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Opinion | Climate change policies can be good for Michigan businesses

While debates about energy are again grabbing headlines, businesses across Michigan and the nation are increasingly focused on long-term sustainability: not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it can be good for business.

John Dulmes
John Dulmes is executive director for the Michigan Chemistry Council, which represents companies in the state’s business of chemistry. (Courtesy photo)

Investors, customers, policymakers, and even employees have all made clear that solving the climate challenge is a key imperative. While reaching the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require significant work, it will also present our state and our businesses with new opportunities.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has convened a Council on Climate Solutions to review these issues and develop a comprehensive plan. This group received input from numerous stakeholders including environmental advocates, researchers, labor, and business groups like our organization, which represents one of Michigan’s most energy-intensive industries. The business of chemistry supports the state’s climate goals and updated plans to achieve effective emissions reductions, which would build upon significant work already being done by the private sector.

This so-called carbon transition will drive massive investments in new technologies, products, and services over the coming decades. One group of climate-focused investors recently said that they plan to commit a staggering $130 trillion in capital to achieve net zero targets by 2050. Here in the motor state, we’ve already seen our leaders coalesce around efforts to secure new electric vehicle plants.

But policymakers must grasp the bigger picture that entire sectors and supply chains will be caught up in the same trends, so Michigan must take seriously the need to promote competitive advantages through our climate policies or risk losing countless jobs to other states.

How can this be done? While there are many great ideas on the table, we have urged the Climate Council to prioritize several key solutions.

The first is unleashing abundant and low-cost zero-carbon electricity. Our economy will need as much clean electricity (including renewables, nuclear, and other sources) as possible, and driving down the costs of new energy will greatly accelerate this process. This should mean empowering our large manufacturers, schools, and municipalities to directly acquire clean energy from competitive providers, which have proven able to offer superior and innovative options for customers.

Likewise, many large manufacturers need access to high electric loads, heat, or steam to run their processes; the state can help by enabling them to interconnect with clean energy sources nearby that might serve numerous industrial park users, for example. And regardless of the provider, the state and our local governments must help to facilitate the necessary siting and development of renewable energy resources at a large scale.

Michigan should also prioritize the development of clean manufacturing hubs for energy intensive industries – including steel, cement, fuels, and chemicals – that are essential to our economy. These manufacturers are counting on solutions like the use of zero-carbon hydrogen fuels or the ability to capture carbon emissions for productive uses or permanent sequestration. While such technologies are still progressing, there are immediate opportunities to leverage federal grants and put Michigan in a place to win these projects. Governmental bodies will also be faced with a host of siting, permitting, and redevelopment questions, all of which could otherwise complicate climate solutions if not addressed.

Fortunately, our state is well-positioned to compete for climate-focused investments if we take these opportunities seriously. Important work is underway to develop the workforce necessary to deploy climate solutions, which can also help to bring equity to frontline communities in our state. Data collection will continue to inform future efforts, and our state government is leading by example in many areas. It is equally vital that our leaders across the political spectrum recognize the importance of promoting competitiveness and enabling manufacturers all across our supply chains to reach their climate goals. Laying the proper policy foundation will help ensure a vibrant economy and a sustainable future for our state.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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