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PRESIDENT’S COLUMN: New ethic of stewardship opens the door for environmental and economic progress

With one month under my belt, what can I share with you in my first column? First, I want to publicly thank the Board for the opportunity to lead the Michigan Environmental Council. It is a great honor to be chosen president of such an outstanding organization.

Longtime MEC President Lana Pollack set the bar high and built a solid foundation from which MEC will grow. I intend to ensure we build steadily upon that foundation.

I also want to thank everyone who has welcomed me—who to a person has helped make the transition as smooth as possible.

My first impressions are “what a magnificent staff and organization!” I am amazed every day by the depth of knowledge and commitment of the staff and, likewise, of our member organizations. I’ll have to really run to keep up with everyone here—a challenge I’ll gladly take on.

Speaking of challenges, 2009 is clearly going to be a challenging year for everyone, but it also is a year of great opportunity. Never before have we as a nation been poised to really move forward environmentally. From the federal economic recovery package to the state’s focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency, there is a growing awareness of the importance of protecting our environment and addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

President Obama understands this, and Gov. Granholm has clearly articulated the fact that any prosperous future involves green jobs. This is a fundamental shift occurring on a national and global stage. MEC, with the strength of its member groups, is uniquely poised to help bring about this change in Michigan.

It is a refreshing new perspective in a state that once was a beacon of environmental leadership but that has been standing still or moving backward for too long.

Michigan was the first state to ban DDT and to have a bottle deposit law, and its cities were among the nation’s pioneers in curbside recycling programs. The environment had broad support. And then the dark days came—a false dichotomy of economic development versus environmental protection was created.

It is only now that this false dichotomy is being rejected, and the state is awakening from its slumber to take giant steps forward. People and policy makers realize that protecting the environment means economic development, enhanced quality of life, and job creation and retention.

That’s always been my perspective, nurtured during my days at the University of Michigan in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) where my environmental awakening really took hold. My education included studying energy, ecology, entomology, ornithology, oceanography, environmental education, natural history interpretation, environmental advocacy, natural resource economics, remote sensing, wildlife ecology—and those are just the courses I can remember. I spent a spring semester in the Upper Peninsula, and had field activities and studies throughout Southeast Michigan. SNRE addressed the environment not as a single-issue study, but through an interdisciplinary approach.

My commitment to the environment is rooted in the understanding that “the earth is not given to us by our parents, but is lent to us by our children.”

I am proud of my legislative accomplishments, especially those in the environmental arena—land use, transportation, economic redevelopment, environmental cleanup, environmental health, and energy; and even prouder that many of the bills I introduced have been championed by others after I was gone.

I salute all the work that others did to pass the major water and energy legislation just enacted into law. Despite—and sometimes as a result of—our victories, there is much to be done. MEC and it member organizations will be key players in ensuring those laws are implemented in the strongest possible way to ensure protection of our water and our energy future. Public transit, land use, factory farm regulation and environmental health are among other issues that will occupy MEC staff and allies at the Capitol this year.

We also look forward to using technology to become more nimble and responsive. Already we have established a Facebook page and soon will launch a new and improved web site. We look forward to using these new tools to communicate with you and the public in our combined efforts to protect and enhance our environment and public health.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be meeting with you to discuss where we are going and gather your input in where you believe MEC should focus its work and how we can help address your needs. I look forward to these discussions, strengthening our partnership and continuing our friendship. Please feel free to reach out to me, as well. My email is chris@environmentalcouncil.org, and I can be reached at the office at (517) 487-9539.
-Chris Kolb
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