Stimulus green is going back to Mother Nature after an announcement April 15 that $528 million will be allocated to 50 of the country's most polluted areas across 28 states. For Minnesota, this could mean an important boost for future conservation efforts. To be sure of that we'll need to keep a close eye on where this money actually goes.
The funding comes at a much needed time for the Environmental Protection Agency which predicted that 15 of the highly polluted sites would likely go unfunded without the stimulus money. For Minnesota, this could be a huge bonus for the recently authorized Clean Water, Land and Legacy Act that may be on the budget-chopping block to help curb short-term economic issues that legislators deem more dire.
The act was approved Nov. 4 by Minnesotans who voted "Yes" to implement a tax that would fund the long-term conservation plan, but as the state's budget faces a massive deficit, environmental concerns can take a back seat to other issues.
It was a proud day for us eco-conscious voters in Minnesota who helped raise the pollution of our state's waterways on the policy agenda, but it will be a slap in the face to watch those efforts fade away so legislators can help bandage up their own priorities. The state senate's Environment, Energy and National Resources budget division began planning April 15, and it will be on their shoulders to embrace the opinions of Minnesota voters and give this act the support it needs.
But keeping the act alive will require the public to keep legislators accountable. The bill is set up as a regressive tax that will pool money to be allocated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty's appointees. Given the interpretable and open-ended title of the act, officials could justify dumping all the money into less-than-best conservation projects that do little to actually solve Minnesota's water pollution issues. If we were to see this money funding hunting and fishing resources across the state, it would not surprise me. Minnesotans don't need better access to waterways and hunting terrain to motor around in; we need these areas protected from needless pollution and rehabilitated from years of neglect. Sure, maybe hunting and fishing are great pastimes, but I don't think Minnesotans had helping a hunter slay a 12-point buck in mind when they supported the bill to help clean up our land and water.
The economy is slumping, but the environment should not be the one footing the bill. Wasting important conservation funding so constituents can happily shoot guns and kill fish isn't the solution either. It'll be a sad day when we realize that attacking the defenseless target of Mother Nature will leave us not only with a broken economy, but also a destroyed environment.
Photo: Polluted banks of the Mississippi river are a common sight. Money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Act could go a long way to curb this problem.
Photo credit: Rory Mattson