Opinion: Whitmer, Nessel choose green posture over blue collar
In a string of early executive actions, the new administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken steps that emphasize environmental posturing over the wealth and well-being of Michigan’s working class voters.
When looked at in terms of the blue/green divide — where loyalties to environmental activism conflict with traditional blue collar concerns — the Whitmer administration has clearly sided with green at the expense of blue.
Two examples demonstrate this administration’s policy focus: Attorney General Dana Nessel’s recent ruling on the constitutionality of Public Act 359 of 2018 — the Line 5 law — and her decision on the 2015 Waters of the United States, or WOTUS rule.
Nessel withdrew the state from the litigation that former Attorney General Bill Schuette had pressed against the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers over the 2015 version of the expansive federal rule. Schuette had echoed the concerns of Michigan’s farmers, developers, construction firms and land owners when he called the rule wrong-headed and said that it forced the federal government into and over the jurisdiction of state water resources.
Sadly, by withdrawing from the case, our new attorney general has effectively put Michigan’s farmers back into legal limbo and exposed them to potential federal penalties for the crime of farming their land.
In the second case, both Nessel and Whitmer had bluntly stated their intention to “shut down Enbridge Line 5” from the earliest days of their 2018 campaigns.
So the publication of Nessel’s ruling on the constitutionality of Public Act 359 of 2018 — requested by Whitmer on her second day in office — was disappointing, but not at all surprising.
This ruling will stall the efforts to move the pipeline from the waters of the Great Lakes to an enclosed tunnel, which would have better protected the lakes while also maintaining an essential piece of Michigan’s energy infrastructure. Nessel’s ruling displaces the state’s construction and steel industries, both of which would have been involved in building the tunnel and installing the new section of pipeline.
The contract signed between Enbridge and the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority back in December would have required bids for contractors to start flowing in this spring. Those bids must provide a plan for how the contractor “intend[s] to engage Michigan’s labor pool in the project, including their means and methods of recruitment, training, and utilization.”
Whitmer’s campaign platform included a section titled “Better Skills, Better Jobs,” but her efforts to stop the Line 5 project indicate no real intention to bring training and jobs to a sector that needs them.
After Whitmer’s election, Michigan’s Building and Construction Trade Council – which endorsed her candidacy – called for “a little pause” so that the union could have conversations with the administration about the importance of Line 5 for the construction industry. Building trade unions had even called the Line 5 law a “jobs boon for trades workers in the region.” But the administration didn’t pause, and now the jobs that the project was going to create – both in the short- and long-term – are in jeopardy.
Some in Whitmer’s own party have taken notice of the decision to put the desires of environmental groups over blue collar concerns, no matter the cost.
In fact, the governor's decision has pushed some in the Michigan House to form a Labor Caucus that will, in the words of state Rep. Brian Elder, advocate for workers instead of “the Sierra Club’s Scorecard.” Limited Democratic support of the Line 5 bill — only 14 Democratic votes in the House — was sufficient reason to form the caucus, according to Elder, a Democrat from Bay City.
Typically, environmental policy is based on the claim that a new regulation or restriction will promote some notion of sustainability. But properly understood, sustainability is much like a three-legged stool. Those three legs are environmental concerns, economic concerns and social concerns. As in real life, if you pull one of the legs away, the stool falls over.
Whitmer’s and Nessel’s recent actions represent an attempt to yank the economic and social legs off the sustainability stool to promote policies ostensibly aimed at protecting the environmental leg. Unfortunately, those policies can’t help but harm Michigan’s blue collar workers, including farmers and construction workers, as well as those in the steel, oil and gas, and pipeline industries.
Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Morgan Shields is legal counsel and director of Workers for Opportunity.