Environment Picture

Oil spill outrage can be channeled into constructive rethinking of Michigan’s outdated oil-based transportation policies

More than 50,000 barrels of oil per day continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico as of this writing (the range of estimates run from a low of British Petroleum‘s 5,000 barrels per day to a high of 100,000 barrels per day). By any measure, it is destined to surpass the Exxon Valdez accident as the largest and worst oil spill in our nation’s history. The damage to our economy, environment and coastal areas will be devastating. It will cripple critical habitats for hundreds of bird species, devastate the fishing industry, and hamstring tourism to the Gulf States. 

We are rightfully outraged: Outraged at BP, outraged at Transocean Ltd, and outraged at Halliburton, the three companies involved in the drilling operation of the Deepwater Horizon rig. We should be outraged that no one was prepared to handle a catastrophic oil spill like this. Whether it was sloppy construction, a rush to produce oil from the well, or an act of God, there needed to be a better plan in place to quickly assess and address an oil spill of this magnitude. We are lucky that nothing like this has ever happened before. 

There is another, less apparent but no less valid target for outrage: Our nation’s addiction to oil and the unwillingness of our elected officials to do anything constructive about it. 

More than 37% of our nation’s energy consumption comes from oil. Of that amount, two-thirds of it goes to the transportation sector, which accounts for 30% of all our greenhouse gas emissions. 

This is more than enough reason for us to refocus our attention on substantially changing our antiquated and oil-based transportation policies. 

That’s why the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) is pushing for a transformation in how Michigan moves people and products. MEC is partnering with a coalition to improve Michigan’s transportation system. The partners include leaders in the fields of business, economic development, urban planning, affordable housing, the environment, health, fitness, job access, social equity and transportation. 

We are working to develop a long-term transportation vision that is more sustainable than relying almost solely on oil-based fuel. We share a commitment to a transformative reform program guided by the following four core principles: 

  • It must be a systemic, future-oriented and comprehensive program that increases investment in public transit, ensures adequate funding to maintain existing roads and bridges, and enables Michigan to maximize its share of federal investments; 
  • It must lay the groundwork for a seamless system that includes everything from fixing roads and bridges to expanding passenger rail and implementing Complete Streets, Transit Oriented Development (TOD), and regional New Mobility hubs and networks; 
  • It must foster citizen engagement in our transportation policy and projects and be inclusive of all communities, residents and regions; and 
  • It must dramatically improve the connection between community development tools (land use, affordable housing and job creation) and transportation planning. 
By following these basic principles, project partners will lead Michigan in building a high-functioning and highly integrated transportation system for the 21st century. This system will be characterized by: 

  • Fast, fuel-efficient commuter rail with connections to regional airports, expanded public transit options within cities, and passenger railroad service that links our major cities; 
  • Proper maintenance of Michigan’s existing transportation system; 
  • State and federal funding priorities that support reliable transit, passenger rail and active transportation (walking and biking) projects and operations; and 
  •  A commitment to expand existing road infrastructure only when deemed necessary from a regional perspective and when the current system is fully functional and maintained. 
It is time for a smarter, sustainable transportation system in Michigan. I urge you to join us in making our shared vision a reality.
RELATED TOPICS: transportation policy
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