By Marie Orttenburger
LANSING — The Michigan public is dissatisfied with state government’s handling of environmental issues.
That’s what the latest State of the State Survey finds.
The telephone survey of more than 1,000 Michigan residents explored how they feel state and local government officials are doing on the environment and asked them to rate officials as “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.”
State government is responsible for regulating air and water quality, parks, hunting and fishing, wildlife, land development and alternative energy, among other topics.
The largest group of residents surveyed (42 percent) rated Gov. Rick Snyder as “poor” in carrying out environmental responsibilities, and 32 percent rated him “fair.” Only 2 percent gave him an excellent rating for his efforts on environmental matters.
State agencies and the Legislature generally received “fair” ratings for their roles in environmental regulation. For agencies, 45 percent of those surveyed gave a “fair” rating and 28 percent said “poor.” For the Legislature, survey responses were 46 percent “fair” and 34 percent “poor.”
Local officials fared better.
Those surveyed gave them mostly “good” and “fair” ratings on their environmental performance, which the survey noted include zoning, wetland protections and recycling.
Only 16 percent of those surveyed gave local officials a “poor” rating.
The survey took place at a time when environmental issues in Michigan are at the forefront.
The state is still dealing with the Flint water crisis, which garnered international media coverage throughout the last year. Climate change, invasive species and alternative energy policies continue to make headlines as well.
But for some legislators, a survey reflecting low public opinion isn’t going to change their behavior.
“Frankly, we don’t make decisions based on survey results,” said Greg Moore, legislative director for Sen. Mike Nofs. The Battle Creek Republican chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee.
Moore said the Legislature spent three years coming up with an energy bill, going through nuances the public doesn’t see.
“What people say they want and what is doable often run counter to each other,” Moore said. “They like renewables, but they don’t want to pay for them, or they like renewables, but they don’t want 400-foot-tall wind turbines.”
MSU economics Professor Charles, Ballard, director of the State of the State Survey, said he isn’t sure that residents who understand the details of the Legislature’s decision-making process would rate them differently, though.
“I’m not completely convinced they’d reach the conclusion that the Michigan Legislature is pro-environment,” Ballard said.
For some environmental groups, the survey results aren’t unexpected.
“I’m not surprised to see that the governor gets a ‘poor’ rating,” said Mike Berkowitz, the legislative and political director of the Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter. “In all honesty, he has not been good on environmental policy.”
The Sierra Club compiles scorecards to measure legislators’ environmental stewardship. The ratings are based on the number of legislative decisions made in favor of environmental protection.
Snyder most recently received a failing score of 33 percent from the organization.
Berkowitz said he was surprised the state agencies and Legislature didn’t do even worse in the survey.
“We’ve seen a lot more bills that would do harm to the environment than would protect it,” he said.
Local officials’ comparatively better standing in the survey might have to do with their proximity to the public.
“The closer you get to people, the more likely they are to respond in support,” Berkowitz said.
Previous State of the State Surveys have asked the public to rate their trust in local, state and federal levels of government.
And Ballard said, “Trust in local is substantially higher than trust in state, which is a little bit higher than trust in federal government. The public, rightly or wrongly, has been sour on legislative bodies for a long time.”
Capital News Service and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism underwrote the questions. The Knight Center is the publisher of Great Lakes Echo.
The State of the State Survey is a quarterly statewide telephone survey that measures public mood on political and economic conditions. It had an overall statewide margin of error of +4.2 percent and was administered between Sept.1 and Nov. 13.