Governor Bullish on the Environment

Energy efficiency is the best example of a no-regrets policy Michigan can have.  It makes Michigan’s energy more reliable, more affordable, and protects the environment. -Governor Snyder’s Special Message on Energy and Environment

Speaking from the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station near Kalamazoo, Gov. Rick Snyder today delivered his long awaited and highly anticipated special message on energy and the environment.  The message’s dominant theme was   “adaptability” – creating policies flexible enough to ensure Michigan can satisfy its energy and environmental  needs in an unpredictable future.

The Governor’s special message (PDF) is posted on his website and contributes an overall positive framework for discussing environmental issues in Michigan.  His speech introducing the message was downright environmentally friendly.

The Governor addressed the majority of Michigan’s major environmental issues including energy efficiency, clean energy, land and water use, non-point source pollution, restoration, and even climate change’s impact in Michigan.

With multiple satellite gatherings showing the Governor’s message to audiences across the state, the broad interest in this message was obvious.  Michigander’s have been awaiting state leadership on these issues and now it has begun.  The Governor openly and directly supported many of WMEAC’s key environmental policy priorities, including the importance of expanding energy efficiency, clean energy, and green infrastructure in Michigan.

The Governor’s message struck an appropriate tone conveying the importance of protecting and conserving the environment to Michiganders.  “Our natural resources form the basis of life and the quality of life that define Michigan. ”  Snyder said, “The reinvention of Michigan will not be complete without energy and environmental policies that make our state a place our children and grandchildren will still want to live, work and play.”

The Governor addressed a long list of issues in his written message.  Listed below are some of the highlights that we’re excited about and a few that leave us concerned and interested in gathering more information:

The Governor:

Excited

  • Broadly supported energy efficiency.  He clearly understands that “an efficient energy system will accomplish the same or more while expending less energy, saving customers money and better protecting the environment.”
  • Specifically defended the current clean energy and energy optimization standards established in Public Act 295 of 2008.  Additionally, he called for a legislative process in 2013 to increase the current 10% clean energy standard and 1% energy optimization mandate.
  • Called for more information to be made available for potential buyers on the efficiency of a home when the home is inspected for sale.
  • Highlighted a University of Michigan Graham Institute for Sustainability Study on fracking, and said that if we can’t do fracking safely, “We won’t do it.”
  • Called for an expanded and refined utilization of the water withdrawal assessment tool and the reestablishment of the Great Lakes Water Resources Advisory Council.
  • Called for the development of a comprehensive water management plan led through Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes.
  • Reaffirmed his commitment to Michigan’s wetland program.
  • Highlighted the need to begin implementing green infrastructure in addressing non-point source water pollution issues such as stormwater management.
  • Called for connecting and expanding Michigan’s extensive trail network.
  • Supported efforts to reconnect communities with local water resources including Grand Rapids’ effort to restore the rapids to the Grand River.
  • Connected climate change to specific environmental issues in Michigan,  including “historically low – maybe all-time low – water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron…”.
  • Will study recycling in 2013 and come back with a comprehensive plan in 2015.

Concerned

  • Supported a “severance tax” system for mining operations to be deposited in the rural development fund to mitigate the boom/bust resource extraction cycle and it’s harmful economic effects on rural economies.  While this concept is generally laudable, current legislation negotiated by the Administration proposes severance rates that are too low to protect communities and mitigate rural boom/bust economics.
  • Strongly supported extractive industries, particularly the timber industry, calling for for a Timber Industry Summit in April 2013.
  • Will require a resolution of support from local governments before any Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund project is funded.
  • Alluded to opposing the implementation of new EPA rules on coal plants.
  • Conflated historical oil and gas drilling with modern fracking, and was too confident that both fracking and horizontal drilling in Michigan are currently safe.

Mixed Reaction

  • Called for timelines transitioning existing coal plants to natural gas, and he made a commitment to pipeline infrastructure that supports new natural gas supplies.
  • Is interested in a more “strategic” approach to state-owned land management.  Environmentally, this could cut either way depending on the framework chosen for balancing the state’s land portfolio.
  • Called for the development of a strategic natural gas reserve for the State of Michigan to hedge oil and gas prices.  WMEAC supports policies that would better compensate Michigander’s for oil and gas activity on state lands – as the money goes to the State Parks Fund – but wants better protections for fracking before we double down on a dirty industry by building the infrastructure to support it.

Overall, we were happy with the message, and we are excited to see how it will shape the policy discourse of the Governor’s remaining term.  In a number of areas where the environmental community was planning to play defense, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Governor indicated he would not support legislation undermining these standards and instead would seek the opposite.

However, actions speak louder than words and the proof will come in the Administration’s willingness and ability to steer and push a legislature that was not environmentally friendly in the 2011/2012 legislative session.  The new year welcomes a new and more experienced legislature to Lansing, but eyes should be wide open to the many challenges.  If the Governor works as hard to implement some of the positive environmental changes listed above as he has on budget and tax reforms and the DRIC bridge, we cannot help being hopeful.

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