Environment Picture

Great Lakes, energy and trail network on 2013 agenda

A slate of environmental and energy policy initiatives was outlined by Gov. Rick Snyder during his Nov. 28 special address on energy and the environment, including stronger clean energy policies and Great Lakes protections, strategic planning for public lands and development of a trail network spanning the state.

The governor’s encouraging words on clean energy—particularly his call for stronger efficiency and renewable programs—was welcome tonic for advocates only weeks removed from the defeat of Proposal 3’s 25% by 2025 renewable energy standard at the ballot box. Snyder opposed the measure.

During his address, he called for a robust public discussion during 2013 about energy policy. Specifically, the discussion will explore where to go next with efficiency programs and a renewable energy standard that plateaus at the end of 2014 at 10 percent renewable electricity generation.

“We will be in a good position to set higher goals” for efficiency and renewable energy after 2013’s dialogues, Snyder said.

An expansion of the state’s fledgling energy efficiency programming is a win for ratepayers, the economy and the environment, analysts said.

“Michigan has made enormous strides on energy efficiency over the past three years, earning a ‘most improved’ ranking in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s annual scorecard of state energy efficiency performance,” noted Rebecca Stanfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a post-speech analysis. “Since Michigan’s energy efficiency standard was passed in 2008, the utilities have saved enough energy to power more than 200,000 homes for a year, and have avoided five dollars for every dollar spent on saving energy. This is a good foundation to build on.…”

Policy priorities highlighted by Gov. Snyder included much more than energy. He keyed in on:
  • Strategic planning for public lands—which requires a balancing act among competing interests for uses of our state forests and other properties;
  • Great Lakes protection, where the governor has called for the re-establishment of a stakeholders Water Use Advisory Council and a convening of Great Lakes premiers and governors;
  • Non-ferrous mining severance tax, a good idea as long as the tax is substantial enough and the money is directed into ventures that help build an economy that is not dependent on the boom/bust cycles of mineral extraction;
  • Recycling, where Michigan has for decades abandoned any pretext of leadership or vision;
  • Trail development, including a statewide trail linking the Western Upper Peninsula border with the Ohio state line, understanding that trails can be a key economic tool and marketing opportunity; and
  • Funding and policies to protect low-income residents from arbitrary and dangerous utility shutoffs.
Skeptics noted that Governor Snyder’s address was short on specifics and long on initiating “discussions” during 2013 that will, presumably, result in action on specific legislation or other binding measures late that year or in 2014.

That makes 2013 an opportunity for the governor to step forward on a handful of these important issues and make them priorities for the state, lawmakers and his administration. The dialogue must lead to substantive and forward-looking legislation that moves Michigan forward. Otherwise, all the good ideas will remain only ideas.

The Michigan Environmental Council will be working with the governor’s staff, legislative leaders and our allies across the state to achieve good policy outcomes that strengthen and diversify Michigan’s energy mix and establish strong policies that protect our Great Lakes and other key assets.

We’ll be pressing the administration to make good on its promises, follow through on its commitments, and invest the energy necessary to move Michigan out of its moribund lethargy when it comes to protecting the natural resources that are so vital to our health, economy and quality of life.

It was heartening to see the state’s top elected official step forward and deliver a big-picture vision on issues so vital to our quality of life. Now comes the hard part.

The ball is in your court, Governor.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
RELATED TOPICS: clean energy, Great Lakes, land use
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