How did the Michigan environment fair in the General Election?

Governor-Elect Rick Snyder

Michigan’s environmental fate is yet to be determined, but upon first glance its environmental advocates face on an uphill climb in the coming legislative session. WMEAC and its statewide partners worked hard to build relationships with candidates on both sides of the aisle before the elections. We’re hopeful this work will bear fruit in the coming year and that our new leaders will step into office with a clear understanding of statewide environmental priority issues.

As it stands today, here’s what we know:

Governor
Governor-Elect Rick Snyder won by a huge margin (58 – 40 percent) over Democratic rival, Virg Bernero, who will remain Mayor of Lansing for the next three years. Snyder was the first ever Republican gubernatorial candidate endorsed by the Michigan League of Conservation voters during the primary, and while the MLCV held off its endorsements for both candidates in the general election, they remain “cautiously optimistic” that Snyder will be a pro-environment advocate.

A positive sign came in Snyder’s victory speech when he mentioned conservation of Michigan’s great natural resources as one of his three pillars in reinventing Michigan. AnnArbor.com’s Ryan Stanton writes:

We are truly blessed in this state with some of the world’s greatest natural resources,” Snyder said, mentioning the state’s 11,000 lakes and the Great Lakes. “But we’re going to have to work harder to protect them. We have threats of things like the Asian Carp. We need to enhance them. We need to enjoy them. We need to market them better with things like Pure Michigan.

Protecting the environment also is included in Snyder’s 10-point plan to reinvent Michigan. The former Gateway Computers president several months ago put out a position paper on protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp and other aquatic invasives.

But Snyder’s pro-environment talking-points may turn out to be beside the point as political and budgetary pressures bare down, and he might find that his own broad campaign messaging generates some possibly contradictory policy choices:  Snyder’s continued call to “get government out of the way” of corporations leaves some wondering how that lines up with his professed support for protecting natural resources.

On clean energy and Michigan’s 2008 Renewable Portfolio standards Snyder has indicated vague support for the law as is, but has cautioned against strengthening the standard too quickly – despite its relatively modest requirements when compared to the states Michigan will be competing with to retain and attract clean energy jobs and investments. Perhaps more troubling is ruminations of fast-track permitting for new coal plants in Michigan. It’s tough to be both for “sound science” and “best practices” and also for fast-track permitting new coal – especially given the growing understanding that energy efficiency is significantly cheaper than new coal.

Snyder has also described the vast majority of Michigan people and businesses as “good” and he argues we should presume businesses and industry are acting in good faith until they have done wrong – only then going after them punitively. Of course, as environmentalists recognize, commercial interests are not individual actors and do not make moral choices. The nature of environmental regulation, and most regulation for that matter, is not about going after “bad” actors after the fact: Good regulation is about setting up a regime of best practices and incentives to encourage profit-driven organizations to make responsible decisions. The recent Enbridge oil spill in Calhoun County and the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico show the results of a reactionary punitive approach.

Overall though, Snyder appears earnest, centrist, and committed to keeping an upbeat attitude as he seeks to rebuild Michigan and protect our great natural assets. In that regard he has struck just the right tone, and Michigan environmental groups should look to partner with his Administration whenever they are willing to move positively forward on the environment.

Congressional Races of Note
Justin Amash will represent Grand Rapids and Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District.  He has come to be known for his use of social media and strong support of free markets. Environmental issues did not play a leading role in his campaign. Amash’s web site offers libertarian economic talking points regarding the importance of enforcing private property rights to encourage natural resource conservation, and to punish polluters infringing on those rights of their neighbors; but, West Michigan’s legacy of conservation may encourage Amash to a more active approach to governing on this issue than his general views allude. Amash has a long history of stewardship and conservation to honor in filling the seat of the retiring Vern Ehlers.

Michigan’s West Coast elected Bill Huizenga, a former staffer of Congressman Hoekstra, to represent the 2nd Congressional District that includes Lakeshore communities stretching from Allegan County in the South to Benzie County in the North.  Huizenga is not supportive of Lakeshore wind and believes the fossil fuels undergirding our economy will be with us for the foreseeable future. However, he does favor fighting invasive species, especially those that threaten Michigan fishing communities, by closing the Chicago sanitary and ship canal.

Mark Schauer of Michigan’s 7th Congressional district lost to Tim Walberg, despite Schauer’s strong work on behalf of Michigan’s environment in response to the Enbridge oil spill, which strongly impacted that district. We hope that Walberg will pick up where Schauer left off.

In Southeast Michigan, John Dingell, the longest serving Congressman in the United States won reelection in a race that was closer than many of his previous races. Reversing itself, the Michigan Congressional delegation will go to the hill with a majority of Republicans representing Michigan.

The Michigan Supreme Court
The Michigan Supreme court, though non-partisan, is now controlled by a conservative majority following victories from incumbent Justice Robert Young Junior and Wayne County Judge Mary Beth Kelly.

Environmental groups have been displeased with Justice Young for his leadership role in decreasing advocate rights to bring suit against the State and corporate interests for environmental wrongs as part of a 2008 decision that raised the bar on “standing” for plaintiffs in environmental lawsuits and seriously undermined a powerful set of Michigan environmental laws and protections that had stood uncontested in the courts for 36 years.

State Legislature
In the State House more than 40 new legislators will be walking the halls and they face a steep learning curve. They will be bombarded by a myriad of issues and will come to office at a time when Michigan has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates and annual budgetary shortfalls. The state government has already faced years of discretionary state spending cuts, including significant cuts to the state’s environmental regulatory regime.

Many of the new legislators won their seats, backed by a national Republican tide, through promises of spending cuts, smaller government, and a suspicion that regulation constrains job growth. Republicans picked up members in the House and now hold a Supermajority in the Senate – meaning no Democratic votes will be required to move legislation in the Senate.

All around, this election cycle was particularly important politically, because it enables Republican’s to shape the redistricting process following release of the 2010 census data – where Michigan is likely to lose a congressional seat.

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