PWIR: Full Speed Ahead

Tags: biodiversity, energy efficiency, Governor Snyder, Natural Resources Trust Fund, Renewable Energy

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Well, January certainly flew by and, with that, the state legislature is fully off and running. There have already been more than 300 bills and resolutions introduced, plenty of which would impact our land, air, and water if signed into law. In this PWIR, I go into detail about one of our biggest annual concerns around budget time: Short-sighted legislators eagerly eyeing the Natural Resources Trust Fund for their own pet projects. Clearly, we won’t stand for that.

Covered this week:

Trust Fund Raid: The Public Has Spoken
 
If you have received the PWIR over the past year, then you probably have a good sense of what the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF) is and why it is important (for a detailed explanation, read the blog post linked here).
 
Despite deep support for this constitutionally-enshrined fund, legislators have consistently looked to it as a short-term solution to budget challenges in recent years. Though none of these raids gained much traction last session - in no small part because we, and fellow conservation groups, drew a big, thick line in the sand - it took only three weeks for a legislator to introduce just such a bill this term. In late January, Representative Bob Genetski (R - Saugatuck) introduced House Bill 4106, which would allow NRTF funds to be used for dredging Great Lakes harbors in Michigan.
 
Due to widespread droughts and warm temperatures that boost evaporation rates (climate change, anyone?), Great Lakes water levels are at record lows. Without immediate dredging, Michigan stands to lose significant tourism dollars as many small and medium sized harbors may be unable to open this summer, not to mention major vessels need access for trade.
 
However, raiding the NRTF is not the answer.
 
Instead, we support a solution closer to the more comprehensive approach that Governor Snyder has proposed. We are echoing the Governor’s call for one-time use of general fund dollars in this year’s budget, paired with quicker permitting for dredging; however, this is not an excuse for sloppy reviews of the environmental impacts of those permits. Again, we can work together to find a creative solution to this problem, but raiding the NRTF - effectively, our state’s means of preserving the beauty of the Great Lakes State for future generations’ use - is not on the table.
 
From Governor Snyder to the State Senate, Energy Improvements Gaining Steam
 
In both his Special Message on Energy and the Environment and this year’s State of the State Address, Governor Snyder indicated the need to increase our use of renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in our state. As part of this process, the Governor called for a public conversation about the direction of Michigan’s energy policy.
 
This conversation will get underway in the coming weeks and you have an opportunity to participate! Visit our recent blog post on the topic for details on how to voice your thoughts. Help us make a strong case for the need to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency in Michigan!
 
In related news, State Senator Mike Nofs (R - Battle Creek), who chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, indicated this week that he’s interested in looking at the possibility of increasing Michigan’s renewable energy standard. Though he is waiting for the Governor’s public input process to unfold, we are encouraged that leaders on both sides of the aisle are serious about improving Michigan’s energy policy.
 
Biodiversity Under Threat
 
On the list of bad ideas last session was legislation to literally change the definition of conservation and remove biodiversity restoration from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)'s responsibilities (full analysis of that bill here). Fortunately, the bill did not make it to Governor Snyder’s desk.
 
Unfortunately, an almost identical bill (Senate Bill 78) was recently introduced and is already on the agenda of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.
 
We will be closely monitoring this legislation and attending this week’s committee hearing to voice our opposition. Hopefully, SB 78 will suffer the same fate this session as its previous incarnation did last year!
 
Correction: I Got a Bit Too Excited About a Solar Installation...
 
Time for me to take responsibility for a wee mistake in last week’s PWIR. In my excitement over an article that landed in my inbox last week about a solar installation at Google’s Ann Arbor office, I neglected to check the actual date of the article and just assumed it was timely. Unfortunately, the article was from 2011... Not quite timely. However, it all worked out for the best as we now have a neat new site to share. A friend at Google pointed out this website where you can see the output of the panels. Check it out!
 
That wraps up this week’s PWIR. As always, feel free to get in touch with questions!
 
Political and Campaigns Director