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The other Minnesota paradox: Environmental inequality
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The other Minnesota paradox: Environmental inequality

Peter Calow

Minnesota’s reputation as a place that protects the environment is well-known, but it fails to deliver on a number of key areas. This paradox is similar to the paradox that the state is both good and evil for Black people.

Both are connected.

Despite all the environmental praises, this state faces serious challenges. These include soil contamination from forever chemicals, soil pollution from vehicles and wildfires, and home problems with lead paint and pipes. Environmental contaminants are more dangerous to those who live in older properties or without insurance.

These anomalies need to be addressed in three areas: more coherent decision-making, more inclusive and more attention to both when responding to funding opportunities.

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Decision-making silos are major barriers to achieving equitable and sustainable development. At least seven state agencies are involved in protecting water resources. Safe drinking water is a responsibility that changes with each agency, from source to sink. This means that decisions about whether, where, and how to treat contaminants can be made in a way that is not optimal.

Climate change response will require all of the state agencies, and there are still opportunities for confusion.

The state’s Environmental Quality Board could provide oversight, but it needs to be led by an independent group of agencies in order to deliver more strategically. The Clean Water Council, which was created to administer the tax money from the so known Legacy Amendment to state Constitution, has a focus on water. There is a sub-cabinet at the governors’ level that deals with climate change. However, it needs a wider remit as promoting climate change policy could cause unexpected problems in other areas. You cannot choose between electrical storage batteries based on their ability reduce carbon dioxide. This ignores the potential pollution they can cause to soils or water from chemicals that are released during disposal.

Sustainable environmental policies require more holistic oversight. Unfortunately, this oversight is not available.

All Inclusivity

The state bodies are overflowing with technical experts. This is the best way to address the extremely complex technical issues that surround environmental degradation. These types of problems will not be solved by one solution. There will be many options. Experts may have different priorities than important stakeholders such as those who live in disadvantaged areas or those who are part of tribal nations.

Technical elitism is a form of resentment that can lead to resentment. It has been linked to the rise in populism.

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Governance is not enough. Public investment is crucial. For example, getting rid the lead supply lines from the drinking waters system would cost $4 billion. Owners will bear the responsibility for this. Billions are required to convert to renewables and upgrade the grid, infuse property insulation, electrify transport and defend against flooding.

Peter Calow

Peter Calow

The Clean Water Fund is able to provide money up to a third billion dollars per year. More will soon be available through the Federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

The state should establish a high-level group to strategize on sustainable environmental policies. But then, preferences from all important stakeholders, including the tribal nations, will be used to refine priorities and make decisions about priorities. As more money flows, there will be political pressures and urgency to act. However, it will not be possible to ask everyone about every option. It will be crucial to have community leaders. We should use the power of the internet, bigdata and crowdsourcing to inform our decisions more often.

It is essential to have a holistic approach in order to deliver for people, environment, and economy while also taking into consideration future generations. The challenge is to balance the inevitable trade-offs while remaining transparent and sensitive for public preferences. This is a challenge that the state can address.

Peter Calow is a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

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