Environment Picture

New President Kolb takes charge at MEC

Former legislator answers questions about transition and the future
Chris Kolb assumed the presidency of the Michigan Environmental Council on Jan. 1, 2009.

An environmental champion in the legislature and a veteran of the environmental management field, Kolb was one of the legislature’s most consistent and vigorous defenders of clean water, clear air and public health during his six years as State Representative from the 53rd District. He was instrumental in important environmental legislation, including joint planning commissions, land bank authorities, lead poisoning prevention for children, regulation of dangerous polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), establishment of a fund to help clean up leaking underground storage tanks, and numerous land-use initiatives.

Kolb answered some questions from the Michigan Environmental Report in January.

So, why do you want this job?
“Well, this is a very exciting time to be involved in the environmental movement not only in this state but in our country. I believe that within the next few years more will be done with environmental protection than has been done in the last decade.

“The opportunity to be able to lead an extraordinary organization is something that comes around only once every so often. With my background in natural resources and work on the environment at both the local and the state levels, it seemed to be a great fit.

“So I was extremely pleased to be chosen to be the next president of MEC and cognizant of the big shoes that were left to fill from Lana’s term as president. Having inherited an outstanding staff, I think that we look forward to the work ahead.”

You’re a Democrat and liberal from Ann Arbor working for a nonprofit and nonpartisan group. Can you reach out to form the bipartisan coalitions necessary to get important work done?
“I think I found, especially back in Ann Arbor City Council, that it was especially important to listen to everybody and to never make assumptions and to never burn a bridge when you didn’t absolutely need to. And that was a good learning experience for me when I came up to the legislature, where really it was a group decision-making process. And you could tell those who came out of good group decision-making backgrounds and those who didn’t, just by how they handled that.

“And being in the minority party, I pretty quickly realized that the only way to get things done was really to make those relationships across the aisle. I found like-minded legislators who really wanted to get something done. We were able to know when we could work with each other and when we couldn’t, and made sure we never made it, you know, personal, and kept those lines of communication open because you never know when you’re going to need to reach out.

“I was lucky to be able to pass many of my own bills because of that process. And there were times when the gears would become stuck, and unless there was someone willing to work with the other side and unstick those gears it would never free itself up. So that was one of my roles in the legislature to make sure those lines of communication were open.”

What kind of leadership style can we expect? Loud and outspoken or quiet and behind the scenes?
“I think what you really want to be is very strategic. And to help create a vision that’s shared by all of the parties involved, whether it’s staff or board or member organizations as to where we want to go as an organization. And build a strategy to get to that place.

“So sometimes it will definitely be consensus building, but there will be times on different issues where we’re going to want a strong voice, where we’re going to really want to take a hard and strong position, not necessarily internally but to outside interests who don’t necessarily share our vision.”

Have you gotten far enough along so that you can identify your goals for the coming year, or two years?
“Not really, but what we do know is that there are several things we definitely want to take advantage of. One is the stimulus package that comes out of DC. We want to use that to grow our economy and see development in environmentally appropriate ways. You talk about green commerce and renewable energy and energy efficiency and green jobs and what the return on investment can be if we use those stimulus dollars in that way.

“And then look at some of the work we have just done on renewable energy and efficiency statutes here in Michigan and make sure that those are implemented in the strongest way possible. Actually, passing the legislation is just the first step. And the next step comes in implementation and making sure we have a strong plan for the state.

“And, also as a council we’re going to be working with the member organizations to make sure that we are reaching out and collecting not only their views and hearing their voices but asking them what they need from us.”

Talk a little bit about the economy and its ties to the environment.
“I think too often environmental protection and the economy is seen as an ‘either/or’ thing. That’s an untruth that many people opposed to environmental protection use to try and cloud the discussion. Those of us who’ve been involved know environmental protection is really a job producer. We can show that through renewable energy, energy efficiency, weatherization and clean technology projects that protect the environment and create jobs. What’s exciting is that the economy and the environment these days are really seen as going hand-in-hand. The Great Lakes, our natural environment and our natural resources are clearly part of the economy of this state; they drive our economy and they define us as a state and as a community. We know the importance of the environment to our economic future. And it’s nice to see the rest of the country and the rest of the world are understanding that as well.”
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
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