Opinion: Improving environmental infrastructure

Rich Studley and Carl Bednarski

The state budget that Gov. Rick Snyder signed for 2019 is historic for many reasons. It is the eighth year in a row the state Legislature and governor have approved budgets months before the deadline. Due to responsible fiscal policies and a healthy economy, the state ended the fiscal year with over $800 million which will be devoted to critical infrastructure needs like road repair and a down payment on fixing the Soo Locks.

We applaud the governor and legislative leaders for taking bold action in putting additional state funds into these critical needs.

For too long, our state has ignored underground water infrastructure. Plus, we continue to have many contaminated and abandoned sites that pose an environmental hazard and devalue property. It’s time to focus on cleaning up brownfield sites, fixing water pipes, and ensuring that job providers and communities have the infrastructure they need to thrive.

To address these needs, state Sen. Mike Nofs and state Rep. Larry Inman have each introduced forward-thinking proposals that will provide sustainable investment in our environment and infrastructure without adding more debt.

Senate Bill 943, introduced by Nofs, would increase the fee associated with disposing waste in landfills and dedicate $69 million in revenue toward cleaning up abandoned and contaminated sites, as well as provide resources toward better waste management and recycling programs. This common sense approach would provide a meaningful replacement to Michigan’s now-depleted Clean Michigan Initiative bond that voters approved in 1998. That $675 million bond was helpful, but as a bond issue, also costly to taxpayers. Michigan still has 3,000 contaminated sites left to clean-up and a pay-as-you go system would be a much better deal for taxpayers moving forward.

Studley and Bednarski write: "Michigan still has 3,000 contaminated sites left to clean-up and a pay-as-you go system would be a much better deal for taxpayers moving forward."

We need a cost-effective and sustainable plan to put contaminated properties back to productive use, increase property values, and protect our environment. We support prioritizing existing revenue and/or reasonable user fees to generate the additional $69 million for these important purposes

In addition, many of Michigan’s 1,390 water systems are between 50 and100 years old. In some areas of the state, we can’t even account for where water pipes are located, let alone what condition they’re in. We have put off regular maintenance, which has created an $800 million per year need in capital improvements in Michigan. The problem of aging underground water infrastructure is an environmental threat, as well as a challenge to our ability to expand jobs and produce the highest-quality agricultural products.

House Bill 5898, introduced by Rep. Inman, would implement a state-level fee on public water systems with over 1,000 residents to be used for rebuilding water

and sewer infrastructure. It also will provide funding for asset management tools and emergency situations that arise, such as significant water and sewer failures.

House Bill 5898 correctly establishes a pay-as-you-go approach that avoids adding more debt for future generations. The proposal is capped at $20 per household per year and $400 per business account.

The longer we ignore these pressing issues, the more expensive it is to fix problems. As a state, we need to be making strategic decisions on how to fund the cleanup of contaminated sites as well as make regular investments in water infrastructure to prevent expensive emergencies. This is why both the Farm Bureau and the Michigan Chamber strongly support these two important solutions to address serious problems and will be working actively and purposely to ensure their enactment into law.

Rich Studley is president & CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Carl Bednarski is president of the Michigan Farm Bureau.