Written by: Dylan Tarr
As Michigan’s general election draws nearer — it’s Tuesday, November 6th, Michiganders will decide between former state Attorney General and Republican candidate Bill Schuette and former Michigan Senate Minority leader Democrat Gretchen Whitmer to become the next governor of Michigan.
Alongside the gubernatorial candidates the public will vote on several proposals. Sample ballots can be found on this useful site so voters don’t go into their polling place unprepared. But for most voters, the gubernatorial race will attract the most attention.
For environmentally responsible voters, the League of Conservation Voters has compiled a legislative scorecard for state representatives based on how likely they are to support environmental issues. The LCV has rated Schuette a lifetime average of 32%, while they endorse Whitmer’s run for governor with her 93% lifetime average. But let’s look at both candidates’ positions on specific environmental issues.
Since switching water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014, Flint residents have been without clean drinking water. Weeks after the switch, corrosive Flint River water leached lead into drinking water, ultimately leading to a federally declared state of emergency in January of 2016. In April of 2018 water supply was switched back to Lake Huron and Governor Snyder declared water quality had been restored although Flint’s water pipes are still in the process of being replaced.
In July of 2016, Schuette charged six government officials in connection with the water crisis, but other community members claim he ignored their concerns. While Schuette supports Governor Snyder’s current pipe-replacing system, he has a record of suing to block clean water initiatives stretching back to the 1990s as reported by the Detroit Free Press earlier this year.
Whitmer has stated she plans to urge legislators to raise $3 million in the Rebuild Michigan Bank to fund pipe replacement in her campaign platform. But with a Republican legislative majority this initiative could likely fail. Whitmer’s back up plan relies on passing a bond to create a tax hike to fund pipe replacement instead. The bond would also fund an office for a water ombudsman to investigate public complaints about drinking water as well as funding to upgrade drains and sewers to prevent untreated wastewater from entering lakes.
In 2017 tests showed 490,000 parts per trillion of PFAS in and around the Rogue River in Rockford, levels well above the EPA’s 70 parts per trillion limit for drinking water. PFAS are a carcinogenic chemical used in waterproofing and firefighting foam manufactured and used by Michigan-based companies (NOTE: 3M is Minnesota based) 3M and Wolverine as well as by the federal government on military bases across the state. Since 2017, over 50 communities have tested positive for PFAS while lawmakers debate on how to move forward.
Schuette has said he will implement a plan to clean up PFAS sites statewide but no concrete outline seems to exist. In July of 2018, Governor Snyder requested Schuette file a lawsuit against 3M but the suit has yet to come to fruition.
Whitmer has said she plans to restock the 1998 Clean Michigan initiative with bond money, essentially doing away with the Renew Michigan initiative. If successful, the money would go to clean-up efforts, home and utility filtration systems and the creation of a statewide, publicly available database of all known groundwater resources and contaminated aquifer systems across Michigan.
Built in 1953, Enbridge Line 5 currently carries 540,000 barrels of oil per day under the Straits of Mackinac from western to eastern Canada. According to a study done by the Michigan Technological University, if the pipeline were to fail it would slick 437 miles of Great Lakes coastline, endanger 60 species of wildlife and leak 2,436,000 gallons of oil into the Great Lakes. In 2018 the 65 year old pipeline was gouged by an anchor from a tugboat, narrowly avoiding a rupture. Likewise, the pipeline is often temporarily shut down during severe weather in fears it may breech. This year Enbridge has agreed to pay to enclose Line 5 in a protective concrete tunnel, but may Michigander are calling for the pipeline to be retired all together.
Schuette supports maintaining operation of Line 5 and the plan to encase the pipeline in a larger concrete tunnel to guard against leaks while performing visual inspections. In a recent televised debate, Schuette again reinforced his concrete tunnel stance, a construction initiative that Enbridge has said will not be complete until sometime between 2025 and 2028.
In her “Clean Water for Michigan Plan” and in the same recent televised debate, Whitmer has stated she would immediately begin the legal process of decommissioning Line 5 if she takes office, calling it a “serious risk” to the Great Lakes.
Last year, like every year, Canada took advantage of Michigan’s exceedingly low landfill tipping rate of just 35 cents and imported 10.2 million cubic yards of trash into Michigan landfills. The state racked up another 2.2 million cubic tons of trash from neighboring states as well. As of this year, foreign trash composes 25% of Michigan’s landfills and will increase if nothing is done. Governor Snyder has proposed raising the tipping fee to $4.75 with the Renew Michigan initiative to combat imported trash.
Schuette has not publicly addressed imported trash from Canada or trash coming from across state lines.
Whitmer has stated in her “Clean Water for Michigan Plan” she would work to reduce imported trash from Canada as part of her “Blue Economy” initiative, or an economy based around sustainable use of natural resources and environmental stewardship. However, Whitmer has no outlined plan, only stating she plans to work with Michigan’s congressional delegation to reduce Canadian trash.
In the 1970s Michigan led the way in recycling, implementing a 10 cent deposit on returnables. But nearly 40 years later the state has fallen behind with a current recycling rate of only 15% despite the national average of 29%.
Schuette has not addressed recycling in his platform.
Whitmer has said she would work to pass a statewide curbside recycling program managed by the Department of Great Lakes and Freshwater, describing recycling as a nonpartisan issue.
A lot has been said about climate change, but one thing is certain, it’s getting hotter here on planet earth.
In his career, Schuette has downplayed the effects of climate change and questioned its existence, describing it as an “unsettled area of science.” But in his last debate before the election Schuette said “climate change is real and the Earth is getting warmer,” but not including any plan or what he might do to curb climate change.
In the same debate Whitmer said she would enter Michigan into a coalition of states that will meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement. She has also proposed creating an Office of Climate Change to adopt a Smart Climate Community initiative like that in New York state to reduce emissions and greenhouse gases and support renewable energy solutions.
Michigan hosts a variety of invasive species, but the potential for large, quickly reproducing Asian carp entering the Great Lakes could cause serious ecological damage to aquatic food chains. First imported into the U.S. in the 1970s by fish farmers to clean commercial ponds, Asian carp are getting closer and closer to the Great Lakes.
Schuette has stated he would work with the federal government to limit ballast discharge to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes in his environmental plan.
Whitmer has stated she plans to lobby in Washington to pass the Defending our Great Lakes Act and give the Army Corps of Engineers the authority needed to prevent the upstream migration of invasive species.
For more information on the environmental views of these candidates and others, don’t forget to check out the Michigan League of Conservative Voters website to view candidate scorecards. While WMEAC does not endorse any candidate for the upcoming election, we do hope to see you all at the polls on November 6th to cast your own vote.