Helen Taylor is Michigan State Director of The Nature Conservancy
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 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 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.