Environment Picture

Budget crisis: No relief in sight for state's natural resources

Michigan’s budget crisis promises to be the only game in Lansing for the foreseeable future, dominating headlines, politics and policy throughout 2007. The implications for environmental protection are foreboding: general fund money for the agencies charged with protecting Michigan’s air, land, water and public health have been dwindling since 2001, and the descent will continue for the foreseeable future.

It’s not that environmental protection is a juicy target for spending reductions. Three agencies share most of the burden for maintaining and safeguarding our resources: the departments of Agriculture, Environmental Quality and Natural Resources. Combined, they account for 1.8% of the state’s budget.

That modest investment funds fish and wildlife biologists, air quality analysts, conservation officers, state park workers, pollution prevention specialists, brownfield redevelopment specialists and myriad others. Their jobs are critical to monitoring the health of our state and ensuring the smooth issuance of pollution permits to businesses who depend on certainty and speed to compete in a global economy.

The payoff? The agencies help support a $16 billion tourism industry that includes: $3 billion in boating and snowmobiling and $4.5 billion in hunting, fishing and other uses. State forest products and recreation accounts for $12 billion and 200,000 jobs; and an agri-food system supports thousands of jobs and has invested almost $7 billion over the last five years.

The calculations don’t include the benefits of cleaner air and water, which protect the state’s 10 million residents from illness, hospitalization, higher insurance premiums and premature death due to increased cancers and other illnesses from dangerous pollutants. Nationally, enforcement of just one air pollution rule (the fine particulate standard) saves up to $76 billion in health-related costs annually.

MEC and its allies in Lansing are fighting every day to protect important environmental safeguards from the budget bloodletting. We recognize the dire financial situation, but believe that the minuscule short-term gains realized from excessive cuts to the environmental protection budgets aren’t worth the long-term damage they would cause.

As the process moves forward, we’ll be updating interested member groups and citizens through our regular Capitol Update e-mails. To subscribe, e-mail katemec@voyager.net.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., Michigan Environmental Council
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