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Michigan environmentalists aren’t hiding on climate change after 2012 ballot defeat

Bridge Michigan
Quality of Life
Michigan environmentalists aren’t hiding on climate change after 2012 ballot defeat

Proposal 3 was soundly defeated last November, with 62 percent of voters rejecting a constitutional amendment to set higher renewable energy standards. But its supporters are not demoralized.

Proposal 3 would have required 25 percent of the state’s electrical generation come from renewable resources by 2025. Today, several members of the Michigan Energy/Michigan Jobs coalition are continuing their activities and, they say, making progress.

Ironically, it's coming via one of Proposal 3's highest-profile opponents: Gov. Rick Snyder.

Despite Snyder's opposition, he has said the state needs to do more with renewable energy. And leading up to a proposal he is expected to make in the fall, Snyder also called for a series of public hearings and discussions on the state’s energy usage.

It is through those hearings that the clean-energy coalition has been asserting itself.

“We have been thrilled with the governor’s leadership,” said Julie Lyons Bricker, executive director of the Berkley-based Michigan Interfaith Power and Light association. The group works with religious congregations across the state to help them learn more about energy efficiency and alternative energy.

Hugh McDiarmid with the Michigan Environmental Council said supporters of Proposal 3 are helping educate communities about alternative energy and hoping to make an impact on Snyder’s expected proposal.

They have been helped by a report from the Public Service Commission, showing costs for alternative electric generation has dropped. DTE Energy is also substantially cutting the surcharge customers pay on alternative energy.

While it is unlikely Snyder will propose anything like Proposal 3's 25 percent threshold, coalition members say they want to encourage him to call for as much alternative generation as possible and support his ongoing efforts.

They also are working to develop more public interest in the issue.

Bricker said there is substantial interest in alternative energy from many disparate groups.

One coalition member also said the effort is being helped by financial realities utilities face today. Banks are less likely to lend to build coal plants, this coalition member, who did not want to be identified, said, because of long-term concerns.

And one goal, said Anne Woiwode, state director for the Sierra Club, is to make constant progress in the usage of alternative energy, even if the rest of the world continues to rely on fossil fuels.

A report in 2012 said that in India and China, two of the fastest-growing economies in the planet, as many as four new coal-burning electric plants will open every week for the next several years.

That might make efforts in Michigan seem futile, but Woiwode said what progress is made here has to be seen in light of “the very long path to accomplish what we have to do.”

The Sierra Club itself works internationally to discourage the use of coal. While China and India are using tremendous amounts, they also have strong alternative energy operations, especially in China.

And China is confronting levels of pollution, lifestyle and health issues that were once common in the industrial U.S., which means that nation may take coal's drawbacks more seriously, Woiwode said.

“We should be making sure we lead” on clean energy usage, she said.  “If we make smart decisions those can be replicated across the country and the world.”

John Lindstrom is publisher of Gongwer News Service Michigan, a subscription service that covers daily activities at the Capitol and in state government. Lindstrom is a graduate of Michigan State University and has worked in Michigan journalism for more than three decades.

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