Basic should trump bold for Michigan governor

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Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson

Commentary

Do you use the word “bold” to describe a person, action or event?

I don’t.

It connotes way too much drama for me.

And it denotes courage and risk taking; rare commodities for environmental progress for a politician.

That’s why I was surprised to see a Natural Resources Defense Council staffer use “bold” to describe Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s vision for Michigan’s energy future.

“Today, Gov. Rick Snyder reiterated his bold vision for Michigan’s energy future with energy efficiency and renewable energy at its core,” Patrick Kenneally said in a press release.

Kenneally is an attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Chicago office. A focus on renewable energy is a priority for NRDC.

chicagoviewHere’s what’s interesting:

Had the “bold” praise for Snyder come from The Nature Conservancy or one of the Great Lakes environmental coalitions, it would have been easy to ignore. They favor praise of politicians rewarding small steps and are reluctant to criticize. The inside game is preferred that prioritizes access over action.

But the NRDC’s Chicago office is run by former Chicago Environment Commissioner Henry Henderson. He doesn’t suffer politician’s platitudes or shenanigans and his staff isn’t afraid to throw a sharp elbow at “say everything and do nothing” elected officials and agency heads.

I doubt Snyder’s vision will lead to a “bold” result. Politicians over-promise and under-deliver. Bold proposals are diluted to yield mediocre results, if that.

But another “bold” reference to Snyder was recently echoed by a new environmental leader.

In a softball-question radio interview Mike Shriberg said he has “bold leadership” expectations on Great Lakes issues when Snyder travels to Quebec in June for a meeting of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

The Council is comprised of the governors of eight Great Lakes states and the premiers of Ontario and Quebec.

Shriberg is the newly-appointed director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.

Shriberg may have set himself up for disappointment when it comes to Snyder and his Council colleagues. Snyder has tried to revive the group on Great Lakes issues in recent years with little success. Only three governors attended last year’s meeting in Chicago and environmental initiatives were at the margins.

Kenneally and Shriberg have set the bar high for Snyder but I’ve got my own agenda for Michigan’s governor and it doesn’t require him to be bold.

The basics

A Snyder focus on a few basic issues will work for me.

Job one should be to work with Ohio Gov. John Kasich to protect Lake Erie from agricultural pollution. Michigan and Ohio share Lake Erie’s border and both were affected by last August’s Toledo water crisis.

How progressive would it be for two Republican governors to go against type and finally get tough with agricultural interests? Put them on notice that they will no longer be allowed to use the states’ waterways as a dumping ground for farm pollution.

If Snyder needs inspiration he can look to Minnesota where Gov. Mark Dayton has a pending bill that would require farmers to clean up their polluting act. Or to Iowa where the Des Moines Water Works has had enough of deny and delay tactics of farmers and is suing to stop farm pollution.

Minnesota and the Des Moines Water Works aren’t radical environmentalists marching to the courthouse willy-nilly with a lawsuit in hand. They’re responsible government entities protecting drinking water quality for their citizens.

Selfishly for Michigan Snyder needs to get in front of the issue of the aged Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. A rupture there could be devastating to Lakes Michigan and Huron and would lay waste to Pure Michigan ads and northern Michigan’s tourism economy.

Michigan has already experienced a significant pipeline failure in Marshall. How many oil tanker train derailments and pipeline failures do we need to see before it places precaution before blind faith?

And what better place than Quebec when the governors meet to pressure federal governments to protect citizens and water quality from oil transport tragedies? The Quebec town of Lac-Megantic was devastated by an oil train derailment in 2013.

I could go on but I suspect there are only so many environmental initiatives Snyder can handle.

Remember, he has a decrepit road system to fix in a state that produces cars but is hesitant to spend money on roads. And Detroit, while out of bankruptcy, still has miles and decades to go to be viable for the long term.

Gov. Snyder deserves recognition and encouragement for his plan to move renewable energy forward in Michigan. I get that.

Against the advice of colleagues, I cautiously trust him to protect Michigan’s environment, or minimally to allow no harm. Maybe it’s because I compare him to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who has taken his state from progressive to regressive on conservation issues.

Should Snyder be “bold” in his actions or just “basic?”

I’ll settle for “basic” because that’s what clean air and water are, basic necessities.

Hyperbole like unwarranted use of “bold” is better suited to our current political environment than to protecting the natural one.

Let’s leave “bold” to the political spin doctors.

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