Minnesota’s Environmental Trust Fund Problems?
- Blog Post by: Vern Wagner
- January 4, 2012 - 4:39 PM
A recent commentary regarding the LCCMR appeared recently in Outdoor News. The issues raised by the author Jeff Broberg need to be of interest to all Minnesotans. Revenue for the Environmental Trust Fund comes from the sale of Lottery tickets. Does the dismissal of LCCMR's Executive Director bring partisan politics back to Minnesota’s Environmental Trust Fund.
Partisan politics for the Environmental Trust Fund
The surprise dismissal of Susan Thorton, the Executive Director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), deepens the acrimony over Minnesota’s dedicated environment and natural resource funding. The unilateral and unexplained dismissal of Ms. Thorton, a long-time non-partisan professional, was apparently based on the pretense that the House Speaker and his caucus want to change the LCCMR into a political machine. I foresee political appointments followed by a raid on the Trust funds to backfill budget cuts accompanied by a rapid shift toward anti-science/anti-environmental policy. The fact that the Speaker took unilateral action to dismiss the Director without notifying or consulting with the LCCMR is a new chapter in the partisan play-book that portends a continued decline of Minnesota’s resources.
As a long-time LCCMR member originally appointed by Republican Speaker Steve Sviggum, and re-appointed by Democrat Speaker Margret Anderson-Kelleher, I have witnessed the initiation and growth of Citizen involvement in the Legislature over the last five years. While the LCCMR has little power we have a big responsibility to guide a wide range of Trust Fund spending on issues and projects that affect Minnesota’s natural resources. Originally the seven Citizens were watchdogs over the process which had been criticized for parochial pork-barrel spending. After a couple of years citizen involvement was embraced by Legislative members as a non-partisan professional service. With the help of a competent non-partisan staff the Legislative-Citizen Commission became known as a resource providing technical and scientific resources to all our Legislative decision-makers. Since the change to a Republican majority the new leaders shun the staff’s and the Citizen’s knowledge and experience and routinely express resentment and disdain toward both staff and Citizens involved in the LCCMR. Firing the Director in order to “change direction” is just the latest in a string of hostile actions and partisan power plays targeted against Minnesota’s environment.
There is something deeper. In my recent experience the majority caucus members appear poorly grounded in science and natural resource management and seem to hold simplified views based solely on opinion and faith, not facts. I have witnessed the majority leaders rant against research, deny science and insult Minnesota’s scientific, intellectual and natural resource professionals. Today at the LCCMR there is little meaningful discourse between the Citizen subject experts and the newly anointed leaders who seem to have their minds made up about where the money should go. In the current LCCMR the minority members rarely participate and the majority members have no apparent culture of inquiry. There seems little hope of non-partisan deliberation over emerging issues. The conservative leadership seems to hold deep-seated partisan resentment toward anything they view as having liberal values and they display scorn or fear toward anyone who would question their conservative views.
Under the new regime woe-be-unto us who think that climate change, environmental education, non-game wildlife, birds, prairies or alternative energy are as important as ducks, trout and deer. Woe-be-unto us who think the LCCMR Director should be a non-partisan professional who serves all Minnesotans', not just the party in power. And woe-be-unto Minnesotans' who place their future in the hands of science-deniers and faith-based politicians who think that they can do anything they want because they already know all the answers.
Jeffrey S. Broberg, LPG, REM
Citizen Commissioner LCCMR
Minnesota Professional Geologist #30019
Registered Environmental Manager #3009
President Minnesota Trout Association.
The LCCMR is made up of 17 members: 5 Senators, 5 Representatives, 5 citizens appointed by the governor, 1 citizen appointed by the Senate, and 1 citizen appointed by the House. The function of the LCCMR is to make funding recommendations to the legislature for special environment and natural resource projects, primarily from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF). These projects help maintain and enhance Minnesota's environment and natural resources. The LCCMR developed from a program initiated in 1963. Since 1963, over $735 million has been appropriated to more than 1,700 projects recommended to the legislature by the Commission to protect and enhance Minnesota's environment and natural resources.
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