Big wins to ring in a new decade
The fog of anxiety was thick for many as we trudged through an exhausting election and an ever-present pandemic. Yet, bright lights cut through.
Laws, decisions and amendments passed at 2020’s end will make the health of Michigan’s people, places and finances stronger in 2021 and beyond.
Check out the wins from late 2020 that MEC helped secure. Let’s ring the bells once more!
Water shutoffs halted
MEC and allies from Benton Harbor to Marquette celebrated when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a temporary end to shutting off water in homes behind on bills.
Activists long fought for this policy, but passing it became even more paramount during the pandemic and its recession. The number of people unemployed or underemployed spiked, and if those people lost water because they could not make ends meet, their chances of catching and spreading COVID-19 spiked – it is hard to wash away germs with no water.
Then the Michigan Supreme Court struck down many of Gov. Whitmer’s orders, the shutoff moratorium included. Hundreds of thousands of people were again at risk.
So, through advocacy and education, MEC and allies helped Detroit Sen. Stephanie Chang pass her bill freezing water shutoffs with bipartisan support. Water will stay on in all homes through April. We’d like to extend it even further.
Nature will be protected, expanded and made accessible
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, or MNRTF, has been a cornerstone for our forests, lakefront, trails and parks. It takes money from oil and gas companies to fund local and state projects to either acquire natural places or make it easier for people to enjoy them.
MEC and The Nature Conservancy funded and led a ballot initiative to constitutionally make the MNRTF better. The proposal passed with 84% voter support.
Next year’s list of grant awards will reflect the change. They will benefit our $26.6 billion outdoor recreation industry and all the people that enjoy nature, regardless of hometown, ability, ethnicity, race and income level.
First, the MNRTF’s funding cap will be removed, so millions of dollars can protect Michigan nature in perpetuity. Second, the MNRTF will prioritize urban, suburban and rural projects to better connect people to nature that have long had little access to it. Third, the MNRTF will provide more opportunities to make amenities more accessible for everyone, not just the most fit and able-bodied.
Mining deregulation was blocked
Would you like a mine and all its lung-damaging particles by your school? Place of worship? Home?
A bill by Detroit Sen. Adam Hollier would have made that possible. It gave local authorities – the people who know communities best – less say in where mines could be set up.
MEC, municipal organizations and health advocates began an education and advocacy campaign at the Capitol and with everyday people to show the harm in the bill.
It worked. Sen. Hollier’s bill died on the floor.
The electric vehicle industry can rev up again
While The Big Three have made big strides in bringing electric vehicles into their lineup, electric vehicle startups have worked hard, too. These companies produce much fewer vehicles than their counterparts, and currently have a smaller workforce than The Big Three. These realities, coupled with electric vehicles needing few tune ups, makes a direct-sale approach the best rather than a dealership approach.
Monroe County Rep. Jason Sheppard’s bill would have forced these startups into a dealership model if they wanted to sell in Michigan, which would have made it financially unfeasible to set up shop.
MEC and fellow clean energy and electric vehicle advocates made our opposition known at the Capitol. The bill stalled out in the Senate.
Now, electric vehicle companies are incentivized to come to or start up in Michigan. That is great for our economy, for good job creation and for keeping Michigan’s status as an auto innovator strong.
An electric rate hike was cut
For over 20 years, MEC has represented the interests of Michiganders in Michigan Public Service Commission cases that determine how electric utility companies operate.
In December, the Commission accepted just 39% of a $244.5 million rate hike Consumers Energy requested.
While that is a major cut, an average Consumers customer can still expect to see a monthly $9.17 increase in their bills. About 18% of Consumers Energy households live in poverty, and many spend more than 3% of their income paying off electric bills, the standard of affordability.
We will continue to fight for the best possible outcomes for Consumers customers that ensures any rate increase leads to the cleanest and most reliable energy system for them.
What is next for 2021?
Well, a lot!
Some of our 2020 policy priorities were never realized because of a tight, pandemic-influenced budget.
Chief among those priorities is installing filters that keep lead out of water fountains and taps in all public schools and daycare centers. Flint Sen. Jim Ananich and Ludington Sen. Curt Vanderwall introduced bipartisan legislation to make this happen last year, and they plan to do it again.
We also worked to revolutionize the way we recycle and compost by updating our decades-old waste laws and expanding our bottle deposit system to include more bottle types. We plan to help lawmakers introduce and pass these policies at the Capitol.
We will also continue to block bad legislation and administrative decisions. Efforts to stymie the electric vehicle industry and deregulate mines will rise again, but we will be there to advocate for innovative policy solutions that benefit people, our economy and the environment.
By Beau Brockett Jr.