Environment Picture

PRESIDENT’S COLUMN: Plunging into a legislative session with open lines of communication

Chris Kolb
If the first months of 2011 are any indication, we are in for a barn burner of a year. From Gov. Snyder’s administration coming into office and releasing its first budget, to a new legislature getting started and environmental legislation already moving, there won’t be much time to catch a breath. As we predicted last year, it’s going to be all hands on deck during this legislative session.

Here at the Michigan Environmental Council, lines of communication with the new administration are open, and dialogue is regularly occurring.

Dennis Muchmore, Snyder’s chief of staff, spoke to MEC members at our annual meeting in December. Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, reached out to MEC and its members groups at the beginning of the new year. You can read an interview with him in this issue of the Michigan Environmental Report.

Director Wyatt and Bill Rustem, director of policy and strategy, spoke at the MEC Board of Directors meeting in February. Additionally, MEC, Smart Growth America, and the Michigan Suburbs Alliance held a sit-down meeting with MDOT Director Kirk Steudle and Rustem to discuss transportation policy. Patty Birkholz, director of the Office of the Great Lakes, was highly engaged during a meeting with the “Healing Our Waters” coalition.

Whether we agree or not with their positions—and sometimes we don’t—the new administration has done a good job so far of reaching out to MEC and the environmental community. Facing a tumultuous financial picture and a new group of legislators, they recognize the need for as many allies as they can find.

Breaking bread. On February 9, some 40 legislators and staff along with more than 60 member group representatives and other participants, including Gov. Snyder’s staff, attended MEC’s biennial legislative breakfast (see page 7 story) at the House Office Building across from the Capitol.

It’s all part of a continuing effort to educate and build relationships with new and returning legislators. Relationships are critical to moving legislation to protect our environment and block legislation that threatens it. Since the middle of last year, MEC and its partners met with 163 legislative candidates and officeholders to build these relationships and connect legislators with expert constituents they can turn to for information and guidance.

Dashboards, metrics, and budget cuts. On February 17, Gov. Snyder unveiled his first budget. General fund money for environmental protection took a 15 percent cut. That means a $3.8 million reduction for the Department of Environmental Quality and a $1.9 million cut for the Department of Natural Resources. The budget proposes two fee increases; the Clean Air Act fees and a small increase on solid waste disposal fees. Additionally, the budget has metrics to measure the performance of departments. We are weighing in on these criteria as well.

There is a long way to go in the budget process, and we will need to keep engaged to maintain current programs and protections.

As we move forward legislatively, we expect to see action on creating an invasive species compact, offshore wind siting criteria, critical dunes protection, Great Lakes Restoration activities and the extension of user fees to fund environmental protection. Additionally, transportation continues to be a priority, and the Governor’s focus on improving the quality of life in our urban communities means more potential in building sustainable communities.

Federal issues that will keep us occupied with our Congressional delegation include Asian Carp, reauthorization of the transportation bill, funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and a continued assault on the U.S. EPA, especially in regard to regulating greenhouse gases.

Your Vision.
A revised version of our 50 Year Vision for Michigan was released in February with changes incorporated from the many comments we received. This document will provide a long-term vision and strategic, proactive plan for this legislative cycle.

MEC staff members are planning more webinars and policy briefings for our member groups and allies. A new “member only” website called “LegisView” provides important information about our lawmakers. It helps members to gain insight into their legislators with the ability to add information based on their interactions with them.

We should have a lot to discuss when we hold our regional meetings this summer. I know I’m looking forward to the hard and rewarding work of protecting our environment and enhancing our quality of life here in the Great Lakes state.
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