Three Things Thursday: February 10, 2022
Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the February 10, 2022 edition of Three Things Thursday. There’s a lot happening in Michigan these days so even if this message finds you somewhere else, like Florida, New Mexico, Arizona or Costa Rica, I hope my weekly newsletter helps you keep an eye on what’s happening in the Mitten. This week’s Three Things include a look at Governor Whitmer’s proposed 2023 budget, DTE Energy’s proposed rate increase, and one of Michigan LCV Education Fund’s new board members.
1. Governor Whitmer’s 2023 budget proposal
On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her proposal for Michigan’s 2023 fiscal year budget, which begins in October 2022. The governor’s $74.1 billion budget is the largest in state history, made possible by federal COVID relief aid, federal infrastructure funding, and tax revenue that was higher than expected last year. With more cash on hand than normal, it is possible for Michigan to make some substantial, meaningful investments in a state that sorely needs it. As the Bridge Magazine headline reads, “Reality Check: Whitmer’s budget is massive. But so are Michigan’s problems.”
Gov. Whitmer’s proposed budget includes a critical focus on school funding, teacher pay, and “hero pay” for frontline workers, as well as climate change, clean energy, and the protection of our drinking water.
In terms of climate change and clean energy, the governor has proposed investing $369 million in electric vehicle development and implementation. This funding would go towards the development of a robust electric vehicle charging station network across the state, as well as converting the state’s vehicle fleet to EVs, workforce development and education programs to bolster manufacturing, and funds dedicated to the governor’s proposed electric vehicle rebate program to incentivize customers to buy electric.
As I think we all know, the transportation sector is the leading driver (pun intended) of carbon emissions in Michigan. Investing in electric vehicles will help fight climate change, reduce air and water pollution, and position Michigan to be a leader in the future of mobility – an industry that has long been a central piece of Michigan’s economic identity.
With the Governor’s MI Healthy Climate Plan in the final stages of completion*, there has never been a better time to embrace the electric vehicle sector as a gateway to the broader conversation around Michigan’s clean energy economy. Now that General Motors has pledged $7 billion in investments for EV manufacturing and is demanding that their EV facilities be powered with 100% renewable energy, we have a chance to inextricably link job creation, economic vitality, and community development with action on climate change in the eyes of the public. This statewide culture change will ultimately be critical in ensuring Michigan achieves its climate goals.
In terms of water – which I always think of as “human health”– the governor has proposed $384 million in new funding to protect and preserve Michigan’s drinking water. This includes much needed investments targeted at local communities that are grappling with a myriad of challenges, from PFAS contamination, lead pipes and more. These funds would provide technical and financial support for underserved communities to ensure they are able to apply for federal and state grant opportunities, support for communities struggling with lead contamination through service line replacement, programs to protect our water supplies, and wastewater infrastructure loans and grants. The governor also proposed $20 million for contaminated site cleanup efforts, which would include toxic PFAS remediation, and a $1.1B investment to improve K-12 school facilities, which would prioritize projects that provide clean water (Filter First) and clean air to students.
While these proposals are a solid step in the right direction, there is actually more investment needed in relation to water protections. The threats facing Michigan’s drinking water – lead and PFAS contamination, serious issues in terms of affordability, failing septic systems and much more – are among the most serious issues that our state must address. If people can’t trust the water coming out of their taps, nothing else really matters. It is imperative that we not only pass the Governor’s proposed water infrastructure investments, but that we do so alongside Senate Bill 565, which will dedicate $3.3 billion to drinking water protection and infrastructure to address our water needs at scale. As the bill sits in the Michigan House of Representatives, I urge you to send a message to your lawmaker telling them to include additional funding to address water affordability and water contamination issues that threaten Michigan families and communities.
2. DTE’s proposed energy rate increase
Despite a poor track record for performance and reliability, Michigan’s two monopoly utility companies – DTE Energy and Consumers Energy – continue to seek rate increases, putting a financial strain on Michiganders’ budgets while doing little to improve service.
As we saw over the past year, the accelerating impacts of climate change in the form of more frequent and severe weather events are taking a toll on our energy infrastructure. Last summer, over a million Michigan residents experienced repeated, prolonged power outages due to severe summer storms and, at one point, nearly 10% of the state was left in the dark. During a global pandemic, these outages left families scrambling to figure out how to access the internet for work and school, and left individuals with health conditions who are dependent upon electricity for oxygen and other medical necessities in a perilous place.
Michiganders experience the most frequent and the longest outages in the Midwest, and our two major utility companies have the second-worst restoration time per outage in the nation. Add to this frustrating reality the fact that Michiganders pay some of the highest energy rates in the Midwest, with DTE and Consumers continuously raising energy rates over the past five years (DTE to the tune of $775 million) without significant improvements in service, and you can see why this is a serious problem that must be addressed.
Over the past many months, Michigan LCV has worked with a number of allied organizations to hold our utility companies accountable and curtail rate increases without service improvements. Last summer following widespread, repeated outages, we called for a moratorium on residential energy rate increases until an investigation could get to the bottom of why Michigan’s utility service is so atrocious.
Now, without any meaningful improvements to service, DTE Energy is seeking yet another rate increase. According to the utility, the proposed rate increase would “fund a $388 million investment to modernize and improve reliability of the state’s energy grid and electric storage and generation system.” But after years of zero improvements, while raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in profit (including making record profits throughout the pandemic), the question on the table is: why does DTE need to raise rates yet again to make these investments?
Fortunately, Attorney General Dana Nessel has stepped into the mix. Last year, when DTE Gas proposed a $195 million rate increase, the attorney general fought against it and secured a 57% reduction, saving Michiganders $111 million in gas costs. In the face of another DTE rate increase proposal, we need AG Nessel to stand up for Michiganders again.
To thank Attorney General Nessel for holding utility companies’ accountable and urge her to continue in this vein, our team has set up a one-step advocacy tool. I urge you to check it out, send AG Nessel a message, and share this link with your networks.
3. New Michigan LCV Education Fund board member profile: Dwight Washington
Every year, the Michigan LCV and Michigan LCV Education Fund boards of directors invite in a few new members. In December, board elections brought three new members to the Michigan LCV Education Fund board and two new members to the Michigan LCV board. Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to share a little bit about each of them.
This week, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Dwight Washington!
Dwight joined the Michigan LCV Education Fund board, bringing a diverse array of perspectives and expertise inspired by a deep belief in community-driven solutions when it comes to tackling threats to the Great Lakes and public health. Empowered to take action by the Flint water crisis and threats like climate change and oil spills, Dwight founded Great Lakes Action, an organization focused on water policy advocacy on issues impacting the Great Lakes.
In addition to advocacy, Dwight is serving his third term as a county commissioner in Clinton County, and is also a trainer for Meta Peace Team, helping others embody principles of non-violence and conflict resolution.
While a resident of Bath, which is in the center of the state, Dwight has been to all corners of Michigan. In fact, in 2019 Dwight visited all 114 state parks in celebration of the Michigan State Parks centennial. Dwight is also a seasoned and passionate cyclist, which further inspires his drive to achieve a more sustainable future.
Dwight earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and PhD in natural resources from Michigan State University. He also has a master’s degree in education from Harvard.
As you can imagine, the Michigan LCV family of organizations is ecstatic that Dwight has joined our Education Fund board.
Thank you, as always, for all you do to support our work. Until next week…
MI Healthy Climate Plan*
As I mentioned last week, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has extended the deadline to give feedback to help improve the final MI Healthy Climate Plan until March 14th and has added an additional virtual listening session focused on environmental justice to be held on Monday, February 14th from 6 – 8 PM. The Michigan LCV team is working to make sure EGLE hears from as many Michiganders as possible so that the final plan is as strong as it can be, and includes concrete, timed plans for implementation of clean energy solutions.
I urge you to make your voice heard and tell EGLE how the plan can be made stronger. You can visit our Clean Water, Healthy Climate webpage for a full list of important dates, resources, and one-step advocacy tools you can use to make your voice heard.
You can also sign up to attend the February 14th virtual listening session on environmental justice improvements for the climate plan. If you can’t make it to the listening session, you can send a message to EGLE here.