I've been pleasantly surprised by Mayor Dean Knudson's commitment to environmental responsibility.
The mayor is an avowed conservative, and the most vocal conservatives, paradoxically, haven't shown much interest in conserving nature.
Some are openly derisive of environmentalists who warn that mankind's current relationship with the earth is unsustainable. In other words, people are doing things that are causing the deterioration of the earth's natural systems. The quality of life of future generations - if not our own - is in jeopardy if changes aren't made.
So it caught me by surprise when Knudson, shortly after being elected last year, announced that one of his goals for his two-year term was to reduce the city government's energy consumption by 10 percent.
I was skeptical, at first. After all, saying you're for energy conservation nowadays is like being for motherhood on Mother's Day. Even British Petroleum and Exxon Mobil are doing all they can to wean us off the black gold that has brought them record profits, they tell us in TV ads.
My apologies to the mayor for underestimating his sincerity.
In May 2008, he ordered an audit of the city's energy use - including the electricity, natural gas, gasoline and diesel fuel consumed by the city's buildings, vehicles, street lights and traffic signals.
He then appointed an ad hoc committee of city officials who - working with Honeywell Inc. representatives - examined the heating and air conditioning systems of city buildings and suggested energy-saving improvements.
Last November, the City Council, acting on a recommendation by mayor, entered into a formal agreement with Honeywell under which the company will complete a detailed study of the city's facilities and propose energy-saving projects.
Knudson has demonstrated a willingness to spend money now in order to reduce future energy costs and the city's carbon footprint.
"We need to be willing to invest in energy efficiency," he said during a recent Finance Committee discussion about replacing street lights on Hanley Road with electricity-sipping LED (light-emitting diode) lights.
City Administrator Devin Willi in April presented the City Council with a list of 13 things the city has done in the past year to protect the environment. Alderperson Pam Brokaw asked for the accounting in the lead-up to Earth Day.
The list ranges from improvements to storm water retention ponds and efforts to reduce nutrient loading of Lake Mallalieu and the St. Croix River to investigating alternatives to road salt and offering citizens wood chips recycled from tree limbs.
The mayor solidified his bona fides as an environmentally conscious conservative, in my book, with his tie-breaking vote to adopt a framework of sustainable community principles for the city.
The resolution approved on a 4-3 vote at the City Council's May 4 meeting includes simply stated goals that, if followed worldwide, would have globe-changing results.
It commits the city to strive to:
1. "Reduce our reliance on materials extracted from the earth that contribute to a buildup of pollution in our environment;
2. Reduce our contribution to the buildup of synthetic substances in our environment;
3. Reduce our contribution to the physical degradation of our environment; and
4. Recognize that free markets allocate resources most efficiently and property rights must be respected."
The commitments are variations on four goals that the authors of "The Natural Step for Communities" recommend local governments adopt.
Hudson's resolution was drafted by the Hudson Area Intergovernmental Advisory Council, comprised of representatives of the Hudson School District, the village of North Hudson and the towns of Hudson, Troy and St. Joseph, in addition to the city.
A group that calls itself Hudson Citizens for Sustainability asked the intergovernmental council to encourage its member municipalities and the school district to endorse the four environmental goals.
The intergovernmental group did a major re-write of the goals to make them palatable to all its members.
The fourth goal underwent the most radical transformation - from a commitment to "meet human needs fairly and efficiently" to the statement on free markets and property rights.
Knudson told the City Council that the intergovernmental council drafted a capitalistic version of the book's guiding objectives for communities. The idea was to find common ground, he said.
The city's resolution was good enough for Stewart Erickson, a longtime Hudson environmentalist and founding member of Hudson Citizens for Sustainability.
"I'm really glad that the council and Mayor Dean moved forward with this. It shows some real leadership," Erickson told me.
I'm happy about it, too.
As far as I'm concerned, taking good care of the earth shouldn't be a liberal or conservative issue. Folks of all political stripes appreciate clean rivers, air that is safe to breathe and food that isn't laced with manmade chemicals.
I think the mayor gets that. Hopefully, he's part of a vanguard of conservative leaders who recognize that sacrificing long-term environmental quality for short-term profit is a bad deal.
You can pick up a copy of "The Natural Step for Communities" at Back to Books, 520 Second St., in downtown Hudson. I got mine last week and am finding it to be an inspirational read.
Erickson said he's organizing Natural Step study groups. If you're interested in joining one, he'd like to hear from you. He'd prefer that you contact him by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, but if you don't have access to e-mail, feel free to phone him at (715) 386-3565.