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Michigan climate plan calls for EV incentives, faster renewable transition

solar panel
Michigan’s new climate action plan lays out a roadmap for Michigan to be carbon neutral by 2050, relying on changes within state government and private industry to get there. (Frank Setili / Shutterstock.com)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Thursday released its roadmap to statewide carbon neutrality, calling for electric vehicle incentives, stronger renewable energy targets for the energy sector, job training to prepare workers for the post-combustion economy, and other efforts to wean Michigan off fossil fuels by 2050.

The plan stems from Whitmer’s vow to make Michigan carbon-neutral by 2050, with a nearer-term goal of reducing emissions 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

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It comes just a day after Whitmer called for a federal bailout of Michigan’s Palisades nuclear power plant, arguing that keeping the facility open beyond its planned May 31 closure date will preserve jobs and help Michigan live up to climate commitments by retaining a source of emissions-free electricity.

And it comes a day after Consumers Energy, one of Michigan’s largest utilities, committed to closing its last coal plant by 2025 while building out thousands of megawatts of solar capacity as it strives to drive down emissions.

Whitmer is banking on that kind of private sector action to help accomplish the plan’s goals. She’ll also need policy change within state departments, and cooperation from a Republican-led legislature whose leaders have rarely agreed with her on environmental policy issues. 

A spokesperson for House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said Thursday he did not believe the speaker had yet seen the Whitmer administration’s plan. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Bridge Michigan. 

In a statement Thursday, Whitmer referenced Michigan’s 2019 polar vortex, the 2020 mid-Michigan dam failures and last summer’s catastrophic metro Detroit floods as evidence that Michigan doesn’t have time to drag its feet on decarbonization. 

“If we follow the steps outlined in the plan and collaborate with public and private sector partners, we can build a Michigan where every Michigander has clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and access to healthy, affordable local food.”

Among the plan’s highlights:

Environmental justice: Like President Joe Biden’s Justice40 initiative, the state climate plan calls for at least 40 percent of state money targeted to combat climate change to benefit disadvantaged communities. It also calls for job training and other efforts to prepare workers in Michigan’s combustion-focused economy for jobs in a  post-carbon world.

Renewable energy: The plan envisions closing all of Michigan’s coal-fired power plants by 2030, and enacting a renewable energy standard of 50 percent. Enacting such a policy would require legislative action or cooperation from Michigan utilities. It also calls for investments in energy storage, and steps to limit the poorest Michiganders’ energy bills to 6 percent of their income.

Transportation: The plan calls for a 15-percent annual increase in “clean transportation options, such as public transit and electric vehicles. And it calls upon the state to create and fund an electric vehicle incentive program, adopt a clean fuels standard, and build infrastructure to support two million electric vehicles in Michigan by 2030.

The building sector: The plan calls for a 17-percent reduction in emission from homes and businesses by 2030, accomplished in part by adopting a state code that prioritizes renewable energy and efficiency in new buildings, and by weatherizing old, poorly-insulated homes to reduce their carbon footprint.

Industry: The plan calls for boosting Michigan’s current recycling rate of 35 percent to 45 percent by 2030, while halving food waste. And it calls for “clean innovation hubs” where businesses can research and develop new technologies to reduce industrial emissions.

Land and water: Borrowing from Biden’s “30 by 30” conservation plan, the Whitmer plan calls for Michigan to conserve 30 percent of its land and water by 2030. The state and federal governments own about a fifth of Michigan’s landmass, and some of those lands are actively logged or mined. Whitmer’s plan also calls upon the state to support “climate-smart” agriculture, such as planting cover crops and using less fertilizer. 

The plan does not lay out a timeline or cost estimate for accomplishing its goals, and it does not address how Michigan will cope with floods, heat waves, species declines and other climate disruption that are already baked-in because of past and current fossil fuel use.

The Michigan Farm Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday from Bridge.

Mike Alaimo, environmental and energy affairs director at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, said portions of the plan could provide “meaningful steps toward improving Michigan’s sustainable and circular economy,” but called the overall proposal “far from perfect.”

“This plan needs to work for all communities, rural, suburban and urban, as well as all businesses,” Alaimo said. “The next essential step is developing and carrying out an effective, inclusive implementation strategy.”

He said chamber officials are still reviewing the proposal's finer details.

Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, called the overall plan “really bold and in line with what I think we need.”

She praised the plan’s emphasis on public transit, “something our state has historically not been great on, and a real critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to eliminating transportation sector emissions.”

But Jameson said she had reservations about the plan’s vision for the building sector, which relies heavily on energy efficiency rather than centering electrification as “the key lynchpin to decarbonizing the building sector.”

Widely celebrated by many environmental groups, the plan drew a more measured response from some environmental justice advocates.

A statement from the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice called it a step in the right direction, but contained a wish list of items left out of the plan, from more focus on climate adaptation to stronger policies protecting heavily-polluted neighborhoods from new industrial expansion.

“We think it’s a good start,” council member Keith Cooley told Bridge. “That said, there’s some things that still need to be done.”

As for whether the plan’s existing goals are reachable given the likely need for bipartisan support during a time of deep political division on climate change, Cooley said, “that’s where the horse-trading comes in.”

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy must publish annual reports documenting progress toward the plan's goals.

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