Political Week in Review: Enemies at the Gates

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

Finally! Thanks to the Great Lakes Commission, we finally have a gameplan on how to restore the natural separation between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. This is big news, as it provides a course of action on how to stop the invasion of the gluttonous and ruinious Asian Carp.

In this week’s PWIR:

  • The Great Lakes Commission releases their recommendations on how to stop the Asian carp invasion, and we got an interview with their Executive Director who has the details.
  • Muskegon nears a contract with a wind developer as wind energy costs decline.
  • Dunes development updates from Saugatuck and Benton Harbor; following up on our popular coverage from last week.
  • A possible diesel spill is detected in the Kalamazoo River, as if the poor river hasn’t been abused enough, yet.

Seize the Carp!

With Asian carp poised to invade Lake Michigan, the Army Corps of Engineers promised a study by 2015 to find ways to restore the natural separation between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. Of course, by that timeline, their next study entitled “How the Asian Carp Successfully Invaded While We Took Five Years to Write a Study” is to be expected in 2020. Instead, let’s all be grateful for The Great Lakes Commission (GLC).

On Tuesday, the GLC released a private study that proposed three alternatives ranging from $3.9 to $9.5 billion to complete. This, however, must be viewed in the context of the $7 billion of annual economic benefit of the Great Lakes fishery provides to the region.

To put it in perspective, this would be like spending around $39,000 on a college degree to be ensured a job earning $70,000 annually (plus benefits of really nice fresh-water lakes). That’s a pretty good investment return. It is now up to us, as citizens, to keep pressure on our elected officials to make this happen.

The proposals in the report include building barriers in the channels and rivers of the Chicago Area Waterway System, which artificially connect the watersheds. It is through these waterways that Asian carp can get to Lake Michigan. The study also includes alternative methods for sewage and flood control, which represent the bulk of the costs.

Fortunately, there is deep public support to stop the carp. Working in politics every day, I have to say it is rare to find the extent of agreement that is present among Michiganders on Asian Carp. 93% of Michiganders are concerned about the issue and 60% – across party lines – support more barriers to their entry into the Great Lakes.

For more information, our Executive Director, Lisa Wozniak, interviewed Great Lakes Commission Executive Director Tim Eder on Friday’s Director’s Cut, which you can listen to here. It’s a great interview and very timely.

A Mighty Wind

Muskegon County officials are merely waiting on a signature for an agreement that will put a large (100 megawatt) wind farm on county property. The groundwork for the development is being laid now.

This comes amidst the happy news that wind development costs are expected to decrease over the next few years; they are already 25-40% lower than they were in 2003. This is largely due to better turbine technology, which can generate more electricity from less wind, and increased domestic manufacturing for wind turbine components which reduces transportation and shipping costs. As we adopt more wind power, the technology and manufacturing will only continue to improve.

Future price drops, however, depend in part on the continuation of the federal Property Tax Credit and domestic demand. GE Energy speculated that, if the tax credit isn’t renewed, it would shift installation of wind turbines to “emerging markets” like Brazil and Canada. Regardless, Michigan, must still position itself as our own “emerging market” — including the installation, maintenance, and manufacturing jobs that go with it — by adopting the 25% by 2025 renewable energy standard that is being proposed for the November 2012 ballot.

Please continue to check in with us at www.michiganlcv.org, or visit www.mienergymijobs.com, to learn how you can sign a petition to put this proposal on the November ballot!

Dunes and Development: A Tale of Two Cities

In last week’s PWIR, we highlighted the private development of the public dunes at Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor and we heard back from members loud and clear that they agree: It’s a travesty. After leasing 21 acres of the park to a private golf course developer, a letter to the editor revealed that the rest of the park has been closed despite assurances that it would be left open.

Further up Michigan’s west coast, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon’s attorneys met in a closed-door conference with township attorneys in U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Scoville’s office on Thursday. You can hardly blame the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance for wanting all proceedings to occur in the open and before the public after an earlier settlement was reached behind closed doors that was wholly unacceptable. Thankfully, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ultimately rejected that settlement because it would forever prohibit Saugatuck officials from restoring or changing the zoning laws on the property.

Chesapeake Energy… That rings a bell, you say? Yes, indeed. You will remember that it was Chesapeake Energy that was behind the shell corporations that balked at paying northern Michigan farmers their promised and negotiated gas lease signing bonuses. We appreciate Mr. McClendon’s interest in our beautiful Pure Michigan and natural resources, but truly wish he would take his attention elsewhere. He is one tourist we would not miss.

Another Spill in the Kalamazoo River

Officials from Battle Creek are working to determine the source of yet another spill into the Kalamazoo River. Residents noticed a funky smell and an oily sheen on the river Wednesday. Unfortunately, it was not just deja vu. Workers traced the spill to a drainage ditch fed by a storm sewer. They suspect it may be diesel fuel, and the Michigan DEQ is testing samples to help determine the source.

Workers from Enbridge, whose ruptured pipeline spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River in the summer of 2010 — who are still there, behind schedule, to clean it up — assisted with the cleanup for this new unrelated spill. Concerns about pipeline spills, like Enbridge’s, led to the massive grassroots advocacy opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama nixed in January.

In other news...

If you’re in the Grand Rapids area tonight, Dr. David Guggenheim will be speaking at Grand Valley State University about the state of the oceans and the Great Lakes from 6pm to 7pm. Admission is $10 for Michigan LCV members and $15 for the general public. He will be speaking as part of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan’s Great Decisions speaker series. If you’d like more information, please contact our West Michigan Organizer, Zane Corriveau.

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