Political Week in Review: The Dangerous Decision

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

It only took four months, but this week the new majority on the Michigan Supreme Court issued a decision that severely limits a citizen’s ability to sue the state over potentially devastating environmental damage. In other words, if the state approves a new dumping operation in a river you care for, you are pretty much out of luck in challenging it.

The roots of this new decision are firmly planted in political, not judicial, soil and we’ll dig into it in this Political Week in Review. Other subjects include:

  • Both parties in Washington reach for “green scissors” to address high gas prices
  • House Appropriation Committee votes for $20 million cut to public transit funding
  • Tuesday is Election Day! Get out there and vote.

No suit for you!

Had the 2010 Supreme Court elections gone another way, there is no way that a four month old finding that restored citizens’ right to sue the state over egregious environmental decisions would be stripped away so quickly. In fact, the Justice who penned the opinion to restore citizens’ rights on this matter–Justice Alton Thomas Davis– was the first Justice Michigan LCV has stepped out to support during the election cycle. We deeply regret his departure from the Court, and are already preparing to actively engage in future Supreme Court races to avoid other toxic decisions like this one.

The specific law being interpreted here, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) enjoyed nearly thirty years of precedentensuring your right as a citizen to sue the state on environmental grounds. That enduring jurisprudence, however, was challenged when Nestle sought to pump and bottle enormous quantities of water in Mecosta County. At that point, the high court decided to make it more difficultto sue the state over environmental questions; eventually, it was that decision that Justice Davis corrected in December.

Then, last week, breaking all manners of tradition, the newly-formed Supreme Court took up the recently tried cased and reversed it yet again. The only thing that changed in those four months? The ideological makeup of the Court.

If you would like to learn more about the history of this issue, the way forward, and how to get more involved in the fight to preserve and protect Michigan’s vital and valuable water, I would encourage you to attend the FLOW for Water Coalition’s statewide conference on May 6th and 7th in Traverse City.

$3.99/gallon… $4.09/gallon… $4.19/gallon…

Of all the debates on energy that occur in this country, no argument is as succinct or clear as the ticking up of gas prices. As that tickticktick gets louder and more expensive, an equally loud call for solutions is now pouring out of Washington. While there is certainly the predictable “drill baby drill” nonsense, another more practical idea is also emerging: Cut out the tax loopholes for the major oil companies and cut the deficit at the same time.

If you and I are paying increasingly painful sums at the pump, it only seems right that companies like Exxon shouldn’t be profiting from that pain to the tune of a 69% jump in revenue over this time last year. It seems both parties may actually agree.

In an interview with ABC News, Speaker Boehner said that “everybody wants to go after the oil companies and, frankly, they’ve got some part of this to blame.” (I’ll ignore the part where his office then tried to walk back those comments, because I’m sure the Speaker meant what he initially said, right?). Meanwhile, the President jumped on the bandwagon and called for $4 billion in savings from ending loopholes for the oil companies that appear to be doing quite well on their own.

This would only be the beginning of the cuts recommended by the Green Scissors report that we touted across Central and West Michigan two weeks ago with the President of Taxpayers for Common Sense, but it is a start.

$20 million in cuts proposed to public transit

Speaking of unaffordable gas prices, what better time for the House Appropriations Committee to cut funding for public transportation?

Despite the Governor’s budget proposal, the House Appropriations Committee is still recommending significant cuts to public transportation. Despite the sincere efforts of Representatives Dillon and LaBlanc, the Committee put forward a budget that would cut $20 million from bus operations and necessary upgrades and purchases of other funding for the bussing operations that so many Michiganders rely on to get to work or pick up groceries. Cuts like this also lead to a greater reliance on individual and inefficient travel that increases emissions and discourages strong urban cores.

Tuesday is Election Day. Get out and vote!

As Michigan LCV mobilizes to get out the vote in Grand Rapids for theRapidYES transit ballot question on Tuesday, please remember to get out to the polls yourself tomorrow. Many municipalities across the state have elections this week and, with local revenues so low, the questions on your ballot are of enormous importance.

Grand Rapids, and the five other surrounding communities that use the Rapid, have been the major focus for us and other conservation, citizen, and business groups in the region. If you live in the Grand Rapids metro area, please vote YES on tomorrow’s ballot question. Want to get more involved today or tomorrow? Join us on the doors and on the phones tomorrow. Email me to get involved.

Until next week,

Ryan Werder, Political Director

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