Good-bye Michigan Cherries?

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder)

Michiganders love their famous cherries, and in so many different ways: Cherry pie. Dried cherries. Cherry wine. Cherry jam. Even cherry fudge, if you’re on Mackinac Island. Tragically, however, in the wake of deeply unusual spring and winter weather, we may lose 90% of Michigan’s tart cherry crop.

The means to change erratic shifts in weather and climate – and the means to save our cherries! – is still within our power. With coal prices in Michigan climbing over 27% last year and sending our energy costs higher, transitioning away from coal can ease the changing climate and even save you some cash for more dried cherries!

Michigan Electric Rates Spike

We get 60% of our electricity from coal, all of which is imported. As if sending all our money for coal out of state isn’t bad enough, the cost of it rose 27% last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, so it’s no surprise that electric rates have risen 11.5% in the last year in Michigan, as reported by MLive.

Contracts for wind energy, on the other hand, are getting cheaper and are guaranteed for decades because it’s easy to predict how much a gust of wind will cost (free!), while the delivery of coal depends on a hundred different factors. Overall, a recent Michigan Public Service Commission report confirmed that the cost of electricity from new wind power is dramatically cheaper than the cost of electricity from a new coal plant

By incorporating a higher percentage of wind at a locked-in lower cost, we’ll reduce our dependence on imported coal and its associated price spikes. We can make sure that happens with the 25% by 2025 Renewable Energy Standard ballot proposal.

As opposed to unpredictable coal, the ballot initiative will not cost you – as a ratepayer – more than $1.25 per month. Other states who have adopted a 25% renewable energy standard have not experienced any significant increases on their bills, either. Meanwhile, it will move us away from cost spikes from coal, improved public health, and create over 44,000 new jobs.

Asian Carp Bills Would Speed Up Study

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House and Senate would speed up the Army Corps of Engineers’ study of separating the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds.

The bills, co-sponsored by Michigan’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) and Rep. Dave Camp (R), would require the study to be completed within 18 months. It is currently scheduled for completion in 2015. We tried out the Army Corp’s passive attitude and politely asked the Asian Carp to wait while they slowly complete their study, but the Asian Carp are being very rude and not ceasing to threaten the Great Lakes. It is time to pass these bills quickly.

One study that was already completed by The Great Lakes Commission shows how the canals between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes can be remedied – it’s possible! – but we still need the Army Corps to finish theirs.

Leaking Underground Storage Tank Bills Go to Governor

A package of bills to revise the cleanup procedures for leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) will go before the Governor after being passed by both houses of the Michigan legislature. House Bills 528 – 533reduce the Department of Environemntal Quality’s (DEQ) oversight of pollution remediation projects to clean up around leaking UST’s.

Michigan has over 9,000 leaking underground storage tanks, which is just as nasty as it sounds. By reducing DEQ oversight, these bills increase the liklihood that sites will be "administratively closed" without actually cleaning up the pollution. Once that happens, any further remediation costs will be covered by the state – i.e. taxpayers like you and me – rather than the owner or previous owner of the leaking tanks.

This is a particularly awful example of trying to clean up polluters’ balance sheets rather than their messes.

These bills leave owners in charge of ensuring compliance with their ownremediation plans, rather than giving the responsibility to the department tasked with overseeing pollution cleanup. In essence, the legislature is asking the foxes to guard the henhouse.

Cherry Crop May Be Lost To Record March Heat Wave and April Frost

So this is what happens when we mess with Mother Nature: She takes away dessert. The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported this weekend that 80 – 90% of the tart cherry crop may be lost due to the record March heat wave followed by a return to more normal temperatures and then frost in April. A northern Michigan farmer told us that the sweet cherry crop could be hard hit, too, though they’re a little more optimistic about sweets.

Thousands of temperature records were set in March, especially in the cherry-growing region around Traverse City. Eighty degree tempertures had people lounging on the beaches, but they also caused cherry trees to bud earlier than they should. When normal temperatures returned in April, many of the buds were killed off by the frost.

You can deny climate change all you want, but it won’t bring you your cherry pie any more quickly. The last time this happened to Michigan’s iconic cherry crop was 2002, when it was called a "once in a lifetime event." It’s now happened twice in the last decade. Strange heat waves or frosts once in a while can just be weather, but consistent weather trends are called "climate." And it is changing.

P.S. In commemoration of Earth Day, it’s important to note the champions who have worked tirelessly to defend the planet we are celebrating. Today, we’re happy to give particular credit to Congressman John Dingell – a longtime friend of Michigan LCV – whose unmatched conservation legacy is a source of pride for all of us. Please see the op-ed about that very legacy in this weekend’s Free Press, as well as in a Huffington Post article he authored, himself. Happy Earth Day, Congressman Dingell.

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