Editor’s note: Great Lakes Echo commentator Gary Wilson sat down with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in Chicago for a one-on-one interview Friday. Here’s Wilson’s take on what the governor had to say.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder brought his Great Lakes message to Chicago today as the region’s governors gathered in Chicago for an annual meeting.
Snyder co-chairs the Council of Great Lakes Governors with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. The two executives revived the dormant governors group on Mackinac Island last year and the Chicago meeting is an attempt to maintain momentum.
I sat with Snyder at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium overlooking Lake Michigan and he shared his thoughts on physical separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River, the 60-year-old Enbridge pipeline that transports tar sands oil through the Straits of Mackinac and the volatile pet coke storage issue.
Here’s Snyder on the issues:
- Physical separation is a solution to stop the Asian carp advance that he “could support.” But the region needs to find “common ground” as he’s sensitive to the economic issues that Illinois and Indiana would confront. Snyder said there isn’t enough of an “atmosphere of crisis.” Whatever the solution, it needs to happen quicker.
- He deferred to the federal government on the Straits of Mackinac pipeline. Snyder said federal officials have primary responsibility for pipeline safety. He noted that the pipeline has a “track record of success” and cautioned against “an extreme answer,” preferring diligence. Snyder said staff has been in contact with federal officials expressing concern about the pipeline.
- Pet coke storage is an area where he wants to be proactive and is a concern wherever it’s stored, not just in economically challenged communities. Snyder was unaware that the city of River Rouge in Michigan has gone on record saying it didn’t want to be a repository for pet coke but said he’d look into it.
Snyder said he welcomes the responsibility to lead on Great Lakes issues. It’s not a “burden,” it’s “common sense.”
Last year I gave Gov. Snyder high marks for organizing the Mackinac Island conference. The region’s governors had been on the sidelines on Great Lakes issues for over five years and it was time for them to re-engage.
I continue to admire his tenacity. It’s tough sledding though. Attending the Chicago meeting are only three of the eight Great Lakes state governors – Illinois’ Pat Quinn and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker are the other two. But Snyder said the staffs of the missing governors are highly engaged. With half a smile on his face, he said “it takes a while” to get everyone onboard. Ever the optimist, he sees the lack of participation by his counterparts as an opportunity for “continuous improvement.”
But his maybe yes, maybe no response to physical separation is lacking for the governor of the state that may have the most to lose if Asian carp gain a foothold in the Great Lakes. Pure Michigan will be less so if that happens.
The Asian carp issue is one that begs for leadership. Snyder could be that guy but he has to step out of his let’s try to make sure everyone’s happy mindset and understand that not everyone will be pleased with an action that keeps carp out of the Great lakes.
His deference to the federal government on the Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac though is of concern. He’s right. Pipeline safety is the responsibility of the feds. That’s the bureaucratic path.
But Enbridge has had a major accident in Michigan – the Kalamazoo River. The 60-year-old Mackinac pipeline is within a few miles of arguably Michigan’s greatest tourism attraction – iconic Mackinac Island. Were I Snyder, I’d use all the gravitas that his office could bring to make sure that pipeline is safe.
Snyder didn’t seem terribly close to the pet coke storage issue and maybe that’s too much to ask. The guy after all is trying save Detroit from collapse while continuing to revive the economy and fund much needed road improvements that his Legislature doesn’t want to pay for.
That said, a public statement that pet coke shouldn’t be in southwest Detroit or River Rouge could set the expectation that Marathon Oil and its storage companies need to do better.
I’ve always said that Snyder is an environmental enigma and I continue to believe that.
He grabs the reins and tries to wake up a class of governors who don’t seem to hold the Great Lakes in the esteem they deserve.
But he’s not quite ready to take the next step on a big issue like Asian carp, preferring to play at the fringes, funding $14 million of invasive species work in Michigan.
Snyder is up for re-election this year and if Michigan’s recovery continues I suspect he’ll win.
That provides an opportunity to impact Michigan’s waters for years if not a decade to come and that’s an opportunity Snyder says he wants.
Snyder’s mantra is “relentless positive action.”
Now he needs to get out of safe mode and add bold to that mantra.