aware employer program is a cooperative effort of Minnesota state government agencies and their partners. The goal is to help raise awareness, to share information on days when air is unhealthy, and to pass along ideas for how you and your employees can help minimize air pollution. As a participant in the program you’ll:

  • Receive air quality alerts to share with your employees on days when air quality is poor
  • Get tips on how employees can minimize their exposure to and help reduce air pollution
  • Receive notice of new stories posted on BeAirAwareMN.org
  • Receive BeAirAwareMN.org promotional items for your website and social media accounts
  • Join a network of like-minded employers committed to clean air

On days when air quality is poor, it might not be healthy for your employees or their children to exercise outdoors. Through Be Air Aware, you’ll be notified of air quality conditions in Minnesota, which will keep your employees informed so they can minimize their exposure to air pollution.

I’m the contact person at Environmental Initiative who receives information from Be Air Aware. I pass along messages and tips from Be Air Aware to the Environmental Initiative staff. Easy, right? Since the program’s launch, 17 organizations have joined, connecting with more than 30,000 employees. Will you?

May 2 – May 6 is Air Quality Awareness week. What better way to celebrate than to sign up for the program and keep your employees informed?

Contact Rebecca Place at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to become a Be Air Aware employer or to learn more.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

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

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

What’s New at the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair?

August 28th, 2012

Did you know the Eco Experience is the second most popular exhibit at the State Fair? (Second only to the Miracle of Birth Center). This is the seventh year the Eco Experience has been at the State Fair and it wouldn’t be possible without partnerships.

This exhibit is a partnership between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota State Fair and more than 150 organizations and businesses across the state. This year all of the partners have done a great job pulling together the exhibit and we’ve brought in some new and exciting features. (more…)

Britt Gangeness

POSTED BY:

Eco Experience Coordinator, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Event Recap: Kicking Off the Clean Air Discussion

April 20th, 2012

It was a sunny spring day on Wednesday, which seemed fitting for the public launch of Minnesota’s Clean Air Dialogue, a yearlong process to develop recommendations for improving our air quality Minnesota-style – through proactive collaboration. A diverse lineup of speakers covered topics that ranged from public health to industrial process efficiency, yet from that seemingly eclectic mix of information two themes emerged very clearly: we have tremendous opportunity to improve the quality of our air in Minnesota – and the will to do it – but there are significant looming consequences if we choose to wait.

The program began with Dr. Jean Johnson of the Minnesota Department of Health, who presented new research on the relationship between “unhealthy air days” and hospitalizations for respiratory problems. Recent Twin Cities data has linked regional air pollution to hospitalizations and respiratory issues, finding that over 650 hospitalizations in a seven-year span were likely attributable to fine particulate pollution. For many, this is reason enough to look at proactive strategies to address air quality issues in Minnesota – we all have to breathe, and we all end up paying a high price for missed work and school days and medical costs associated with high pollution levels.

(more…)

Meleah Houseknecht

POSTED BY:

Director, Environmental Policy
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