Whitmer releases draft climate plan to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Environmental, Great Lakes and Energy is moving forward with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's plan to address climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs with a chance for input from the public.

The draft called the MI Healthy Climate Plan is being shown to the public for feedback as the Whitmer administration looks to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. Public comment will be accepted through Feb. 14, state officials said Wednesday.

The state's office of Climate and Energy is handling the development of the plan at the behest of EGLE. The plan was developed with input from people around the state and the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions.

Control room operator Jim Speckmann watches over the plant at Detroit Renewable Energy in Detroit. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to generate 50% of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2030 under a draft climate change plan.

"This is a uniquely Michigan plan designed to chart a path toward a safer, healthier and more economically vibrant Michigan that aggressively slashes greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change," said Liesl Clark, the director of EGLE. "It also strives to protect, support and empower those most vulnerable to the impacts of an increasingly volatile climate."

Clark said she is looking forward to the "upcoming robust discussions" to formulate a final plan "that protects Michiganders and at the same time positions the state to take advantage of new technologies, economic trends, visionary ventures and the jobs they create.

"Being left behind in the next economy is not an option,” she added.

Two virtual listening sessions will take place where oral comments will be recorded: On Jan. 26 from 10 a.m. to noon and on Feb. 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Officials will also take comments in writing until Feb. 14.

Kate Madigan, the executive director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, said the governor's action and plan are "necessary to address the climate crisis with the urgency science demands."

"This draft Climate Plan is a good start for our state toward a stable climate, but it needs improvements if we are to achieve the ambitious and necessary goal for Michigan to be carbon neutral," she said. "This decade is a critical time to keep the climate impacts we are now seeing from getting much worse. We urge people to make public comment urging the state to strengthen this plan to ensure Michigan is on track to fully decarbonize."

EGLE spokesman Hugh McDiarmid said the department is looking forward to feedback from "every corner of the state on the draft climate plan during the month-long public comment period" so everyone has a chance to shape the plan.

"We are in listening and learning mode as we and the Climate Council hear what Michiganders want from this plan," he said. "During this process we aren’t going to publicly respond to critiques, suggested changes or other specific feedback until we and the Climate Council can consider the comments in totality an within the context of other comments and feedback. We welcome questions about process, timelines, or clarification of parts of the plan that may be unclear. Our primary role right now is listening and learning."

The plan calls on leaders from the public and private sector to work in concert toward opportunities to advance equity, improve quality of life and create visionary new economic solutions while transitioning away from carbon-based fuels and other climate pollutants. It recommends a combination of state lead-by-example initiatives, investments in infrastructure, support for local communities and state policy levers to spur development of sustainable low-carbon ventures.

The draft plan suggests closing all coal plants by 2035, trying to reach 50% renewable electricity by 2030 and installing charging stations to support 2 million electric vehicles by 2030. The plan also follows the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative, calling for at least 40% of all climate investments in the plan to go toward vulnerable communities.

"Climate change is an urgent challenge, and this blueprint focuses on the collaboration that is necessary from multiple players to move Michigan into a leadership role with a focus on equitable solutions that create opportunities to improve the well-being of all Michiganders — particularly those in disinvested communities – to benefit," said Dr. Phyllis Meadows, a senior fellow with The Kresge Foundation’s Health Program and member of the Climate Council.

“It focuses on Michigan-specific needs and challenges, while recognizing the state’s role in the national and global discussion about shifting quickly to more sustainable and just practices,” continued Meadows. “The process to prepare the draft involved hundreds of individuals from a variety of backgrounds. To be successful, Michigan will need to continue this engagement work with residents, businesses large and small, and communities to create a framework to get a lot done quickly and with no Michigander left behind."

Madigan said she'd like to see portions of the plan bolstered such as setting 100%  renewable electricity by 2035 instead of 2050 "if our state is to reach our carbon neutrality goals."

The final plan, she said, should also acknowledge the need to decrease human car traffic and force transportation agencies to consider climate change in their planning and way to improve public transit.