Star Tribune op-ed: Major state companies need to disavow Chamber's harmful environmental agenda

A commentary in the May 5 Star Tribune co-authored by longtime FMR Board Member Peter Gove highlights major Minnesota companies that tout their environmental credentials while funding Chamber of Commerce legislation to roll back bedrock environmental protections for Minnesota's lands and waters. 

The commentary is included below, but we also recommend reading it online to leave a comment and taking action (it only takes a minute) to let Minnesota companies know what's being done in their name.

Commentary: Major state companies need to disavow Chamber's harmful environmental agenda

Major state firms tout their environmental stewardship. They need to use their voices on the Chamber board to disavow harmful legislation. 

Minnesotans like to brag about our quality of life. Our state’s reputation for outstanding environmental quality — clean water and air, abundant wildlife and numerous parks and trails — has made Minnesota an attractive place to live and work. Business leaders tout that same environmental quality as one reason so many successful companies are located here.

That’s why we are surprised to see the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the statewide voice for business, leading an all-out attack at the Legislature on Minnesota’s 45-year-old heritage of environmental protection.

Ten of the largest Minnesota public companies are represented on the Chamber’s board of directors. We wonder if senior management and directors of Target, Best Buy, 3M, Medtronic, U.S. Bank, General Mills, Ecolab, Xcel Energy, Hormel and Delta Air Lines are aware that their companies are essentially complicit in the Chamber’s campaign to weaken long-standing laws and regulations and handicap the state agencies we as citizens expect to protect natural resources on our behalf.

Many of these companies promote their leadership on renewable energy, climate change, sustainable agriculture and clean water. Do they support the Chamber’s agenda at the Minnesota Capitol? As former executives for important Minnesota companies and now citizen advocates for natural resource protection, we want to know.

Minnesota’s environmental laws were enacted with bipartisan support and are admired and emulated across the country. HF888, now in conference committee, contains dozens of pages of policy riders impossible to contemplate in previous years. The most egregious include:

Gutting Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board that provides a forum for agencies and citizens to tackle complex resource challenges;

Allowing polluters to write their own environmental impact reviews;

Severely limiting downstream residents’ and local governments’ rights to challenge mining permits (a gift to PolyMet and Twin Metals);

Allowing large industries to buy their way to expedited permit reviews;

Adding significant barriers for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources to protect public resources while cutting agency enforcement budgets; and

Weakening Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature agricultural buffer initiative.

Likewise, HF605 includes more than 30 redundant and time-consuming hurdles that agencies must follow before making environmental decisions and allows any legislative committee to block these agency actions.

Many of these bad ideas come from bills pushed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Its policy priorities document for the 2017 session included “Support science-based programs and regulations that are subject to legislative review.” In other words, there is no real science, only politics.

If these anti-environmental provisions and agency budget cuts become law, Minnesotans will soon learn of the impacts to their drinking water quality, sewer and water bills, and outdoor recreation prospects. What will they say when they learn that well-known Minnesota companies backed this effort? One senior state official expressed frustration to us, asking how these “fine Minnesota companies” support the Chamber’s positions even as they profess to be conservationists in their stakeholder communications. And concluded, “I say watch what they do, not what they say.”

Opinion polls in Minnesota and across the U.S. confirm overwhelming public support for clean water and air, protecting public lands, confronting climate change and investing in natural resources for future generations. However, polls do not seem to matter at the Capitol, at least not yet. When asked about these proposals, legislators who support the Chamber’s agenda typically respond with smooth talk about downsizing government, making bureaucracy more efficient, regulatory overreach, trusting technology, etc.

But fundamentally the long-term health of all Minnesotans is in play this session with the Chamber’s campaign to weaken environmental protections and the agencies that enforce them. We submit to the leaders of the prominent companies represented on the Chamber’s board that they should be concerned about their public professions of support for clean water, sustainability and climate change, and at the same time backing the Chamber’s reckless environmental agenda.

We are proud to have these firms in Minnesota and their contributions to the state and its economy. We are customers and shareholders of many of them. But we believe the reputation of these companies is at risk with their tacit support of this clean-water wrecking crew led by the state Chamber.

The fate of these dangerous provisions will be determined soon. We urge Target, Best Buy, 3M, Medtronic, U.S. Bank, General Mills, Ecolab, Xcel, Hormel and Delta to disavow these policy riders and budgets cuts and instruct their representatives on the Chamber board of directors to stop defending them. Many thousands of the Minnesota employees of these companies and a much larger number of their customers and shareholders will be watching.

Peter Gove was an executive for St. Jude Medical Inc. and Control Data Corporation (CDC). He is on the boards of several land and water protection, education and senior living organizations. Ron Sternal was an executive for Nuveen Investments and CDC. He serves on the board of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.


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