Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad
With Michigan's lame duck session in full swing, we thought we'd update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a veryinteresting-yes, we'll go with interesting-week at the Capitol.
The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.
And so, here's a roundup of this week's environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.
There's bad legislation, and then there's House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan's clean energy law, changing the definition of "renewable" to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.
Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer.
The bill also threatens to undercut the more than 240 Michigan companies in the state's rapidly growing clean-energy industry, which is making huge strides in providing affordable power from truly clean and renewable sources like wind and solar.
Please call your senator and urge a "no" vote on this rotten bill. (Thanks to Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, for this perfect image.)
Republicans have passed out of committee a bill that makes burning tires a renewable energy source. #notajoke #mileg pic.twitter.com/F4r49JLFrV
- Sam Singh (@singhsam94) December 4, 2014
While environmental policy has had a pretty lousy week in Lansing, we're very happy with one bright spot.
Introduced by Holland Republican Rep. Joe Haveman, House Bill 5397 would allow homeowners to obtain loans for energy-efficiency improvements-such as adding insulation, installing better windows or purchasing more efficient appliances-and pay them back through their power bill, with the energy saved offsetting all or some of the loan.
An important detail: The bill only applies to municipal utilities, such as Traverse City Light and Power, the Lansing Board of Water and Light and the Holland Board of Public Works.
That limitation notwithstanding, it's good, common-sense policy that would help homeowners get over the upfront investment needed for long-term energy savings, which can be a significant barrier for some. As MEC's Sarah Mullkoff told the Holland Sentinel this week, "We think it is a strong bill and want to see it go all the way."
The bill cruised through the House in June with nearly unanimous support, and was approved by a Senate committee this week. We expect a full Senate vote this week, and encourage you to urge your senator to vote "yes."
Last night the House passed a package of transportation funding bills that would be bad news for students, Michigan communities and people who rely on public transportation.
The legislation phases out the sales tax on fuel while increasing the gasoline tax over time. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said the bills will raise a sorely needed $1.2 billion per year to fix our roads without raising taxes.
In reality, Bolger's plan would make up for lost sales tax revenue by slashing funding to schools and local governments. As former House Fiscal Agency director Mitch Bean told the Detroit Free Press, "There is no more money going anywhere. It's just a shift from one hand to the other."
The bills would eliminate the $56.4 million public transit programs receive each year in sales tax revenue. They would also shortchange public transportation by skirting Michigan's traditional transportation funding formula. As a result, no new funding would go to transit, passenger or freight rail, trails or any other transportation infrastructure aside from roads and bridges.
Without new investment in our complete transportation system, Michigan will continue to educate young people and export them to other states with modern transportation options. Meanwhile, Michiganders from Detroit to the Keweenaw Peninsula who use public transit to get to work, church and the doctor's office will be left out in the cold.
The situation is especially frustrating because the Senate already passed a solid transportation package that has Gov. Snyder's support and would provide the comprehensive funding Michigan needs.
As the two chambers work to reconcile their very different bills, MEC and our partners will work hard to make sure lawmakers understand the importance of funding Michigan's full transportation system.