WRITTEN BY: Allison Wolf, Legislative Director
Thanksgiving week gives MCEA the chance to offer up our gratitude: to our supporters across the state, our Board members, our staff (past and present) and our terrific volunteers.
It is also a good time to thank elected officials who have helped us make environmental progress at the Capitol. With newly elected legislators moving into the House and Senate buildings, we bid farewell to many talented and dedicated environmental heroes who are returning to private life.
We will miss Senator Katie Sieben (DFL-Cottage Grove), who was an enthusiastic champion for clean water, public health, and public parks. She authored MCEA’s Environmental Health Tracking bill, and received our “Shoot the Rapids” award for that work.
Senator Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada), will also be missed. We thank Senator Scalze for supporting the protection of wetlands and working hard for the Governor’s new law requiring buffer strips to filter out contaminants. Senator Scalze was also known for her excellent work as co-chair of the Legislative Water Commission.
Senator Matt Schmitt (DFL-Red Wing), tackled the difficult issue of frac sand mining in his first session, working to pass legislation that, among other things, provided special protection for sensitive trout streams. It is tough to see someone leave the Senate who has as much potential as does Senator Schmit.
The Minnesota House is losing three scientists: Representatives Kahn, Yarusso, and Persell. MCEA will miss these three, who brought their training in biophysics, chemical engineering, and biology to their legislative work. MCEA will miss hearing their voices on the House floor, where they were known to rise to explain technical matters to the rest of the House of Representatives.
Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) is leaving after serving 22 terms in the House. Her Yale University Ph.D. in biophysics and broad scientific knowledge made her an important voice on environmental matters. MCEA is especially grateful for Representative Kahn’s leadership in protecting the Clean Water Fund dollars.
The House is losing another Ph.D. scientist, chemical engineer Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview). Representative Yarusso will be sorely missed, and it would be hard to find another House member who does as much homework. When MCEA visited with her about the PolyMet environmental review documents, we were amazed to discover that she had already read the entire document of 2000+ pages!
Representative John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) is a biologist who has represented the Red Lake area for four terms. Representative Persell was a terrific partner on water quality issues. He carried MCEA’s Clean Water Accountability Act to passage in 2013, and received our “Shoot the Rapids” award.
The House is also losing Representative Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). MCEA will miss his voice on climate change, and his playful sense of humor on the House floor. We are grateful to Representative Atkins for carrying MCEA’s legislation to address high-potential greenhouse gases.
While these environmental champions are bidding adieu to the Capitol, we hope that they will remain active in Minnesota policy, and wish them all the best in their post-legislative endeavors. Godspeed!