Three Things Thursday, Feb. 11
Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the February 11, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday. This week’s Three Things covers Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s 2021 budget recommendations, which were announced today; Senator Stephanie Chang’s recently introduced legislation aimed at protecting Michigan’s water from toxic contamination; and the conversation I had last week with Senator Gary Peters on 89.1 FM WEMU’s 1st Friday Focus on the Environment.
1. Governor Whitmer’s 2021 budget recommendations
Today, while the eyes of the nation were on the impeachment trial taking place in the U.S. Senate, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced her 2021 budget proposal. Included in her recommendations are a number of important investments critical to the protection of public health and our environment.
It is important to recognize that the Governor’s recommendations mark the start of what is typically a lengthy process involving extensive legislative deliberation and negotiation until compromise is reached. This should be an especially interesting process this year given that the federal government has awarded the state $5 billion, which Gov. Whitmer proposed using for her Michigan COVID Recovery Plan in January. The plan, separated from her 2021 budget, includes massive investments to increase vaccinations, support small businesses and provide assistance to families with rent and utilities, among other initiatives. Unfortunately, the state Legislature has refused to move this plan forward.
In terms of the state budget announced today, while there are extensive additional investments in COVID relief and economic reopening plans, as well as road infrastructure repairs, there is also a deep focus on the safety of our drinking water, tackling climate change and clean energy, and protecting human health.
Here are just a few highlights:
Children’s Health/Public Education
- $55M to support the Filter First program, which will protect drinking water in Michigan’s schools and make sure Michigan’s school children are not exposed to harmful contaminants like lead, PFAS, and legionella (as was found in the drinking water of Birmingham Public Schools last year).
The Michigan LCV team has been strongly advocating for this investment, along with a coalition of partner organizations that includes the Ecology Center, Natural Resources Defense Fund, Michigan Environmental Council and health professionals. The “Filter First” approach will protect kids in schools by installing filtered drinking water stations so kids have clean water to drink that is free from lead and other toxic contaminants. We joined the coalition in a press release hailing this announcement, which you can read here.
- $25M to support the Mobility Futures Initiative, which is geared towards the development and accessibility of EVs and autonomous vehicles
- $10M to support the Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund
- $5M to support the Home Health and Safety Fund
- $20M for immediate contaminated site clean up
- $290M to address the terrible septics problems in our state
- $40M to address the growing stormwater/flooding problems in our state
- $15M to address dam safety issues
- $5M for the Green Revolving Fund, to provide financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at state facilities and schools.
- $5M for large scale propane tank (storage) purchases, to shore up our propane infrastructure
- $5M for the MI Saves Green Bank, the nation’s first non-profit green banking institution focusing on improving access to clean energy solutions, providing equitable financing to reduce the carbon footprint for homeowners and businesses.
Racial Justice and Equity
- $1.6M for the Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office to promote racial equity and inclusion in DHHS-administered services.
We were extremely proud that Michigan LCV Board Member Bob Sutherland was quoted in the Governor’s official announcement, championing the investments in clean energy and our environment:
“As business leaders focused on protecting the Great Lakes, we appreciate seeing in this budget a continued commitment to advancing solutions to transition to a clean energy economy and ensuring the Great Lakes are protected by investing in critical water infrastructure needs across the state,” said Bob Sutherland, president and CEO of Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, and chairman of the Great Lakes Business Network Clean Energy Working Group.
The Michigan LCV team has worked closely with the administration over the past two years in addressing the many challenges to our public health and infrastructure. We proudly supported the Governor in her bold announcements last year around both the water and climate crises. This is a budget well worth celebrating as it tackles some of the biggest threats to the people of Michigan. Now we’ve got to get it across the finish line.
You can read our press statement reacting to the Governor’s budget announcement here.
Gov. Whitmer provides funding for MI Clean Water Plan + Filter First
Two of the biggest threats to clean, safe and affordable drinking water for every Michigander (aside from the threat posed by Line 5) are our state’s aging water infrastructure and toxins, like lead and PFAS. Gov. Whitmer’s budget would allocate significant and much-needed funding to address both problems.
- The Governor recommended $290 million to fund the MI Clean Water Plan, a $500 million plan to overhaul and upgrade Michigan’s aging water infrastructure and water service lines. $290 million will make up more than half of the funding needed to make this plan happen, ensuring that Michigan communities across the state do not have to worry about accessibility, affordability or safety of their drinking water. You can read more about how the MI Clean Water Plan corresponds with our work to protect Michigan’s water here.
- Included in funding for water issues is a full $55 million for the recently announced Filter First program to protect drinking water in Michigan’s schools and make sure Michigan’s school children are not exposed to harmful contaminants like lead, PFAS, and legionella, as was found in the drinking water of Birmingham Public Schools last year. Students and staff at schools are often more susceptible to contaminated drinking water because of the long periods of time that school water service infrastructure is out of use, like during summer or holiday breaks. When water sits in old, degrading service lines for long periods of time, the water that comes out of drinking fountains, once school starts again, is unsafe to drink. Filter First is a program to install effective water filters in water fountains in all Michigan schools. This idea was first introduced as bi-partisan legislation last year, and Michigan LCV supported the proposal wholeheartedly from the very beginning. Filters are proven as the most effective way to prevent toxic contaminants from entering schools drinking water, protecting students’ developing brains and staff from serious, sometimes fatal health effects. This budget recommendation is vital to ensuring the safety of Michigan’s schools.
The Governor also focused on climate and energy, with funding for EV infrastructure, clean energy and the fight against climate change
- After announcing her MI Healthy Climate Plan last September, Gov. Whitmer’s budget recommendations on climate and energy correspond with her outlined commitment to transitioning Michigan to a 100% clean energy economy by 2050.
- Funding would be allocated to electric vehicle infrastructure and job development at the tune of $25 million, helping make a significant impact on improving consumer confidence when considering electric vehicles while also stimulating clean energy job growth across the state.
- $40 million in funding was recommended to address climate change, directly in line with the MI Healthy Climate Plan, investing in renewable energy alternatives and clean energy jobs to ensure Michigan meets the 2030, 2040 and 2050 goals as we work towards carbon neutrality economy-wide.
- Additional funding for a Home Health and Safety pilot program under which Michigan families get improved access to weatherization, improving energy efficiency, was recommended, along with $5 million for the Michigan Saves program for clean energy financing, which will help drive down almost $150 million in private capital.
The Governor also recommended $10 million in funding for Michigan lead poisoning prevention fund that will help leverage private capital to ensure lead is out of Michigan homes and does not pose a threat to public health any longer.
There was $20 million in funding that would be allocated to contaminated site clean up. The prospect of $20 million to address toxic PFAS and chemical contamination in more than 24,000 registered contaminated sites across the state is a fantastic step in the right direction. With funding for contaminated site clean up coming from Michigan’s Bottle Deposit law/program, the additional funding will allow for accelerated, meaningful clean up and ensure that some of Michigan’s most beautiful and treasured natural spaces are free from dangerous contaminants.
After the horrifying Edenville dam collapse last year, Gov. Whitmer’s recommendations included $15 million in funding that would go to a dam safety emergency fund. As Michigan continues to see the accelerating effects of climate change directly hampering Michigan communities, this funding is critical to ensure that disasters like Edenville, which lead to the displacement of more than 10,000 Michiganders and widespread contamination from toxic chemicals in the water, are prevented and mitigated to the best of our ability. These events will only become more common as climate change accelerates, and we know that Michigan will see drastic impacts without serious action taken to address the climate crisis. This funding is much needed and will be effective as we move forward.
Funding for Michigan’s propane supply strategy was also recommended. As Gov. Whitmer and her administration continue the fight against Enbridge Energy to shut down Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac once and for all, the funding for propane supply is a strategic move to ensure Michiganders continue to have access to propane to heat their homes in the winter. $5 million would be invested in large storage infrastructure along railroads. The funding will help ensure that communities have the money for infrastructure planning and execution, bringing together Michigan’s previously disparate propane supply and centralize the ways in which Michiganders are able to access propane across the state.
A 1.6M investment in the Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office was included in the budget to ensure programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services take into account inequities in our communities and resources are distributed accordingly.
2. Senators Stephanie Chang, Rosemary Bayer and Erika Geiss introduce new legislation to protect our water
In November of 2019, a dock on the Detroit River collapsed into the water. This dock, however, was not just any ordinary structure you might find along the shore of a major body of water in Michigan.
This was the collapse of a major piece of infrastructure, caused by a combination of high water levels and the weight of materials stored above on the property of Detroit Bulk Storage, Inc. Previously owned by a company called Revere Copper & Brass, the property and collapsed dock had been used to store a variety of materials, including radioactive materials.
The Revere company, which owned the property from the 1920s until the 1980s, had a contract with the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to store uranium and other radioactive materials as part of the Manhattan Project. These materials contaminated the property and dock, which then collapsed into the river.
What made matters worse is that the collapse went unreported by the current property owner, Detroit Bulk Storage.
This incident was followed about a month later by another dock collapse, this one in St. Clair County, preventing a ferry from operating. This collapse, by all accounts, was also caused by high water levels.
With record-high water levels in the Great Lakes and Michigan’s lakes and rivers, shoreline erosion and degradation will continue to affect Michigan residents and communities, with dock collapses now very much a part of that picture.
Yesterday, Sen. Stephanie Chang (D – Detroit), along with Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D – Oakland County) and Sen. Erika Geiss (D – Wayne County) introduced a three-bill legislative package aimed at reinforcing Michigan’s shoreline inspection regulations and proposing the establishment of an entity to regulate and inspect docks along waterways on an annual basis.
The bills are focused on:
- Risk assessment, inspecting docks along Michigan’s major waterways and focusing on infrastructure previously used for industry or manufacturing. The assessments would take toxic contamination, high water levels and history of the property into consideration and make sure properties that pose high levels of risk are mitigated and prevented from contaminating the water. Properties would be classified as high, medium, or low risk.
- Inspections, holding property owners and polluters accountable by requiring up-to-date inspection information and mandating inspections on a 3 year or 5 year basis, depending on the level of risk posed by the property and its contamination levels. Inspections will allow for identification of any deficiencies in keeping the neighboring bodies of water safe. This portion of the legislation is modeled after Michigan’s dam inspection laws
- And finally, notifications, specifically targeted at property owners, introducing mandatory reporting of any partial or full collapses of infrastructure into waterways, like the two collapses in Detroit and St. Clair County. The legislation introduces civil fines for those that fail to report collapses to EGLE within a 24-hour period, filling a gap that was exposed by the Revere property collapse in 2019.
This package of bills makes good, common sense as we work to ensure that Michigan’s water is protected and safe from harmful contamination. At their core, these bills are aimed at protecting the public health of Michigan communities and holding polluters accountable for cleaning up their messes before they impact the lives of Michiganders. We applaud Senators Chang, Bayer and Geiss for their leadership and pledge to work with them in Lansing to get their bills across the finish line.
Read Michigan LCV’s statement on the recent announcement here.
3. A recent conversation with Senator Gary Peters on WEMU’s 1st Friday Focus on the Environment
Last week, WEMU Program Director David Fair and I were delighted to host Senator Gary Peters as our special guest on the February edition of 1st Friday Focus on the Environment.
For any readers unfamiliar with the 1st Friday program, I have served as the co-host for this monthly program alongside David Fair for over 10 years. Sen. Peters joined us for the February 2021 edition to discuss the priorities for his second term of office and, notably, those for 2021, which include taking action to address both the climate crisis and the water contamination issues facing Michigan, as well as shutting down the damaged, dangerous 68-year-old Enbridge oil pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
Sen. Peters expressed excitement about the prospect of working with the Biden administration to tackle the climate crisis, noting that President Biden has already taken meaningful action in his first few weeks in office. He also spoke about the deep importance of addressing toxic PFAS contamination, highlighting the much-needed clean up of the contamination near Oscoda at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. And, as we closed out, the Senator addressed Line 5, emphasizing that the only way to seriously protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill is to shut down the pipeline for good.
Please know that as we step into 2021, Sen. Peters will serve as the new chairman of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, as well as serve on the Armed Services Committee and the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, all extremely important committees connected to the our challenges with climate change and the protection of Michigan’s water.
You can listen to the entire interview here.
As always, thank you for your support of our work. Please stay safe and healthy. Until next week….