Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the April 14, 2022 edition of Three Things Thursday! This week’s edition includes a look at new legislation to hold utility companies accountable, the official launch of Promote the Vote 2022, and an update on efforts to address the PFAS crisis in Michigan.
1. Michigan LCV helps unveil new utility accountability legislation
Holding Michigan’s big utility companies accountable – namely DTE and Consumers Energy – has become a key pillar of Michigan LCV’s work over the past year as power outages in communities across our state have become more frequent and longer. Last summer’s widespread outages that left more than a million Michiganders in the dark for protracted periods of time during a global pandemic are a shining example of our utilities’ poor performance.
Michiganders experience the most frequent and most extended outages, and pay the highest rates in the Midwest. Michigan utilities have the second-worst restoration time per outage in the nation – even on days without major storm events. And, adding insult to injury, DTE and Consumers Energy continue to raise rates and rake in massive profits for shareholders without meaningful improvements to service.
On Wednesday, Michigan LCV communications director Nick Dodge joined Reps. Abraham Aiyash and Yousef Rabhi, as well as Kamau Jawara and Layla Elabed of We the People Action Fund, on the steps of the Capitol in Lansing for a press conference announcing a new 5-bill package – House Bills 4165 and 4592-4295 – that will help hold our big utility companies accountable for their poor performance and fix a system that is not working for Michigan energy consumers.
Left to right: Layla Elabed, Kamau Jawara, MLCV communications director Nick Dodge, Rep. Yousef Rabhi, and Rep. Abraham Aiyash on the steps of the Capitol in Lansing.
Here’s what the bills will do:
- House Bill 4165: Requires utilities to issue automatic bill credits to residential and non-residential customers who experience outages, as well as renters for costs associated with outages like spoiled food, and local governments for costs of responding to outages.
- House Bill 4595: Requires that the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) review of an electric utility’s investment and maintenance distribution plans be considered a contested case under the Administrative Procedures Act, helping increase public accountability.
- House Bill 4594: Requires compensation for excessive outages to come out of utility profits instead of rate increases for service, while also requiring that utility companies justify rates to the MPSC, protecting consumers and making credits ineligible for cost recovery in the rate-setting process.
- House Bill 4593: Requires utility companies to provide $100 credits for four interruptions to service of more than an hour within a four month period, improving the process for multiple service outage credits. This requirement would result in $200 credits for six outages in six months, and $300 credits for eight interruptions within 12 months.
- House Bill 4592: Requires utilities to disclose on bills the number of interruptions and the length of time the interruption lasted.
Michigan LCV issued a statement yesterday applauding Reps. Aiyash and Rabhi for their leadership in addressing this critical issue and working to ensure Michiganders get the service and grid reliability we deserve.
Yesterday’s press conference was a huge success, and Reps. Aiyah and Rabhi’s new package of bills received a great deal of attention in the media. Both lawmakers spoke about the importance of addressing Michigan’s widespread, frequent, prolonged power outages that have impacted families’ health and left Michiganders scrambling to recover economic losses from things like spoiled groceries. Rep. Rabhi said:
We can’t keep continuing to allow this without any accountability.”
And Rep. Aiyash added:
Last summer… we got more calls about power outages as a result of the record rainfall than we did about unemployment cases. Every single complaint was about, ‘Our power is out and we don’t know when it’s going to turn back on,’ and ‘We don’t have an update from DTE,’ and ‘We have food that is spoiling, we have insulin that is expiring.'”
Kamau Jawara and Layla Elabed of We the People Action Fund also described how the poor performance and lack of accountability by the utilities’ have impacted their families and communities. Layla, a resident of Dearborn Heights, described how the outages last summer forced her to leave her home for eight days and take her children to live with relatives, while food and other refrigerated necessities were left to spoil.
Michigan LCV communications director Nick Dodge speaking at yesterday’s press conference.
Nick Dodge described how Michiganders are fed up with poor performance and reliability:
The utility influence in Lansing is no secret. They have a lot of money. They have an army of lobbyists in the Legislature. They have an army of lawyers at the Michigan Public Service Commission, the state regulators. But what they don’t have is happy customers.”
The Michigan LCV team is excited to support this new package of bills, which provide a means to improve accountability, transparency, and grid reliability for our communities.
2. Promote the Vote 2022 official petition launch
Monday marked the official launch of the “Promote the Vote 2022” pro-democracy petition, which aims to bolster secure, accessible elections and the health of Michigan’s democratic process for voters across our state. Promote the Vote is the same organization that successfully ran the overwhelmingly supported 2018 Proposal 3 ballot initiative, establishing no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration for the first time in Michigan. Like in 2018, Michigan LCV is a firm supporter of Promote the Vote’s 2022 petition and joined Monday’s launch to add our voice to the chorus of pro-democracy partners and organizations across the state.
Since the 2020 election, many Michigan GOP lawmakers have attacked our democracy, spread misinformation about the security of our elections, and attempted to pass legislation and circulate petitions that would make it harder for Michiganders to vote. The “Promote the Vote 2022” petition and its policies stand up to these blatant attacks on our democracy and seek to protect our freedom to vote by doing the following:
- Ensuring the freedom to vote without harassment, intimidation or interference is a fundamental right protected by Michigan’s Constitution
- Allowing Michigan voters to request an absentee ballot be mailed to them for every future election
- Establishing nine days of early voting options for statewide elections
- Providing access to local clerks for state-funded postage for absentee applications and ballots, secure drop boxes, and ballot tracking
- Maintaining Michigan’s current voter ID laws, which allow voters to cast their ballots by signing a sworn affidavit in lieu of photo identification
- Establishing a requirement that election audits cannot be conducted behind closed doors, but rather in public view by state and county election officials
Monday’s launch of the petition featured virtual events to raise awareness and a press conference in which Brooke Harris, our Democracy For All Voting Rights Manager, participated. Here is Brooke’s quote from the Promote the Vote press release:
When we head to our polling precinct or fill out our absentee ballot, we should be confident our voice is heard and our vote is counted no matter what we may look like or whatever part of the Great Lakes state we call home. This ballot initiative will ensure our elections are safe and secure while providing common sense improvements to make voting more convenient and accessible.”
You can watch a full recording of Monday’s virtual press conference here.
The petition’s official launch means that the signature-gathering process is now underway. If the petition receives 425,000 valid signatures, it will appear on the 2022 ballot in November.
The “Promote the Vote 2022” petition and its policies are integral to protecting the freedom to vote for every voter across Michigan – regardless of who they vote for, where they live, how old they are or the color of their skin – as well as maintaining secure, fair elections. I encourage you to be on the lookout for the petition in circulation and consider signing your name in support of policies that will protect a free, fair, secure, and healthy democracy in our state. If you are interested in signing up to be a signature gatherer, you can do so at Promote the Vote 2022’s website.
3. The Great Lakes PFAS Action Network & funding to address PFAS contamination
The fight to address the toxic PFAS contamination crisis in Michigan continues and our partners at the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network (GLPAN) are leading the charge.
On Wednesday evening, GLPAN hosted a virtual community meeting to discuss the organization, talk about PFAS contamination in Michigan communities, and get more people involved. The conversation featured GLPAN co-chairs Sandy Wynn-Stelt and Tony Spaniola, as well Cathy Wusterbarth of Need Our Water (NOW) Oscoda, and included PFAS-impacted participants from communities across the state.
It is an important time for the fight to address toxic PFAS contamination in Michigan. Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 565, transformational legislation that will invest $4.7 billion to overhaul Michigan’s water infrastructure, fund state and local parks, improve energy efficiency, and address water contamination across the state. (NOTE: David Fair and I spoke with Gov. Whitmer about the historic investments that Senate Bill 565 will make on the April edition of WEMU’s 1st Friday Focus on the Environment. If you missed it earlier this month, you can listen to our conversation here.)
Included in Senate Bill 565’s investments is eligible funding to address toxic PFAS contamination and undertake remediation efforts in impacted communities. While the total dollar amount and how the money will be allocated is uncertain, Oscoda Township – where PFAS chemicals from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base have contaminated drinking water, wildlife, and impacted human health – is scheduled to receive $8.58 million for remediation projects. This is a big win for the Oscoda community and the funding will be critical in addressing the widespread contamination and cleaning up the water that the community depends on.
In addition to PFAS funding on the state level, Senator Gary Peters is working to take action on PFAS contamination in Washington, D.C. Last week, bipartisan legislation authored by Sen. Peters advanced in the Senate. The Preventing PFAS Runoff at Airports Act is aimed at mitigating the spread of PFAS chemicals at commercial airports across the country by allocating existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for devices that allow airport firefighters to test their equipment without discharging PFAS chemicals found in firefighting foam. Firefighting foam is one of the largest sources of PFAS and, as we have seen in Oscoda, can wreak havoc on communities adjacent to airports when the foam leaches into groundwater. Sen. Peter’s legislation is a step in the right direction to address PFAS contamination at its source and protect the health of our communities.
The work of the GLPAN, NOW Oscoda, For Love of Water (FLOW) and other organizations and activists in Michigan is extremely important. While it is exciting to see legislation that will help in the fight to address the PFAS crisis, the work continues. If you are interested in learning more about the PFAS crisis in Michigan, GLPAN’s work, or want to get involved, please visit the GLPAN website.
As always, thanks for all you do. Until next week – when taxes are due and we hit the April 19th filing deadlines for candidates – stay safe, stay warm, and welcome the growing bounty of spring flowers.