Rust belt govs need to shine environmental legacy

Commentary

The weakening of environmental protections continues apace in the Great Lakes region.

I commented here two weeks ago about Wisconsin’s recent proposals to end mandated recycling, weaken phosphorus protections and to make it easier for business to develop wetlands. And this is happening  in an environmentally progressive state.

Now Michigan has the bug.

Consider:

  • The Michigan Land Use Institute’s Jim Dulzo wrote in a recent analysis that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration may be planning “a rush to build expensive, new coal-fired power plants.” This would reverse a trend in Michigan to focus on clean, forward looking energy.
  • Recent Michigan legislation would make it harder to fine Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – mega-factory farms – for their discharges. These farms house thousands of animals in small spaces and their waste is potentially  a major pollutant.
  • As reported in the Echo last week, legislation recently introduced in Michigan would end the requirement to mitigate wetland loss that results from some road consruction. Currently, if road builders want to construct a highway that destroys a wetland, they would have to create a new one. Eliminating the mitigation requirement would save the builder’s money but at the expense of wetland protection.

Snyder’s office did not respond to a request for comment on building new coal-fired power plants.

Great Lakes Environmental Law Center Director Nick Schroeck doesn’t expect Snyder  to have an energy policy soon. His administration  is focused on budget issues. But in an email exchange he offered this advice:

“Hopefully the Governor will look at the data (wind development is now cheaper than coal plants) and realize that delay is not an option in getting Michigan people back to work and in transitioning the state off of dirty, antiquated coal plants, and on to new, clean and renewable sources of energy.”

Schroeck also said that he expects environmental groups to challenge the weakening of mega-farm discharge protections.

Do you see the trend?

New governor takes office staring at a budget crisis. Ignores research that says a healthy environment facilitates a healthy economy. Exhibits knee-jerk reaction to get rid of those pesky enviro regulations that business doesn’t really like.

Their point: See, I’m doing something to help business create jobs!

It’s then a slippery slide to the bottom of environmental protection.

Is there a better way?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

All the Great Lakes states are members of the Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors.

That group’s website says it has “…one simple mission: To encourage and facilitate environmentally responsible economic growth through a cooperative effort between the public and private sectors of the eight Great Lakes states.”

Hey, this is great and just what I was looking for. But it gets better.

The mission statement continues; ”…through the Council, Governors work collectively to ensure that the entire Great Lakes region is both economically sound and environmentally conscious in addressing today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges.”

The mission statement says exactly what I was looking for. There will be regional cooperation by the governors to promote the economy but not at the expense of the environment.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well yes, so I emailed  the council’s executive director, Dave Naftzger.

I asked about the rollback of environmental protections in Wisconsin, expecting at least a minor condemnation.

He responded that the “Council does not comment on policy actions by individual member states.”

Hmmm.

OK, what about supporting a policy statement that says environmental regulations shouldn’t be weakened  to gain a perceived economic advantage?

Or, would the Council support a statement that the states should embrace environmental protection as a way to foster economic growth?

Naftzger referred me to the Council’s website and also ticked off a few accomplishments including passage of the Great Lakes Compact.

No mention of the downward spiral trend in process.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is co-chair of the council, so I asked his media representative if Quinn agreed that the governors shouldn’t pit the environment against the economy  to create jobs.

Quinn’s office didn’t respond.

Saving money by brushing without toothpaste

I’ve had a little fun here with simple illustrations of what the governors are doing versus what they profess.

But what’s happening is serious.

Wisconsin scrapping its recycling program is like saying you’re not going to brush your teeth to save money on toothpaste.

It seemed that Michigan, certainly not as environmentally progressive as Wisconsin, had turned the corner and was going to focus on clean energy. Now it may be looking back to centuries old technology – coal.

Who will lead in protecting the Great Lakes environment?

Apparently not the governors.

Maybe the “rust belt” tag is still deserved.