Stanfield: Pols a threat to clean energy in Michigan

Rebecca Stanfield
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican who represents coal-rich Kentucky, has been urging states to “just say no’’ to a federal plan to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. It is a political stunt aimed at blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan — the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate action initiative — and is the latest in a big polluter agenda that threatens public health and the environment in Michigan.

By trying to sabotage the Clean Power Plan, which empowers states with the flexibility to design its most cost-effective state strategy to fight climate change, McConnell is out of step with Michigan officials, starting with Gov. Rick Snyder. In his March energy special message, Snyder said “We also must ensure that Michigan, not Washington, D.C., will determine how we move forward, transitioning from the sources of yesterday to newer, cleaner methods.”

Improving health is a major motivator; coal makes kids sick by polluting the air they breathe and the water they drink. Wayne County, home to DTE’s Trenton stacks, has the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in the state, according to the American Lung Association.

Yet Michigan’s clean energy future is facing two major hurdles: not only is McConnell trying to slow the transition to clean energy by blocking the Clean Power Plan, but leading state legislators, including State Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, have proposed repealing Michigan’s wildly successful clean energy laws, jeopardizing billions in energy bill savings, economic development opportunities and health benefits.

Back in 2008, Michigan passed a law requiring Michigan’s electric utilities to use more clean wind, solar and geothermal resources, and to invest in energy efficiency projects to reduce the amount of energy that is wasted.

Opponents of the law charged that increasing renewable sources of energy would lead to higher costs, but data collected during the past seven years show the exact opposite is true. Saving energy saves money.

In 2013, every dollar invested in energy-saving programs returned $3.75 in benefits, totaling more than $900 million in benefits for all consumers. A study by the Michigan Public Service Commission reported other sources of energy cost three times more than saving energy.

So why would the current crop of Michigan legislators want to eliminate the very policy that has been a magnet for companies investing in the state?

Some policymakers seem to believe that Michigan can capture the benefits of clean energy development without the standards that have been in place driving that development over the last seven years. In fact, even Gov. Snyder has stated that he believes Michigan can triple its reliance on renewable resources over the next 20 years, but has not articulated how to achieve that goal without strengthening the policies that are currently on the books. There is no evidence in any state that Snyder’s energy vision can be achieved without concrete policies to guide the resource choices made by the utilities toward renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, is reportedly working on a new bill to rewrite the state’s energy law, to be introduced within weeks. As a leading proponent of the 2008 standards, Michigan needs Nofs to build on the success of his prior work, and lead the state toward legislation that will benefit all Michiganders. This bill must rely on concrete policies rather than wishful thinking to achieve those goals.

Rebecca Stanfield is deputy director of policy for the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Midwest program.

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