Michigan Clean Water Investments

Michigan needs a big clean water investment.  Voters should have a chance to vote on a $2 billion bond in November 2018.  But how should the money be invested?  Here’s one proposal. $200 million for capitalization grants to set up community drinking water affordability endowments.  No one should be denied access to clean and safe drinking water because of income.  A state match would spur communities to set up funds to support low-income residents and prevent shutoffs. $200 million for drinking water infrastructure — half grants, half loans. $100 million for a Climate Change Adaptation Fund for water-related design and engineering plans to assist communities in anticipating and responding to the effects of climate change.  (More in a subsequent post.) $1 billion for wastewater infrastructure — half grants, half loans;  for both conventional treatment facilities and — significantly — the first major state commitment to green infrastructure.  This last makes sense on so many levels, including the ecological and the economic. $500 million for a state level Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  If Michigan public officials believe the Great Lakes are worth protecting, they should invest in them directly, rather than asking Congress to shoulder the restoration burden year after year.  The funds would go to purposes comparable to the federal program — cleanup of contaminated hotspots, habitat restoration, combatting invasive species, and...

An Argument for a Michigan Clean Water Bond

Michigan voters should be asked in 2018 to authorize the sale of $2 billion in general obligations for clean water. Why? Because the need exists.  Governor Snyder’s infrastructure task force conservatively estimates a $19 billion water funding gap over the next 20 years. Why?  Because Michigan voters for 50 years have voted resoundingly in favor of well-crafted environmental bonds, all 4 of which were partially or exclusively devoted to clean water. Here’s the history. 1968 $335M wastewater treatment bond:  yes 1,906,385;  no 796,079 1988 $660M ($85M for clean water): yes 2,528,109; no 774,451 1998 $675M ($165M for clean water):  yes 1,821,006;  no, 1,081,988 2002 $1B clean water:  1,774,053;  no. 1,172,612 “Well-crafted” is the key.  More on that in a future...

A National Emergency

Russia…tax cuts…Roy Moore…North Korea…the national debt…sexual harassment…it’s all out there and it all deserves attention. But so does an unprecedented attack on the US EPA and the national consensus on environmental protection. The sacking of science advisors independent of industry and ideological influence is part of it.   Climate denial and the rollback of the clean power plan is another. But these are just warning signs of worse to come. In addition to the relatively low priority our news corps gives to environmental news (in fairness, a torrent of horrors makes it hard to focus), this crisis is not getting attention that it deserves because of the slick rhetoric of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about cost-effective environmental protection and science-based decisionmaking. One longs for the good old days of the 60s when industries openly opposed protecting the environment.  Can’t afford it;  not important, they said. Make no mistake about it, Pruitt and the Trump Administration are warring against the fundamentals of environmental protection.  And any public official or business that supports their environmental program puts the lie to their professed environmental values. It’s easier to stop things than to start them.  It’s quicker to destroy things than build them.  Almost 50 years of environmental progress is being stopped and...

Climate Weirding and the Great Lakes

One of Northwest Michigan’s Renaissance men, Joe VanderMeulen, is doing a terrific job documenting the way climate change is altering the character of the region, both environmental and cultural. He asked me to write a small piece on the subject, and here’s the result. Excerpt: Climate change is many things, but most of all it is surprise. So are the Great Lakes. Combine their complexity and you are likely to make fools out of anyone who makes flat predictions about how they will interact....

It’s Legacy Time

Although most governors play it down, all of them think about their legacies.  As Michigan Governor Snyder enters the last year of his tenure, despite his denials, he has to be considering what he is bequeathing the state.  Traditionally, Michigan governors exalt their economic record over any other feature of their work.  The environment is in the second tier of issues.  But there is at least one exception. When William Milliken left office on New Year’s Day 1983, Michigan’s economy was a wreck.  He had little to do with it, just as governors who leave office on a flying carpet of prosperity should get minimal credit.  National trends largely shape Michigan’s prosperity or lack of same.  The point, though, is that few today remember the state of the economy when Milliken retired.  But his environmental accomplishments remain monumental.  He played key roles in laws and rules protecting air quality, water quality, wetlands, wilderness, and sand dunes and promoting recycling, hazardous waste control, toxic site cleanup and more So Governor Snyder might want to think about legacy opportunities in the realm of conservation and the environment.  He has special reason to; the Flint tragedy will otherwise obscure any other environmental issue he has handled.  Here is some simple advice on how to leave a legacy with a chance to be as enduring as Milliken’s ·       Begin it with wisdom growing out of the public health emergency that was (and remains) Flint. Much needs to be done, but the most important is to empower an independent toxic substance ombudsman to investigate and move swiftly when a toxic substance emergency threatens. The...