PWIR: A Lame Idea for Lame Duck

Tags: 2012 election, mining severance tax, Renewable Energy

Political Week In Review

We successfully targeted Rep. Matt Huuki (R – Atlantic Mine) for defeat this election because of his history of supporting anti-conservation legislation.

 Two days after he was defeated, Huuki underscored our point by introducing a mining tax package that fails to compensate his district and the state for the natural resources that are extracted, and the risk of sulfuric acid leakage that comes with it.

In this week's PWIR:

  • A new mining severance tax package moving through the lame duck session fails to compensate Michiganders or adequately protect their natural resources.
  • Our "Inside the Election" special feature details how we helped to unseat Rep. Matt Huuki (R – Atlantic Mine) in the 110th State House race. If only it was effective immediately…
  • Post-election polling clearly shows that Michiganders support renewable energy, and in a big way. 75% of Michiganders, to be exact, including a wide majority of both Republicans and Democrats.

Huuki Gift-Wraps Severance Tax Package for Sulfide Mining Companies

On the first day of the lame duck session, outgoing Representative Matt Huuki (R – Atlandtic Mine) introduced a mining severance tax package that could end up being far more helpful to out-of-state mining companies than to Michigan.

The package, composed of Senate Bills 6007-6012, would replace the traditional method of valuing and taxing a nonferrous metallic mine (like sulfide mines) with a 2.75% severance tax. This is simply too low. The hazards of sulfide mining are immense and well documented. Those pictures of yellowish-orange rivers? That is the same sulfide mining that was recently approved by the DEQ to be constructed within 200ft of Lake Superior.  

Not only is this under-valuing of remarkable Northern Michigan land selling ourselves short, the revenue collected from the proposed “severance tax” of 2.75% would not properly benefit the local communities who will feel the brunt of this invasive mining technique. Of the funds collected, 60% would go to local units of government and 40% would go into a rural development fund. Furthermore, it creates exemptions for transportation and environmental compliance costs.

Governor Snyder previously proposed a similar idea with a 3% severance tax and a 45% / 55% split, but without the exemptions for transportation and environmental compliance costs. Even then, we noted that 3% was too low a price at which to compensate local communities, the extra burden on state departments, and future generations for the inevitable and deep environmental impact that comes from sulfide mining.

In Wisconsin, for example, they have an appropriate severance tax that ranges between 3% and 15%. So visualize where Wisconsin is and where the UP begins. The only difference would be that we charge less for the right to construct giant sulfide mines than even their barest minimum. Let me put it another way: Is our land so much less valuable than Wisconsin’s? Is our Great Lakes shoreline that drastically less important than theirs? Or could it be that our legislators simply don’t value it as much. If we are to open our lands to this kind of resource extraction, let’s be certain we are extracting the appropriate amount of resources from these international mining companies, in return.  

Inside the Election

Starting this week, I'll take you inside our electoral work to give you a glimpse of how we replaced  anti-conservation incumbents with environmental champions. As we typically say here at Michigan LCV, for Michigan to have legislators who value our natural resources, we have to elect them first. We’ll begin with a race in Northern Michigan – particularly fitting considering the race involved the re-election of the aforementioned Rep. Huuki. I’m sure it’s no surprise given his anti-conservation lame duck agenda, but we endorsed his challenger, Scott Dianda.

Our strategy for Michigan LCV endorsements is to make limited endorsements, and back them up with significant resources. This cycle, the process started off with a questionnaire that we sent to candidates early in the year. Scott Dianda's response to the questionnaire showed that he was the kind of conservation leader we wanted to see in the legislature.

Additionally,  Huuki's dismal record on conservation issues made this seat one that could greatly benefit from a change in representation. Huuki's record included sponsorship of HB 4746, which made it almost impossible for local townships to zone out natural resource mining – like sulfide mining – unless they could prove that "very serious consequences" would result.

We officially endorsed Scott Dianda for the general election in early October, 2012, and began an independent expenditure campaign through our Conservation Voters of Michigan PAC. We sent four rounds of high-quality mail pieces to 10,000 specifically-targeted voters in the 110th District in the western Upper Peninsula. The mailers highlighted Matt Huuki's lowlights as a legislator, including his votes to weaken environmental protections. In the last weeks before Election Day, we stepped up our efforts with radio ads emphasizing the same message.

When the final votes were counted, Scott Dianda had defeated Matt Huuki by a margin just over a thousand votes. Scott Dianda ran a great campaign in his own right, and we certainly don't take sole credit for his victory. Our efforts, though, helped put Dianda over the top and make sure that the western Upper Peninsula is represented by someone who shares the conservation values of its residents in the Michigan House of Representatives.

New Poll Shows Michiganders Support Renewable Energy

Speaking of the election, a poll conducted on November 5 and 6 found that Michiganders overwhelmingly support renewable energy, despite the outcome of Proposal 3. The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll found that 73% of Michiganders supported increasing our state's renewable energy production. More specifically, only 1% said they voted no because they did not want more renewable energy. Voters cited an unwillingness to amend the Michigan Constitution as the reason for voting down Proposal 3, as they did all other proposals on Nov. 6. 

Until next week,  

Ryan Werder

Political Director


P.S. I'd like to offer my condolences to the Milliken family on the loss of Helen Milliken, Michigan's former first lady and an honorary co-chair of the Michigan LCV Board of Directors. She and her husband, former Governor Bill Milliken, both served in that role. Mrs. Milliken's legacy touched everyone in Michigan, from her support of women's rights to her steadfast environmental advocacy. She will be missed tremendously.