A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder)
The Michigan Supreme Court just couldn’t wait to test out the new Green Gavels accountability tool we launched last week, as they have already issued a brand new ruling that will ripple across Michigan’s rivers and lakes. Hundreds of other Michigan voters couldn’t wait to test it out, either, though they did so without wearing funny black robes. Well, most of them, at least.
Meanwhile, new bills introduced in the House and Senate could weaken the protections we have for our iconic sand dunes, joining existing legislation to weaken shoreline wetland protections. The Assault on Pure Michigan continues.
Historic "Green Gavels" Analyzes Court’s Conservation Impact
On Thursday, Michigan LCV launched our long-awaited and groundbreaking Green Gavels judicial accountability tool. What makes it so historic? It’s the first time that elected state Supreme Court justices are being held accountable for their record on conservation and the environment. And not just in Michigan; anywhere in the whole country.
We’ve rated every conservation case decided by the Michigan Supreme Court over the last 30 years with a green, red, or yellow gavel, but we didn’t just pick cases out of a hat. Law students from the University of Michigan Law School’s Environmental Law and Policy Programresearched every Michigan Supreme Court case in the last three decades and wrote objective summaries of those which impacted our land, air and water.
Attorneys on staff then analyzed and rated all the cases, and, for good measure, had an all-star advisory board of experienced Michigan attorneys – including a retired Michigan Supreme Court justice – review all of our ratings and make sure that the results were fair and accurate.
We even posted a scoreboard for every current justice so that you can quickly see how each justice has ruled when protection of our land, air and water is at stake. Green Gavels pulls back the heavy velvet curtain so that every citizen, with or without any legal experience, can understand how their elected justices impact their environement. (There is even an integrated glossary!)
Why is this so important? Judicial accountability and transparency, especially in Michigan, are under more scrutiny than ever. Justice Marilyn Kelly and former Justice James Ryan recently co-chaired the Michgian Judicial Selection Task Force, which found that Michigan citizens know very little about the Court and that vicious and anonymous campaign ads distort what little citizens do know. The cynical approach to picking a winning candidate for Justice – loudly noted in almost any political circle – is to simply find the person with the most Irish-sounding name (right now we have two Kelly’s and a Cavanagh on the Court, with an O’Brien and a McCormick running in 2012). Nothing against the Emerald Isle, but we’d like to see a different kind of green kept in mind when voters select their Justices.
We’re proud of our timing of this release, too! On the very day we released Green Gavels, the Michigan Supreme Court released its decision in an environmental case. In a 6-1ruling, it decided that the Department of Environmental Quality could require a township to prevent the release of raw sewage by its residents into the Great Lakes. What rating will the justices receive for their rulings? Well, you’ll just have to check in at www.michiganlcv.org/greengavels in the near future to find out!
Shorelines and Sand Dunes – in Peril – in Michigan!
All the action isn’t in the Supreme Court, though. Legislation introduced last week in both the House and Senate would remove critical protections for critical dunes. You know, the ones Michigan families build their summer vacations around along Lake Michigan? It’s another round in the Assault on Pure Michigan.
Among other things, SB 1130 and HB 5647 would prohibit local townships from enacting zoning protections stricter than those at the state level and specifically removes the language that states we should preserve our dunes for the benefit of current and future generations. Very literally, these bills draw a line through the following language regarding altering the dunes: "shall occur only when the protection of the environment and the ecology of the critical dune areas for the benefit of the present and future generations is assured."
SB 1052, which is on the Senate floor, would remove lakeshore wetland protections which require a permit before bulldozing beaches between the ordinary high water mark and the water’s edge, which is an area protected by the public trust. This bill is especially troublesome when Great Lakes water levels are low, like they are now, and newspapers across the state are speaking out against it, like the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
What’s the point of attracting tourists to Michigan with a first-class advertising campaign if we’re not going to protect the shorelines and sand dunes they came to experience?
Which Is It, Consumers?
The 25% by 2025 Renewable Energy Standard ballot initiative will create non-exportable Michigan jobs, like a recent Muskegon Chronicle letter to the editor points out. However, inexplicably, Consumers Energy continues to oppose 25% by 2025, despite requests from its shareholders to support it. It keeps saying that renewable energy is working, but it doesn’t want more. It keeps saying that it will cost more money, but the Michigan Public Service Commission keeps reducing its renewable energy surcharge as the cost of wind energy plummets.
It’s time that Consumers Energy took the advice of its shareholders and embrace 25% by 2025. It will create over 44,000 jobs, right here in Michigan; jobs which cannot be exported!