GreenMark in the news: Environment role rising in election

Via Minnesota Daily:

Protecting the environment may be a priority for many Minnesotans, but that likely won’t be a main factor in who they vote for on Tuesday.

While policymakers and experts say the environment is becoming increasingly important to the public, voters still tend to mark their ballots based on candidates’ stances on traditional issues, like taxes and the economy. To make environmental policies a priority, experts say candidates need to argue both the ecological and financial benefits.

“People are not voting for someone because of their stance on environment but rather on health care or other issues,” said Steve Kelley, a senior fellow in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “When decision time comes, voters tend to weigh these issues more highly.”

Former state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew discussed the role environment plays in this year’s election and the struggles it brings to both voters and candidates on Wednesday as part of the Institute on the Environment’s “Frontiers in the Environment” lecture series.

“It is true environment is stated as a critical issue for Minnesota, but it rarely reaches the top tier for voters,” Andrew said.

During her time in the Senate, Koch, a Republican, was at the forefront of many environmental policy changes. She promoted initiatives like the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which increased state sales taxes to support projects like water restoration, wildlife and the arts.

When it comes to the issues politicians choose to promote, voters’ opinions play an important role, Koch said, but “voter concerns often revolve around their pocketbooks.”

She said both mainstream parties typically care about both environmental and economic issues, but they need to pair the two together to garner support for the environment.

“Both sides are interested in efficiency,” she said. “They want to conserve resources while saving money.”

For example, she said, solar energy has become more popular nationally as a source of power because it has environmental and financial benefits.

“Politicians and other advocates for the environment need to work on ways in which it is economically good for the country and environment to take action on these issues,” said Kelley, who is also a former DFL state legislator.

Andrew said maintaining a balance between the two is essential to pass environment policies.

“Pushing ideas is a balancing act,” Andrew said. “You can’t push for something so hard that you end up losing your credibility, or even the election.”

That idea is depicted in the heated debate surrounding the PolyMet Mining controversy.

PolyMet is proposing to mine iron and copper from parts of the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. Advocates argue it would create jobs and boost the economy, while opponents worry about its effect on the environment.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who is running for re-election, hasn’t taken a stance on the issue, while Republican challenger Jeff Johnson has publicly supported the project — and that may draw some voters to one candidate or the other.

“Balancing job opportunities with protecting the environment will play a significant role in the outcome of the race,” Kelley said.

While the environment typically hasn’t been ranked as a top priority for voters, Koch said debates over issues like the PolyMet project are increasing the role the environment plays in elections.

“I believe this year’s election is going to be a tipping point for the environment,” Andrew said.

Environmental science junior Louis Mielke, a member of the student group Fossil Free Minnesota, said a candidate’s stance on environmental issues, like renewable energy, is a huge factor in who he will vote for on Election Day.

“We have the tools to transition towards becoming more energy-efficient; we just need to elect the right people into power,” he said.

You can read this article on