Opinion: Gov. Whitmer should not embrace environmental dogma

Thomas M. Doran

If environmental dogma is your thing—meaning what the loud crowd is saying you must believe in order to be “virtuous” - that Flint water, chemical spills, and sewage overflows are the norm, that Michigan’s environment is deteriorating—then you might as well stop here.

For years, I’ve been saying that Michigan’s environment—water, air, habitats—is cleaner than it’s been in over a hundred years, and I have yet to have this refuted with evidence. Some point to this or that problem, and that problem may be real, but when you add everything up—a balanced scorecard—Michigan’s environment is far ahead of where we were one, two, three, five generations ago, when black palls shrouded our cities, wastewater and water treatment were far less advanced, trash dumps were dirty and dangerous, and our urban rivers and lakes were populated by only a handful of species.

Lake St. Clair as seen from Harrison Township.

Cleaner than in over a hundred years, probably one hundred and fifty. We should always strive to do better, but based on evidence, not environmental dogma that makes every issue or event a crisis.

So, why do I fear that Governor Whitmer’s administration will bring more heat than light to the environment? Activists have her ear, and to activists every concern is a crisis that requires immediate action, with the associated public uproar that feeds their coffers. Opposing any environmental project risks provoking her party’s base, so why take that risk? Contractors want more work, so why wouldn't they promote more environmental projects, with some even exaggerating threats to the environment. The public is too distracted to consider the evidence, so many listen to the loudest voices.

If we were paying attention to the species now thriving in the Detroit River and other urban waterways compared to a few generations ago, could we seriously suggest that the environment is degrading? 

An atmosphere of fear promotes reactive rather than smart spending, whereas smart spending enables us to focus on things that do the most good. I’m still waiting for evidence that Michigan’s environment—water, air, habitats—is deteriorating. We can do better, but we should start with the truth.

Thomas M. Doran has worked on hundreds of environmental projects, is a former adjunct professor at two Detroit-area universities, and is a member of The Engineering Society of Detroit’s College of Fellows.