Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the September 9, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday! I hope you had an enjoyable, safe Labor Day weekend, taking time to recognize why it is that we have a three-day weekend.
This week’s edition of Three Things includes a deep dive into Michigan LCV’s work to hold our utility companies accountable, a look at national LCV’s letter to Congressional Democrats regarding action on climate change, and our thoughts on recent attention around the growing problem of plastic pollution in our Great Lakes. Buckle up, let’s go!
1. Utility Accountability (recent earned media, MLCV working as ‘lone wolf’ for accountability)
As I mentioned in last week’s Three Things in a P.S., the Michigan LCV team has been working diligently for increased accountability on the part of Michigan’s utility companies — namely DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — following power outages that left more than 10% of Michigan residents without electricity in the wake of severe summer storms almost a month ago.
In the aftermath of the storms and subsequent outages, Michigan LCV was — and continues to be — one of the only organizations in the state that has been vocal in calling for accountability and transparency on the part of DTE and Consumers. Our team acted quickly to issue a strong statement calling for a moratorium on electricity rate hikes until an independent investigation surrounding the power outages was able to take place. It is unconscionable that nearly a million Michiganders were left without power for days on end. It is imperative that we get to the bottom of why Michigan utilities have the second-worst restoration time per outage in the nation and, as a result, our residents experience the most amount of minutes out-of-power on average annually in the Great Lakes region.
Over the past several weeks, after the massive power outages were resolved, Michigan LCV has kept up the pressure on our state’s two largest electric utilities. In total, we have gotten twelve earned media hits in a variety of news outlets across Michigan, including the Detroit Metro Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, Great Lakes Now. We have also had two Michigan LCV teammates — deputy director Bob Allison and communications director Nick Dodge — sit down for TV and radio interviews on utility accountability with WKAR 760 and Michigan Tech News, during which Bob and Nick highlighted the fact that both DTE and Consumers have raised their rates significantly over the past five years while customer service has tanked.
If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to watch Bob’s interview on WKAR’s Off the Record with Tim Skubick. While the interview ended up covering a number of issues (voter suppression, etc.), Bob’s final comments on the utilities are well worth hearing.
Finally, as I mentioned in last week’s P.S., I was able to sit down with Bob Nelson, President of the Board for the Citizens’ Utility Board of Michigan during the September installment of the WEMU 89.1, 1st Friday Focus on the Environment. News Director David Fair and I had a in-depth discussion with Mr. Nelson about Michigan’s utility companies, what needs to be done to ensure Michiganders have reliable utility service, and how we can hold DTE and Consumers accountable as climate-related events — like the severe storms Michigan has experienced this summer — become more and more frequent. I encourage you to listen to the entire conversation and learn more about what the Michigan LCV team is doing to ensure reliable utility service and fair electricity rates as we move into the future!
2. Build Back Better (upcoming Congressional deadlines/update)
President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which focuses on substantial investments in our nation’s infrastructure and funding to tackle the climate crisis, is scheduled for a vote in the Senate later this month. The Michigan LCV team is very clear: it is time to get this legislation across the finish line and ensure we take climate action immediately, and in a very serious way.
For months now, the mighty Michigan LCV team has been working to foster support for the Build Back Better Act amongst Michigan’s elected leaders, both at the local + state levels, as well as the federal level. I am extremely proud of the work our team has done to ensure that Congress capitalizes on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle climate change and put our country on track towards a clean energy future through investments in our infrastructure.
This week, there have been several developments to highlight:
Following the long holiday weekend, on Tuesday our partners at national LCV — along with a number of other key organizations, namely Climate Power, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for American Progress, and the Sierra Club — sent a letter to Congress calling on our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. to include between $577 billion and $746 billion in funding to address climate change as part of the Build Back Better Act budget reconciliation bill. As the $3.5 trillion package’s legislation begins to be drafted this week, the letter could not have been more timely, reminding Congress how important it is to take meaningful action on the climate crisis right here, and right now.
In addition, and VERY importantly, our national partners at LCV sent a letter to Congressional Democrats on Wednesday through the LCV Action Fund — the political arm of the organization — that took a hard line stance in regards to support for key climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act. In the letter, LCV President Gene Karpinski wrote that the LCV Action Fund would only consider endorsements for Congressional members who support these key climate action provisions during the upcoming election cycles.
Given the severity of the climate crisis and the urgency of addressing it, it is imperative that Congress pass a Build Back Better Act that includes the policies and investments that enable the United States to cut its carbon pollution in half by 2030… For only the second time in our history, the League of Conservation Voters’ connected political committee, LCV Action Fund, has decided that we will only consider endorsements for members of Congress in the 2022 election cycle or their next election who support the necessary provisions and a final reconciliation package that achieve this goal.” ~ LCV President Gene Karpinski
Yesterday’s letter, and the firm line in the sand that it draws for members of Congress, is a huge step for LCV, and not a decision that was taken lightly. As the premier elections/accountability organization nationally, LCV’s endorsements carry a substantial amount of weight, and the ultimatum outlined in the letter is sure to put pressure on Congressional leaders who have valued LCV’s support in the past.
As things progress, I will — as always — keep you updated on the latest developments in Washington, as well as how you can become involved as we continue to work together with our partners to build support for this important legislation. I also encourage you to read the Washington Weekly, Michigan LCV’s federally-focused weekly newsletter, for in-depth analysis on what is happening in our nation’s capital and what it means for Michigan.
3. Growing problem of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes
As the summer winds to a close, and after several months of Michiganders spending time on or near the Great Lakes, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a growing problem with plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution is not a new problem. Unfortunately, we have all seen beaches and public parks littered with plastic trash, whether it be plastic shopping bags, take out containers, or cigarette butts. The more serious problem with plastics entering our waterways and public spaces is not these large-scale items, but rather microplastics: pieces of these larger plastic items that have broken down to be smaller than five millimeters and invisible to the human eye.
As Michigan LCV’s government affairs director Nick Occhipinti wrote in an opinion piece for Crain’s Detroit Business earlier this summer, microplastics are threatening the delicate ecosystems and way of life here in our state. Along with co-author Sean Hammond, policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council, Nick explained why the threat of microplastics is so serious, not only for the health of the Great Lakes and its ecosystems, but also for humans. The two write:
Unfortunately, plastic doesn’t readily break down; it just gets smaller, so small that these tiny particles can pass through wastewater treatment and water filtration technologies. Scientists have documented microplastics in Great Lakes-area beer, drinking water and sea salt.” – Nick Occhipinti & Sean Hammond, Crain’s Detroit Business
Beyond the Crain’s Detroit Business article, the issue of plastic and microplastic pollution in our Great Lakes is being noticed by Michiganders across the state. As part of our “Protect Our Water, Change the Climate” Storytelling initiative the Michigan LCV team has been working on over the past several months, one of our storytellers spoke of experiencing the issue of microplastics in the Great Lakes personally. Austin Burt, a native of Traverse City and an avid Great Lakes surfer, sat down with our team earlier this summer to tell his story of why protecting our water and climate is so important for our way of life in Michigan. Here is an excerpt from Austin’s story, which you can find in full on our “Protect Our Water, Change the Climate” Storytellers webpage:
Coupled with the changing climate, Austin is deeply concerned with increasing amounts of pollution in Lake Michigan, including debris, mercury, and micro plastics that have found their way into fish and animals. In the spring of 2021, Austin and a friend went fishing on Sleeping Bear Bay, an area that is known for its salmon and trout fishing. After catching an enormous, beautiful salmon in the bay, Austin says that when he and his friend filleted their catch that they found its intestines littered with all sorts of trash and plastic, making the fish inedible.
This is sadly now a common occurrence and Austin sees the threat pollution and climate change pose to the fishing and tourism industries that the region relies on for economic well-being. Consistently participating in beach cleanups that produce several contractor bags full of garbage on average, Austin is worried about what the future will hold for the region’s economy and how the region can maintain the delicate balance between supporting its economy and protecting the water and land that is truly a paradise.”
As Nick and Sean explain in their Crain’s opinion article, the problem of plastic pollution must be addressed in Michigan, not only at the state level, but also by allowing local communities to implement measures that make sense. Some of the measures that can be taken include upgrading our water filtration systems and infrastructure to ensure that these microplastics do not find their way into drinking water or food, as well as improving our standards for consumer products, like washing machines.
The plastic and microplastic pollution problem is a serious threat to our water, environment, and Great Lakes ecosystems, and also to our way of life in Michigan. Please know the Michigan LCV team is working hard on this issue.
As always, thank you for all you do to support our critically important work. None of this would be possible without you.
Be well. Stay safe. Mask up.
P.S. Highlighting Michigan LCV’s Government Affairs Director Nick Occhipinti
Our fabulous Government Affairs Director Nick Occhipinti was featured on the University of Michigan Ford School’s website as being one of their amazing alumni. The Michigan LCV team already knew that because we get to work with Nick every day, but now the rest of the world knows how great Nick truly is. Here’s what Nick said about his job working with Lansing lawmakers:
When I win, nobody makes any more money, nobody gets a raise, but Michigan’s air, land and water get a little bit cleaner”
What a guy! I encourage you to read the whole article here.