Capitol Update for February 23, 2007

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Here is this week’s update from MEP’s man at the Capitol, John Tuma:

What a Big Week

 What a big week for the environment.  The nation leading Renewable Energy Bill passed off the House floor on Monday and was signed by the Governor on Thursday.  The Great Lakes Compact was signed by the Governor on Tuesday.  The MEP Protect Our Great Outdoors Day at the Capitol and the Rally was a big success on Wednesday.  The Clean Energy Minnesota Next Generation Biofuels Proposal passed out of two committees.  The electronic waste recycling bill requiring the suppliers of television screens to take responsibility for their products passed out of committee in both the Senate and House and finally looks like it will actually become law this year.

One could fill a couple of volumes with the details from this historic week, but there’s one thing that stands out and is worth reflecting on – the signing of the Renewable Energy Standard(RES).  You all know I love to make comparisons to past historical events.  Our family is studying the abolishment of the slave trade in Great Britain on this the 200th anniversary of its passage in Parliament and the premiere today of the movie Amazing Grace which tells the story of its parliamentary champion William Wilberforce.  The British movement to abolish the slave trade is not a well-known story here in United States, but it’s worth taking a moment to watch this movie to think about mobilizing citizens for political success.  The abolition of the slave trade in Britain was the first successful use of citizen’s grassroots politics to affect public policy for the common good.  From a political analysis viewpoint, I find the similarities interesting on how that campaign compares with our campaign for the RES in Minnesota.

First, the abolition movement was based on a very simple, personal, and strong idea that was articulated in an identifiable legislative action.  They effectively used the tools of media to get this idea out with the purpose of mobilizing the grassroots. In their case, they started out with the simple idea of making the trade of slaves illegal in Britain.  In our case, the simple and strong idea was 25% of our energy coming from clean renewable sources.  It was an idea that was easy for citizens and legislators to grasp.  We never allowed ourselves to get bogged down in distracting details but continued to focus on how the details can help us reach our ultimate idea.
The second similar ingredient to success was the presence of an articulate and passionate legislative champion.  William Wilberforce is not well known here in America.  He had long service in the British Parliament and was an extraordinarily talented statesman and reformer.  He led an arduous 20-year campaign in the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade.  Today, February 23rd marks the 200th anniversary of Wilberforce’s passage of a bill to abolish the slave trade. 

Britain had Wilberforce and we had Senator Ellen Anderson.  Certainly there were other players that deserve recognition, but without a doubt it was Senator Anderson’s passion and long-suffering commitment not to allow this issue to die.  The lesson to learn is in order for environmental issues to be successful, one must take the long view and be prepared to push the issue to the forefront when the political climate is right.  After seven long years of work, 2007 was finally the right time for Senator Anderson and the RES.

Another key ingredient for the abolition movement was strong community leaders who were committed to the idea.  Though Wilberforce received credit for the abolition of slavery in the Parliament, he didn’t do it on his own.  The debate first happened in the churches and pubs of England and in the hearts of its people.  There were key people in England who spent countless hours of community organization and dedicated political activism in order to make the idea a political reality.  Just like the successful mercury effort last year, the key to success for the RES was the countless hardworking individuals within the environmental community making a difference at the local level.  Therefore, the MEP team gives you a hearty congratulations and thank you to all of you who worked hard on this issue.
A final comparison that is worth noting is all the years of planning that went into the British abolitionist movement.  They met and they planned and they met and they planned and . . . you get the idea.  Boy, this is very similar to what we’ve done around last year’s successful mercury effort and this year’s RES.  We did a lot of planning.  It never happens like you plan, and you always have to remain flexible.  Certainly none of us believed that the RES would pass so early in the session, but we were ready to seize the moment.  It was said best by General Eisenhower, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. 

The final similarity to the 1807 British abolitionist story and our 2007 RES saga is that our work is not finished.  Though the 1807 action of abolishing the slave trade was the first major victory in that great movement, it was by far not their last.  Wilberforce and his community partners continued to fight for the complete abolishment of slavery in all of the British Empire, a victory won just three days before Wilberforce’s death in 1833.  We have a lot of work ahead of us this legislative session, and the scientists are telling us we can’t wait until 2033 to resolve some of these problems. 

We must not let the success of the RES and the Great Lakes Compact be used as reasons to stop our other major efforts this session.  We will face strong opposition to our legislation to reduce global warming pollution, develop a strong energy conservation plan, and develop our next generation of ethanol from environmentally friendly prairie grasses.  Lest we forget, investments in our Great Outdoors is still at a 30 year low, and we have some important packages to invest in conservation and clean water.  Therefore, we have a couple successes so far, but we cannot lose the momentum with so much more to do.

I’d encourage you to go see the new movie Amazing Grace and take away from there a little inspiration on how we can continue to make a difference for our State’s future generations.  If we don’t lose heart, I’m sure future generations will be looking back on 2007 as an historic year for environmental protection.  Keep up the good work!

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