The COVID-19 pandemic may keep us indoors for the good of public health, but it does not keep away bills and regulatory changes that can impact our health, environmental resilience and economic growth. As a trusted mover and shaker of environmental policy, Michigan Environmental Council is using its policy expertise, strengthening its Capitol connections and working with its dozens of member groups to make our state better with lawmakers, departments, coalitions and member organizations.
Below are the policies MEC is shaping or has recently shaped. Some we support; others we oppose. Regardless, we are seeing them through by educating, advocating and using our Capitol connections with member groups and allies. Each effort is grounded in public health and environmental justice.
|OUR LEGAL INTERVENTION WORK|
|Protecting our Great Lakes from a Line 5 oil spill|
|Protecting our drinking water from factory farm manure|
|OUR RECENT WINS|
|Kept mining away from our homes and schools|
|Minimized a Consumers Energy rate hike|
|Kept the electric vehicle market growing|
|Restored water shutoffs statewide|
|Ensured natural resources funding, access|
Powering Michigan Forward Bill
This bill lifts the cap on the number of everyday Michigan residents that can send their excess renewable energy to the grid for profit. So, for example, someone that installs solar panels on their property can send energy they generate but do not use to the greater electric grid, and the utility companies servicing that area will compensate them for it. Prior, utility companies set a cap on the number of participants who could participate, usually 1 or 2% of the total energy generated by that company.
This bill package is a win-win-win. It allows utilities to better reach statewide renewable energy goals; it gives Michigan clean energy to mitigate climate change; and it gives more money to people who have made an investment in the environment. Residents could live healthier and wealthier.
MEC has taken a lead role in seeing this bill through by educating, advocating and connecting with Capitol leadership.
The package was referred to Committee on Energy Feb. 12, 2021. This is the committee Markkanen serves on as majority vice chair. Other co-sponsors also sit on this committee.
- To learn how many more people are participating in distributed generation, read this MI Tech News article.
- To learn how home solar panels benefit owners and neighbors alike, read this Michigan Technical University report.
- To learn about Michigan's burgeoning clean energy industry, read this Energy News Network commentary.
Solid Waste Law Rewrite
When solid waste laws were written in the 1990s, they made obtaining landfill space easier at a time when it was scarce. Now, with plenty of landfill capacity available because of those laws, this bill package levels the playing field for businesses that give value to what was once thought as waste.
Compost sites, material recovery facilities, recycling centers and new and emerging technologies would be legally legitimized, given guidance for operation and resources. The package would also guide the creation of strong county materials management plans; create a stronger post-closure plan for landfills; and protect taxpayers from paying for contaminated site remediation.
If passed, this upcoming bill package, five years in the making, could revolutionize how we dispose of materials. It could triple recycling rates, keep our environment clean and create a more resilient materials management market and workforce. It is a win-win-win.
This bill package is grounded in recommendations made by the state’s Solid Waste and Sustainability Advisory Panel, which MEC was part of from its inception. In 2018, we worked with MEC member organization Michigan Recycling Coalition and others to secure the state funding for the change. Now, we are leading the charge to implement it.
This bill package must be reintroduced.
This bill package was introduced in 2020. It must be reintroduced for the new legislative session.
- For MEC's, Michigan Chemistry Council's and Michigan Recycling Coalition's stance on the bills, read our Bridge Magazine op-ed.
- For summaries, infographics and videos of our solid waste law and our proposed rewrite, go to Michigan Recycling Coalition's website.
Bottle Bill Rewrite
Deposit any can or bottle; get a 10-cent return. Michigan residents would be able to deposit any beverage container, save for milk containers, and get a return with this bill. Michiganders already boast a 90% bottle and can return rate. This bill, a rewrite of a 40-year-old law, would expand that success, keeping more recyclable products out of landfills and in the hands of our burgeoning recycling industry.
What's more, these bills would allow bottles and cans not returned by residents to be returned by the state. 75% of that return would fund contaminated site cleanups, while 25% would be sent back to Michigan retailers.
MEC and Michigan Recycling Coalition are continuing their multiyear support of this policy through education, advocacy and Capitol connections, joining our legislative supporters.
This bill package will be formally introduced to the Michigan House and assigned a committee in late February.
- For MEC's and Michigan Recycling Coalition's stance on good bottle return policy, read our Bridge Magazine op-ed.
30 by 30 Resolution
This resolution would urge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to establish a statewide goal of conserving 30% of our land and 30% of our water by 2030 through Michigan's land management laws.
The 30 by 30 model is a national movement, proposed by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland as a Congresswoman and adopted by President Joe Biden. Its application is supported by Republicans and Democrats alike for good reason. As Michigan works to become carbon neutral by 2050, the 30 by 30 plan can ensure the natural places we are working to protect from devastation not only exist, but thrive. What is more, conserved land across our varied, beautiful state makes our water and air cleaner and gives everyone more opportunities to connect with nature.
MEC member group Michigan League of Conservation Voters has been instrumental in this resolution, and MEC is proud to support it.
This resolution was introduced Feb. 3, 2021 and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation.
- For more on the 30 by 30 plan, read this article by Scientific American.
Filter First Bill Package
This bipartisan bill package would install water fountains and taps capable of filtering out lead in all public schools and in some day care centers. All schools would develop a drinking water safety plan with EGLE's guidance, which would outline the location and maintenance of drinking stations and guidelines if contaminants are found.
EGLE would also provide additional funding for additional needs, such as replacement filters, to daycares and schools that serve low-income communities.
Lead poisoning damages a child’s development which can make it difficult to succeed in school and beyond. This bill package mitigates the issue at a cost much lower than testing all pipes first for lead. A few months of planning and financial support could positively impact generations of Michigan’s youth.
MEC is a co-leader of the Filter First coalition, made up of health, education and environmental groups and experts. It is a prime influencer of the bill and its accompanying budget appropriation.
Senate Bill 184 was introduced by Sen. Curt VanderWall (R, Ludington) on Feb. 25, 2021.
Senate Bill 185 was introduced by Sen. Jim Ananich (D, Flint) on Feb. 25, 2021.
The bill package has the bipartisan support of nine Senators.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appropriated $55 million for a Filter First strategy in her proposed 2021 budget. The bill package was referred to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality on Feb. 25, 2021.
- For the Filter First coalition's statement on the budget appropriation and bill package, check out our blog post.
- For a video on the bill package featuring Sens. Ananich and VanderWall, check out MEC's recorded webinar.
- For a rundown on costs for a Filter First approach, check out the coalition's infographic.
Corporate polluter pay bill
From 1990 to 1995, Michigan had the strongest "polluter pay" law in the country. If the owner of a property, usually a corporation or large business, polluted, they had to pay for remediation. That law was repealed by Gov. John Engler. Now, corporate landowners only need to pay to contain the land and water pollution within their property. That allows more than 3,000 sites to decrease property values, contribute to blight and allow pollutants to spread underground, contaminating drinking water and vaporizing into basements.
A bill in the Michigan House would hold corporate polluters accountable again, and nearly 50% of Representatives are sponsoring it. It is time to serve justice to our communities, protect our environment and stop taxpayers from footing the cleanup bills.
MEC and member groups are supporting this bill through education, advocacy and Capitol connections.
The bill was introduced and referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation on Feb. 23, 2021.
- For our statement on the bill's benefits, read our statement here.
- For the scope of contaminated sites needing cleanup, read this Detroit Free Press article.
'No stricter than federal' repeal bill
If a state wants to make its drinking water the cleanest and healthiest it can be, it should be able to do so. A 2018 law sponsored by former Rep. Triston Cole says otherwise. It makes Michigan follow federal guidelines for some drinking water standards. This can keep state-specific science out and blanket national data in, which can make it tough to cater to Michigan's water pollutant threats.
Repealing the lame duck "no stricter than federal" bill allows Michigan to put taxpayer dollars to their best use and cater to its residents' needs by setting strong standards for water quality.
MEC and member groups are supporting this bill through education, advocacy and Capitol connections.
Senate Bill 147 was introduced by Sen. Sean McCann (D, Kalamazoo).
It has 14 cosponsors.
The bill was introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Oversight on Feb. 18, 2021.
- For perspectives from Sen. McCann and MEC member group Michigan League of Conservation Voters, read this statement.
LEGAL INTERVENTION WORK
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Contested Case
About 270 factory farms -- called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs -- exist around Michigan. The massive amounts of manure they produce, sell and dispose of can end up polluting our ground and surface water, destroying ecosystems, catalyzing algal blooms and threatening sickness on people and pets who drink and play in impacted water.
When the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) adopted its newest five-year rules to protect manure from entering our waterways, MEC and our allies were ambivalent. The rules created more transparency and reporting requirements, but they left loopholes open that factory farms could take advantage of.
Then, Michigan's Farm Bureau and a number of CAFOs filed a lawsuit against the rules. While MEC and allies would have preferred better rules, eliminating them would be devastating for the health of states around the Great Lakes and their people. We are working to win this case and prove why these rules are so important.
MEC is legally intervening to protect pollution protection laws with other pro-farm, pro-sustainability allies.
Contested case info:
Information on CAFOs and its general permit can be found on EGLE's website.
All interveners, such as MEC and contesters, such as the Michigan Farm Bureau, are currently taking part in the case.
- For MEC's case for intervening with allies, click here.
- For MEC's stance on the revised CAFO permit, click here.
Line 5 Pipeline Contested Case
On Nov. 13, 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a historic, potentially revolutionary move. She set a death date for an oil pipeline on the grounds that it put the Great Lakes environment and its people in harm's way.
Gov. Whitmer's decision was what thousands of people and organizations had spent years advocating for. Enbridge's 67-year-old Line 5 dual pipeline has been a point of contention for years. Part of the it cuts across the Straits of Mackinac on its way from one part of Canada to another; the Straits are among Michigan's most vulnerable ecologies.
MEC, National Wildlife Federation and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council are intervening on behalf of millions of Americans, Canadians and the water that they drink from and play in to ensure Line 5 is removed from our most valuable, spiritual resource.
Line 5 has already spilled 33 times as it pumps 23 million gallons of oil along. We cannot have a 34th.
Contested case info:
Information on Line 5's case can be found on the MPSC's website
The MPSC requested a second administrative law judge Dec. 9 opinion following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's court filing to shut down Line 5.
- To make a donation of any size to our legal efforts, click here.
- For more on Line 5 and its impact, go to Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council's website.
Aggregate Mining Bill
This bill would have eliminated zoning authority and oversight capability from local governments when it came to mining permits. Unrestricted gravel and sand mining operations would have occurred across the state, so long as the company doing the mining proved they could make a return of investment.
If passed, this bill would have stripped local governments of their ability to protect their constituents. Then, mining would have occurred near residential neighborhoods, schools, businesses and hospitals, potentially placing people next to harmful air and noise pollution. Now, people will remain safe from the particle pollution and trust in our public leaders' decision making will remain.
MEC joined Senators and environmental and civic organizations to successfully block the bill from a vote.
The bill passed the Committee on Transportation 6-1-2 but died on the Senate floor.
- For more on the bill and aggregate mining's harmful effects, read Michigan Radio's article.
- For more on why and how we fought this bill, read our coalition's joint release.
Consumers Energy Rate Case
MEC has intervened through the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on behalf of the public for more than 20 years. In that time, we and our allies have advocated for reduced residential utility rates, transitions to cleaner energy and more reliable utility infrastructure.
In Consumers' latest rate case, MEC worked to keep residential rates as low as possible and grid reliability as high as possible as the utility. The MPSC approved a $100 million rate hike, $180 million less than Consumers originally sought.
Still, residential customers will pay $9.18 more a month on average for less-than-optimal grid improvements. That is especially egregious given that the pandemic keeps many unemployed, underemployed and at home more than ever, using electricity. About 18% of Consumers Energy customers live below the federal poverty level, and 99% pay more than double the standard of affordability used by regulatory bodies around the country.
MEC was a legal intervenor in this case. We made sure Consumers Energy was charging its customers equitably and was properly investing in good grid improvements and clean energy transitions.
Rate case info:
Consumers Energy Rate Case U-20697 and all corresponding public documents have been uploaded on the MPSC's website.
The MPSC made its ruling Dec. 17, 2020. The rate hike goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
- For our statement with Natural Resources Defense Council on the ruling and rundown of what it means, click here.
This pro-business-cartel bill prohibited vehicle manufacturers from selling their vehicles directly to consumers. These manufacturers would have been unable to service their vehicles in Michigan and conduct test rides.
If passed, the bill would have put the brakes on our burgeoning electric vehicle market by forcing startups into a dealership model of service. The model does not suit electric vehicle companies, which produce less vehicles by volume than traditional vehicle companies and need far less maintenance.
The electric vehicle industry keeps our air clean; has a burgeoning, resilient workforce; and can keep Michigan as an innovative leader for transportation.
MEC educated lawmakers on the benefits of this bill and placed public pressure with other environmental organizations, electric vehicle companies and clean energy organizations.
Passed through the House 65-39 on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, but it failed to be taken up on the Senate floor.
For more on why and how MEC fought the bill, read our release.
Water Shutoff Moratorium Bill
This bill would codify Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's emergency order placing a moratorium on all residential water shutoffs through March 2021. Gov. Whitmer's order was ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in late October.
Some 317,000 households are known to be behind on bill payments. Thousands more are likely struggling to pay on time. A moratorium is especially important during a pandemic, when making ends meet is tough and when washing hands and bathing can keep COVID-19 at bay.
MEC was part of a coalition of 20 environmental, civil, community and justice organizations advocating for the moratorium.
Senate Bill 241 was introduced by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D, Detroit)
Gov. Whitmer signed the bill on Dec. 22, 2020 after it passed the Senate 30-8 and the House 96-9.
- To see how water shutoffs hurt everyone's health in every Michigan community, read our blog post here.
Proposal 1: Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund amendment
This Constitutional amendment approved by the vast majority of Michiganders will ensure that our land and water continue to be protected, and people are connected to them, in perpetuity.
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund was enshrined in our Constitution in the 1970s. It takes royalties and fees from fossil fuel companies and uses them to provide grants for land purchases or land improvements. Millions of dollars are given to local organizations and governments (and a few state park projects) to protect and expand the preserves, trails, neighborhood parks, beaches and other public amenities we love.
The amendment voters approved in November 2020 makes two monumental changes. First, it ensures that the Trust Fund has no cap, meaning that fossil fuel royalties and fees, and investments made off them, will always go toward conservation and recreation. Second, it changes the formula the Trust Fund's board uses to better promote both the purchase of land and the betterment of land we already have. That will make our natural places more accessible in places rural and urban, whether through wheelchair-accessible amenities, bathrooms, kayak launches or natural wildlife plantings.
MEC spearheaded the campaign behind Proposal 1 with The Nature Conservancy through our 501(c)4, the Sustainable Michigan Fund.
Read communications specialist Beau Brockett's Prop 1 explainer in the Albion Pleiad here.
Proposal 1 passed with 84.3% of the vote in November 2020.