Opinion | Protect Michigan’s environment by passing these two bills

Helen Taylor is Michigan State Director of The Nature Conservancy

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

In a world that seems focused on pointing out what divides us, I believe one of our strengths as Michiganders is our ability to do amazing things when we focus on what unites us. Things like our love of the Great Lakes and our desire to leave a better Michigan for our kids.

To make that a reality though, we need to continuously work to clean up our environment, minimize waste and make the investments required to make Michigan a safe, desirable place to live, raise a family and have a business.

I believe that we can, and should, all agree on two new initiatives in front of our legislature right now: Renew Michigan and Rebuild Michigan.  

Renew Michigan

Renew Michigan would provide a stable source of funding to clean up contaminated and abandoned brownfield sites, as well as encourage increased recycling. The plan increases the fee paid by trash haulers (and by extension, anybody who throws things away) to dump trash in Michigan landfills.

The increase from its current 36 cents/ton, to about $4.00/ton still puts Michigan lower than many of our neighboring Great Lakes states. Senator Mike Nofs of Battle Creek has introduced a bill to implement Renew Michigan, which would generate about $70 million a year to clean up approximately 3000 contaminated sites so they can be put to productive use.

It would also provide additional funding to help increase recycling programs. In the long run, the proposal will reduce the amount of trash going into our landfills, help clean up the environment and enhance recycling, all without adding long-term debt. And the cost to individual residents would be minimal.

Rebuild Michigan

Rebuild Michigan would tackle sorely needed water infrastructure repair by adding an affordable fee to public water systems across the state. The fees would create an emergency fund to help communities address unexpected problems, as well as provide grants and zero-interest loans to directly fund local capital projects.  Representative Larry Inman of Williamsburg has introduced House Bill 5898 to establish these programs with a new fee on water utilities. The bill protects ratepayers by limiting the total fee to no more than $20 per year for households and $400 per year for businesses.

It would also help communities weather unexpected problems such as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and frozen water lines. Today, communities are largely on their own in these circumstances. While the state does its best to step in and help these communities in an emergency, the process can take months and there is no guarantee in the level of help provided.   

House Bill 5898 would create a fund with pre-approved and pre-saved money to make sure our residents have safe clean water to drink and a solid infrastructure that will continue working for many years to come.

Senate Bill 943 and House Bill 5898 are common-sense proposals supported by a wide range of interests, from the Michigan Environmental Council and The Nature Conservancy to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Farm Bureau.  

We strongly encourage the Legislature to take up these bills and approve them this year.  Gov. Rick Snyder and the current Michigan Legislature have made many improvements and investments in the state’s infrastructure, but some of the funding has now run out. Passing these two new initiatives will give the next governor and legislature more tools to address Michigan’s pressing needs, as well as a head start on continuing to rebuild and renew Michigan.

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John Q. Public
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 10:07pm

You know, it's the damnest thing...

Ol' Helen seems to be making sense, and then she drops that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Farm Bureau are in agreement with her, and all I can do is start looking for the angles showing how I'm about to get...uhhh...how shall I put this?...screwed.

Jim Olson
Fri, 12/07/2018 - 1:23pm

I would only hope that the water infrastructure bills include not only fees for affordability programs, but flexibility of public water departments to adopt other pricing and "cost" measures, such as low-cost basic water use amount for all families and/or tiered higher pricing for higher volume users. While not with this bill, it will become necessary very soon to stop the subsidy to water users who take the water and convert it to the "sale of water" in containers, such as packaged or bottled water. The infrastructure services are designed for water use, not sale, and so those who sell water get it for low, nonprofit cost then leverage the low cost into high profits by sale. Same is true for private high volume water wells used to convert water to sale without paying state anything for public, sovereign water.

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 12:03pm

Hey Helen here is an idea, maybe you should have said something to the dirty anti-environment republican's before we booted them out of power. I am surprised you still have a job. Lets sum this up for you ANY business from small family farm to large chemical company can pollute the land, skies and water's in this state as long as it is run by Republicans. The minute Michiganders don't want Republican leadership its time to clean up the state just like after little kids at a party. What I shame the Republicans are and what a sham you are.