We all benefit from new climate laws. Even me and you
History has been made. After decades of education and advocacy from thousands across our state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed landmark climate legislation into law. It will power the state with clean energy and set up our electric infrastructure so we can receive it cheaply and without fear of power outages.
There are plenty of powerful policies to discuss, but, as they say, all politics is local. I think my local story is worth telling. Not because it's remarkable but because it's not. I've come to realize climate change has shaped my life in quiet ways, and I've realized our new climate laws will shape my future for the better.
If my middle-of-the-road Midwest life can be positively impacted thanks to climate laws, so will everyone's.
To note: I frequently hyperlink to two documents throughout this article. The first is a detailed analysis the Environmental Council created about the climate laws. The second is a report co-created by member group Evergreen Action about the benefits of climate policy.
The coal next door: 100% clean energy
We start where I've spent most of my life: Michigan's southern Thumb, where Lake Huron is clear and rocky and where the small towns are dedicated to one type of food production—pickles for Imlay City (the best-smelling), sugar beets for Croswell (the stinkiest), bologna for Yale (the wackiest).
Coss country was a hallmark of my high school days, and each season's start was at East China Township Park. The route consisted of fields and forest, but the (literal) apex of the race was going up and down a steep sledding hill twice. If you had to stop atop it to catch your breath, you'd see a fossil fuel facility across the street spanning acres and acres before you.
At the time, I didn't think much of it. I actually liked the industrial view—still do. But now I've realized how ominous it is.
As us kids gasped at the finish line, the particles these plants spewed exacerbated heart and respiratory issues. The cucumber and sugar beet crops nearby struggled because of the climate change the smokestacks helped create. And the wind would carry all this pollution toward my family as we sat on our front porch miles away—whenever I go back to my hometown, the air quality usually gets worse.
Enter the first prong of our new climate laws: 100% clean energy by 2040. It will mark the end of coal and oil, and it'll send natural gas into its death throes. It will do its part to knock down global climate change. And it will make communities, crops, and coastline ecosystems like those in the Thumb healthier. A report suggests a thousand lives could be saved over the next few decades as fossil fuels are phased out—and thousands more lives will suffer less.
How we did it: We worked with legal firm Olson, Bzdok & Howard to make major utilities go coal free and advocated at the Capitol with dozens of member groups.
Blue collar, green future: clean energy jobs
We next head west to my hometown. My parents raised my three siblings and I there. My dad worked a union job at Ford Motor Company and my mom worked a union job at the library after I left for college. While we weren't living lavishly, I happily hope my future kid(s) get the sort of upbringing I had.
I think about my dad when I think about the second prong of Michigan's new climate laws: workforce development.
Our transition to a 100% clean energy state means we'll need people to build out our solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and big batteries for energy storage. We'll need others to create and install electric-powered, energy-efficient appliances in our homes.
Michigan's new laws will add thousands of such jobs, many of them unionized. To help communities and workers transition toward this future, our laws also create an office within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to give this workforce the support it needs to succeed.
There are few things more Michigan than hands-on work and union jobs. They built this state. With climate legislation passed, they can build up middle-class families, too.
How we did it: While the Environmental Council and its members long argued about the job creation clean energy creates, it was the unions that pushed to create a new government office.
Get those lights off!: energy efficiency
Now that I'm living on my own, I fully understand my dad's crabbiness when us kids left the lights on or took long showers. Utilities are expensive.
I think about this, too, with my sister. She rents a home with three friends in Detroit. Each month I see one of her roommates charge her for the electric bill on Venmo. The word "sorry" is usually included.
A clean energy future won't just benefit the thousands of families powered by new jobs. It'll lower everyone's costs of living.
Renewable energy is already our cheapest source of power. Our new laws lean into this by also requiring utilities to ramp up efforts to power more people's homes with less electricity. It also requires these utilities to place special emphasis on upgrading homes of people with low incomes, who stand to benefit most from a smaller monthly bill.
I'd imagine my dad would've loved these savings 10 years ago. I'd imagine my sister and her roommates—young professionals with college debt and starter incomes—could stand to benefit, too. I certainly could.
How we did it: We worked with legal firm Olson, Bzdok & Howard to make major utilities increase their energy efficiency, especially for low-income residents, and we advocated at the Capitol with dozens of member groups.
The Wasteland: utility accountability
Power outage stories: Every family has them. Some are fun to tell, others aren't, but none are fun to experience in the moment.
Lately I've heard some real horror stories from my friend who lives in Westland. I now understand why it gets the nickname "Wasteland."
When storms hit, my friend went without power for multiple days twice this year. Then, a few weeks ago, for no apparent reason, the power went out all day. Each time, my friend had no heat, no A/C, and no easy way to communicate.
This type of situation can get dangerous quickly. It can lead to heat stroke, hypothermia, and heart and lung problems. Fortunately, my friend is young and fit. Others aren't as lucky.
It's not Westland's fault. It's on the utility company that supplies the city's power. Storms will only get more frequent and more intense as climate change gets worse. We already have some of the worst blackouts in the nation. We need to have energy infrastructure that can weather the weather.
The final prong of our new climate legislation seeks to do that. Utility companies now must make decisions that take climate change into account. They must also ensure electric rates are affordable for customers and investments are equitable—meaning, communities that need upgrades most are properly taken care of.
How we did it: We worked with legal firm Olson, Bzdok & Howard to make major utilities better consider affordable rates, equitable investments, and climate change in their decisions.
Climate change is a Midwest story. Let's end it well
Things that speak to the Midwest experience: cross country races; cucumbers and sugar beets; union jobs; getting yelled at to turn off the lights; and telling stories about the weather.
The throughline is climate change. If we had accepted the status quo and let climate change continue at pace, the cross country races would get tougher; the jobs and food would get scarcer; and the yelling and sad storytelling would ramp up.
Instead, residents of this state decided to do something about it. We got our state to take historic action. There is, of course, still work ahead. We must make sure these laws are implemented properly and strengthened where needed. Right now, we'll only hit about 98% of our 100% clean energy goal. We'll still need to solve the problem of building and industrial pollution. We'll still need to hold utility companies even more accountable.
But we can't deny that the policies our elected officials created fundamentally change our state for the better. In doing so, they let our Midwest stories get better, too.