Michigan Political Week in Review: Feb 8 - 14

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Brace yourself, because here comes the budget. Deep cuts across the state are presently sitting benignly in a neat stack of papers. Maybe even a nice binder. It is a fine disguise for what Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley called an “atomic bomb.” But don’t race off to your still-provisioned Y2K bunker, yet. This past week gave us plenty of reminders of the battles we must continue to fight, even with these budget bombs dropping around us.

In this Political Week in Review: Representative Upton finds out two-thirds of his district disagrees with him, Holland gets a permit for its wholly unnecessary coal plant expansion, Michigan is reminded what fracking is and why it is not nearly safe enough, and we take a quick look at what the budget may mean for our state’s future.

Upsetting Numbers for Upton

Last week, I noted that Representative Upton – Chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee – chose to make stripping the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions one of his signature issues. It seems his constituents think he chose poorly. More precisely, a solid two-thirds of his constituents think he chose poorly; not a good number for him in the land of majority rule.

The fact is that people don’t have a great deal of trust for Congress right now, whereas they do support the work of the EPA (82%, to be more precise). Take that, then, and ask them who they would prefer making key decisions on our nation’s air quality and it’s a pretty simple answer: Congress should let the EPA do its job. Some even doubt whether their Congressmen could even do their own taxes, much less check the math of the qualified EPA scientists carefully weighing these complex questions.

TheHolland Coal Plant

After an initially positive action of appealing the ruling on the unnecessary coal plant expansion in Holland, the Snyder Administration decided this week that just because something is unnecessary doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be built. At this point, with the permit granted, the decision lies with Holland to decide if they want to proceed with a plan that will raise both pollution and the rates that their citizens will pay long-term.

Unfortunately, these kinds of poorly-conceived permits will continue to be possible unless the application process requires a demonstrated need for the new power generated as well as the most efficient way to create it. Construction for construction’s sake is the worst kind of planning at a time when Michigan needs to save every dollar it can.

Fracking: Funny word, serious impact

“Fracking.” The term is not a new extreme winter sport, but rather is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” a process by which natural gas is extracted from deep underground, often thousands of feet, by drilling into a rich layer of the earth and blasting it with water mixed with an (undisclosed) assortment of chemicals to fracture the rock and release the gas. An extreme winter sport really does sound more fun, doesn’t it?

This week, we saw why this process needs closer monitoring and stronger safeguards. Roughly 25 miles from Traverse City, a leak was identified and, while addressed, serves to highlight the dangers that exist in the rapidly expanding fracking industry here in Michigan. As Presidium Antrim West finishes “developing their response,” check out some of the other damage that fracking has caused in other parts of the country. We need to act now before we see one of those massive tragedies within our own borders.

And then there is the budget…

This budget will be harsh. It will be primarily cuts and it sounds as if Governor Snyder is not holding any program sacred; everything is on the table. I will confine myself to the environmental impacts of it moving forward, but if you also are interested in corrections, education, public workers, low-income assistance, and/or municipal budgets… watch out.

But it is not as if conservation causes will be immune. It will hit us and hit us hard. We will have to wait to see the Governor’s proposal, but even that may not be as clear as we’d like. If he condenses the budget into broader categories than the traditional hundreds of “line items,” it will place more flexibility - and therefore more power - into the Executive branch than the Legislative. This may have an impact on transparency, as well. How the Legislature, and especially his own party, takes his overall suggestions will be the big story of the next three months.

Similarly, President Obama is presenting his budget this week, too. More cuts. Particularly notable, however, is the proposal to cut a quarter of the budget of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Please tell your federal representative that with the Asian Carp knocking down our door, this is not the time to turn our backs on the Great Lakes.

Until next week,

Ryan Werder

Political Director

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