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About 200 attend citizens forum on environment

By John Weiss
Agri News

Date Modified: 12/12/2012 9:07 PM

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Global climate change is a serious threat to human health and prosperity; global climate change is suspect at best, maybe a hoax.

Farmers are being unfairly blamed for water pollution; farmers need to do much more to improve Minnesota's water quality.

Minnesota needs to dramatically increase the amount of incentives for alternative energy such as wind and solar; the state must get rid of all alternative-energy incentives.

Well, you can't say state agencies didn't get get what they asked for when they sought opinions at the first Citizen Forums on the Environment in Rochester Nov. 27; it was conducted by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board.

The meeting was the first one six scheduled across the state to find out how people felt about environmental issues. Opinions will be compiled and be part of a statewide Environmental Congress next March.

Opinions from about 200 people who crowded into a room were across the board, with some concerned about mega-issues like climate change, others wanting to talk only about specific problems with wind turbines and silica sand mining. They first voted electronically about their feelings about issues then met in small groups.

The range of feeling was symbolized by two people who were at a group in the southwest corner.

"I'm pretty high on the future," said Bill Rowekamp, a dairy farmer from the Lewiston area. America has always risen to beat challenges and it will do it again, he said.

Sitting near him was Darlene Coffman of Rochester who foresees major health problems and other ills down the road. "We have got to get over our ignorance," she said. If we don't live sustainably but continue to expand and grow, "it will be a grim future," she said.

Even the electronic voting on water, land and air issues showed a fairly wide divide. When asked how they feel about the statement that state waters are clean, 5 percent strongly disagreed, 32 percent disagreed, 26 percent were neutral, 24 percent agreed and 13 percent strongly agreed.

They were also across the board in what water priority issues should be, with no strong agreement over whether it should be drinking water, stormwater runoff, invasive species of waste water. And when asked how much energy the state should get from renewable sources by 2050, 22 percent went as high as 75 percent but some said they didn't want any mandates.

At the small-group meeting in the southwest part of the room, people were split with more saying the government is doing too much and we're not in such bad shape.

Steve Jacob of rural Elba, who was recently elected to the Winona County Board, said farmers are getting too much of the blame for polluted water. "The cities have to be a huge part of the problem," he said. Homeowners aren't regulated and put a lot more chemicals on their lawns, he said.

He and others worried that too many regulations would stifle the free-market system that can help solve problems.

But Coffman said the free-market system won't solve global climate change. We aren't paying enough attention to the big picture, she said.

In the matter of subsidies, one man said they should be dropped for alternative energy including ethanol. "If it can't make it on its own, let it go," he said. "Farmers have to make it on their own."

When the 16 small groups reported to the overall audience, there were again major differences. Some called for a three-year statewide moratorium on mining of silica sand but other groups never touched the subject.

Some sought more statewide controls, others wanted more local control. One group called for more environmental review and more autonomy for the state agencies.

When it was over, Bob Patton, EQB executive director, said he was surprised by how many people showed up "but not surprised at the diversity of opinion."