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MEC: Michigan oil disaster should be a wake-up call to voters, candidates as primary election nears

Jul 28, 2010
The West Michigan oil disaster – more than 800,000 gallons spewed into the Kalamazoo River system – underscores the need for voters to elect state and federal lawmakers next week who are committed to adequately funding environmental protection. Voters should also favor candidates who support strong energy conservation and alternative fuels standards that lessen our dependence on imported oil.

“With a primary election for governor, 110 House of Representatives seats, 38 spots in the State Senate and Michigan’s entire U.S. House delegation, now is a good time for voters to ask their candidates where they stand on key issues that will reduce the risk of similar disasters,” said MEC President Chris Kolb. “We need a federal energy policy that rewards conservation and renewable fuels and we need a state legislature that adequately funds watchdog agencies like the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE).”

Kolb noted that federal agencies – not state regulators – are responsible for oversight and inspection of the 30-inch oil pipeline that ruptured this week. But numerous critical inspection and compliance programs are housed at state agencies, and those watchdogs are chronically underfunded.

Funding for DNRE has, proportionally, been slashed more aggressively than any other state agency according to an analysis by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

“We’ve essentially made our pollution watchdogs toothless by removing most of their general fund allocation,” said James Clift, policy director for MEC. “If legislators continue to underfund the environmental cops, then they are essentially saying it’s acceptable to periodically have these types of environmental and public health disasters.”

Clift said one concrete step that the current State Legislature can take is reauthorizing funding for the cleanup of leaking underground storage tanks. There are 7,000 such contaminated sites in Michigan, and no funding to monitor or clean them up after the end of the year.

The Michigan Environmental Council and other environmental nonprofits have crisscrossed the state this summer to educate candidates on key issues affecting public health and natural resources.

“The Kalamazoo spill, as horrific as it is, provides a teachable moment for those candidates hoping to go to Lansing and swear an oath to protect the citizens of the state,” said Clift. “We hope they will take this opportunity to commit to strong environmental protection and adequate funding for our natural resources.”
Hugh McDiarmid Jr., 248-660-4300
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