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Aug 22nd

Advocates use law, science to protect environment, residents

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Advocates use law, science to protect environment, residents

As more people worry that chemicals in the air or the water might be causing their cancers and other illnesses, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy came up with an idea: the St. Paul-based group developed a health tracking and bio-monitoring bill that passed the Minnesota Legislature this spring. As more people worry that chemicals in the air or the water might be causing their cancers and other illnesses, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy came up with an idea: the St. Paul-based group developed a health tracking and bio-monitoring bill that passed the Minnesota Legislature this spring. It establishes a system to study possible relationships between the pollutants and chronic diseases in a community and tests volunteers for contaminants such as arsenic and mercury in their bodies.

When Metro Transit cut bus service, MCEA was one of the key groups that reviewed the bus company's work to make sure that people of color weren't affected more than white riders.

People are worried that the lakes and rivers in the Twin Cities area and throughout Minnesota may not be clean enough for swimming or fishing. MCEA lobbied hard and the legislature put $54 million into the Clean Water Legacy to test our waters and develop plans for bodies of water that fail the clean water standards. It has also fought to cut the amount of mercury that winds up in the waters and the fish.

These are just a few of the things Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy does. It may just be the most successful environmental group you never heard of.

"We are the legal and scientific voice protecting and defending Minnesota's environment," said executive director Martha Brand. "We want the water, the air, the forests and other natural resources as good as or better for our children and grandchildren than they are for us."

People may not be as aware of MCEA because it doesn't go door-to-door seeking grassroots help. Instead, on a budget of $2 million a year that comes about equally from foundations and private donations, the private non-profit has a staff of seven lawyers, four scientists and a water quality specialist that act as watchdogs for businesses that would pollute and state and local agencies that don't enforce the environmental laws.

Since its founding in 1974 by a group of young lawyers, MCEA has been very effective in getting laws passed that protect the environment and people's health, and in battling in the courts and before state agencies to make sure that those laws are obeyed.

"A highway running though the community devastates the people who developed the community," said Michael Kleber-Diggs, a businessman from St Paul and an MCEA board member. "But then you have the traffic and the air pollution and the impact on the people who are left. Who speaks up for them? I wanted to be part of that. Through the courts and our research we are a prominent voice and we look at how the decisions made impact the environment and the people who live in it."

The organization has grown and expanded from the early days when it was helping to establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota and successfully stopping construction of the Tyrone Nuclear Power plant.

Clean water and protecting the state's forests and prairies have been MCEA's main interests. For instance, the organization is currently pushing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to limit where off-road vehicles can operate in state forests and to write tougher rules for building on the shores of lakes and rivers.

MCEA now does work in clean energy, in public health and in land use and transportation.

So when Metro Transit cut bus services because of a budget deficit in 2005, MCEA joined other organizations and demanded to know what steps the bus agency took to ensure the bus routes carrying mostly people of color didn't get cut more than routes carrying white passengers.

Using the information they received from Metro Transit, MCEA lawyer Kevin Reuther and others compared it with federal law to make sure that they did i
 

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