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Monday, April 27, 2015

Energy policy debate is missing the point, advocates say

Capital News Service: Energy policy debate is missing the point, advocates say

Capital News Service

Lansing - Debate over Michigan’s future energy policy continues with proposals aimed at cheap, reliable energy.

But environmental advocates say legislators are missing the bigger picture.

Climate change has yet to be discussed at any great length, said Mike Berkowitz, the legislative and policy director for the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter.

Some of the proposed policies are “a true climate disaster” in light of 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that change is happening and people are driving it through the carbon emissions created largely by burning fossil fuels.

Climate change has major implications for public health, Berkowitz said. It impacts water supply, food and the type of diseases we deal with.

“Nobody at the Capitol right now is talking about policies to fix these problems, and I think that’s what we truly need,” Berkowitz said.

Three energy-related policies have been proposed by Republicans. Another is proposed by Democrats. But their focus remains firmly on savings for consumers and how to increase energy production.

New energy policy is a priority, with 2008 mandates requiring utilities to draw 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015 set to expire this year. Utilities are on track to meet the mandate, according to a Michigan Public Service Commission report.

Support for the proposals that have emerged to keep, increase or eliminate the mandate are split on party lines.

Concerns over Michigan’s energy capacity are an added pressure, with federal mandates set to shut down a number of coal-fired electrical plants soon.

Gov. Rick Snyder in March pushed for more renewable energy and to increase the state’s reliance on natural gas.

Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, who chairs the House Energy Committee, introduced an eight-bill package keeping the renewable portfolio standard at 10 percent, eliminating the energy efficiency mandate and redefining renewable energy to include burning tires and other waste.

Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, is set to introduce his own bill that would move the state toward what is called an integrated resource planning approach. It would require energy utilities to report to the Michigan Public Service Commission their expected customer and base loads, energy capacity and reserve margins and how they plan to meet them.

Nofs’ bill would also repeal the renewable portfolio and energy optimization standards – requirements that utilities engage in energy efficiency programs.

But Democrats on April 23 introduced in both the House and Senate a plan to double the renewable portfolio and energy optimization standards.

Sam Gomberg, an energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he supports the Democrats’ proposal to increase mandates as the only environmental policy that makes sense.

“They’ve worked, they’ve been cost effective, they’ve done exactly what they were intended to do and we’ve clearly benefited,” Gomberg said. “I feel that, politics aside, this is the right direction for Michigan to go.”

A 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Charting Michigan’s Renewable Energy Future, showed Michigan could affordably and reliably generate 32.5 percent of its electricity by 2030 on renewables alone.

This would spur investment, cut carbon emissions and reduce the state’s reliance on coal and natural gas, the report said.

Nicholas Occhipinti, policy director for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, said the Council would support raising the renewable portfolio mandate, but the legislature also needs to look towards energy efficiency.

Climate change, he said, will play a role in the discussion, but there are a lot of pieces of this conversation that are being overlooked.

“Energy efficiency should be the foundation of our policy, but none of the plans, from the governor, the Senate or the House have preserved the mandate to get us there — to build off of the success we’ve already had,” he said. “We would like to see them reconsider the notion.”

Integrated resource planning to meet energy targets are ineffective without the mandates, Occhipinti said.

In a perfect world, energy efficiency would be a top priority of an integrated resource planning process, he said. But without a mandate, it has not happened nationally.

While the state has made great progress since 2008, it is time for a different approach, Nofs said.

“I support whatever is clean, affordable and reliable,” he said. “I think we are doing all the right things, and pushing the envelope even further.”

Nofs said he agrees the state needs to improve energy efficiency, but argues it can be done without the mandate. His bill introduces an energy standard — yet to be determined — which requires utilities to draw a certain amount of energy from renewables and provides incentives to expand them.

Gomberg worries that if legislators fail to implement strict rules and mandates for the utilities, progress with renewables will stall.

“You could really open it up to manipulation by the utility companies,” he said. “I’m not an anti-utility guy, but I think you have to be honest about their motives. What is in their best interests is not necessarily going to be in the best interests of Michiganders.”

The legislature should define the parameters in which the utilities operate, Gomberg said. He applauded Snyder’s focus on energy efficiency, but said he is wary of the push toward natural gas.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report tracking the state’s move toward natural gas over the past five years and describing its risks.

“Price with natural gas has historically been very volatile,” Gomberg said. “Natural gas is also a fossil fuel; burning it emits a lot of carbon, which impacts on climate change.”

Cost is the factor being argued by both sides of the legislature, but Occhipinti said lawmakers need to remember Michiganders are experiencing more than just monetary cost.

“Nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, mercury — these are emissions, pollutants that ratepayers and citizens bear the cost of that just don’t factor into the price of energy,” he said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Michigan Chapter Update - April 19, 2015

Michigan Chapter Update
April 19, 2015

In this Issue:

  • Celebrate 45 years of Earth Day by Taking Action!
  • Sign Up NOW for Citizen Lobby Day on May 6th
  • Sierra Club Protecting the Au Sable River from Fish Farm
  • Urge Your Lawmaker to Oppose "No Stricter Than Federal" Bill
  • Explore and Enjoy! Holly State Recreation Area

    Celebrate 45 years of Earth Day by Taking Action!

    Celebrate EARTH DAY with
    Sierra Club all year long! 
    April 19th at 1:00 pm: DetroitGreen Infrastructure Bike Tour,
    Meet at Rivard Plaza, 1340 East Atwater St.  Southeast Michigan Group and
    Great Lakes Program outing
    April 21st at 7:30 pm: Ann Arbor:"Alternate Energy: The Data and the How", Mathaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N Dixsboro Rd. Huron Valley Group program
    April 22nd at 5:30 pm, Detroit:   Growing Detroit: An Earth Day Conversation about Detroit's Future, Wayne County Community College District, 1001 W. Fort St. RSVP here.  Find details here.

    April 25th at 10:00 am, Detroit: Rain Barrels on the RiverfrontRivard Plaza, 1340 E. Atwater St. Sign up for the event or pre-purchase your rain barrel here
    April 25th at 10:00 am, FlushingNature Hike at Flushing Township Park, 8301 N. McKinley Rd. Nepessing Group outing 

    May 3rd at 2:00 pm, Williamston: "Spring Frogs and Identifying Their Calls" McGrath's Nature Discovery Center, 5900 N. Williamston Rd. Crossroads Group
    May 22nd - 25th, North Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Service outing sponsored by the Crossroads Group, reservation required.
    On April 22, 1970, millions of Americans gathered across the country for teach-ins and protests to demand a clean environment at the first Earth Day. That amazing effort kicked off 45 years of environmental protections, but today serious problems remain and huge issues like climate change loom large. There is no better time than the present to take your passion for the environment and turn it into action!
    In the box at right are Sierra Club activities in April and May in Michiganthat will inspire and engage you,whether you are looking to talk with elected officials at our Citizen Lobby Day or spend a few days in the wilderness.
    Another great way to honor both Earth Day and someone you admire is to give aCommemorative Gift to Sierra Club Michigan Chapter in their honor. What better way to show you care than by supporting the environmental advocacy work of the Michigan Chapter in the name of someone you care for! Find out more here.
    Sierra Club volunteers meet with Rep. LaVoy
    Representative Bill LaVoy (second from left) meets
    with Sierra Club Citizen Lobbyists Mitchell Barrows,
    Robert Gordon and Bill Gittlen to talk about clean

    Sign Up Now: Citizen Lobby Day on May 6th

    Sierra Club will host our first Citizen Lobby Day of the year on May 6th. This unique and exciting event involves dozens of Club members and supporters who converge on Lansing to educate lawmakers about important environmental issues. You'll have fun meeting your legislators and kindred spirits, like the folks in the photo meeting State Rep. Bill LaVoy. On May 6th, we will discuss the benefits of clean energy and the dangers of fracking with lawmakers. 
    Pre-registration for Lobby Day is required. Find more info on the event and sign up here!

    Sierra Club: Protecting the Au Sable River as Trout Season Opens

    Marvin Roberson, Forest EcologistMarvin Roberson leads the
    Sierra Club's work to protect
    the Au Sable River
    Michigan's Trout season opens on the last Saturday of April, which this year falls on April 25. Thousands of anglers and river enthusiasts will celebrate by getting out onto Michigan’s fabled trout streams.
    This year, the Sierra Club will be celebrating by continuing our efforts to protect the most storied of those rivers, the Au Sable.
    Almost defying belief, there is a proposal to place an industrial fish farm right in the middle of the Au Sable River, just above the section known as the "Holy Waters". The permit for this facility will allow discharge of effluent, nutrients, disease, and whole fish into the Au Sable. Sierra Club has filed suit to stop this facility.
    We are asking for outright denial of the permit which was granted to this facility. Simply put, we do not believe that a facility of this type belongs in a river of this quality, and we do not think that any modifications to a permit can change that.
    The Au Sable is world famous, and justifiably so. Thousands of people come to this magnificent river annually to reconnect with nature, and it deserves better than to be turned into a factory farm. Sierra Club is working to assure that the river gets the protection it deserves.
    Lansing Needs to Protect Michigan's Environment

    Does Your Lawmaker Think Michigan Should Be No Better than the Rest?

    Michigan is surrounded by 20 percent of the earth's fresh surface water supply. But some state representatives want to pass House Bill 4246 which weakens protection for the Great Lakes and all aspects of Michigan’s environment.
    This bill would prohibit the governor and his/her agencies from issuing any rule that is more protective than federal law. In effect it says there is nothing special about Michigancompared with any other state in the union and takes away the governor's power to protect clean air and water. 

    Explore and Enjoy! Holly State Recreation Area

    Sandhill cranes at Holly Recreation Area
    Sandhill cranes on the ice at Holly
    Recreation Area in 2014
           photo by Rebecca Hammond
    Sierra Club is committed to "exploring, enjoying and protecting the planet." The Michigan Chapter Update includes features on exploring and enjoying places in Michigan. Rebecca Hammond brings another great introduction to a wonderful place in Michigan: this time Holly State Recreation Area in northwest Oakland County.  
    Holly State Recreation Area might be Michigan's best-kept secret. A big state park within easy driving distance of both Flint and Detroit, it has a number of small lakes, a nice (and sometimes challenging) trail system, two rental cabins, a beach with amenities on another lake, good fishing, and the best turtle population I've ever enjoyed.
    Holly is our favorite local hike, and a good place to paddle, especially when the sun is going
    Tiny Turtle at Holly Recreation Area
    Tiny turtle at Holly Recreation Area
                         photo by Rebecca Hammond
    down. Silence settles, and wildlife emerges. You can hike all afternoon there, given the size of the trail system, and if you campthere, you can hit the trails right from the campground. There's canoe and kayak rental as well. A tiring (for us) but satisfying day is a picnic, a paddle, and a hike. I once saw, in the evening, something I later read about (or would think I hallucinated it): mice running in circles, playing, maybe two dozen, in and out of the grass, crossing the trail, jumping. The anecdote I read took place in Maine and described an estimated 500.
    Giving back at a place like Holly (as you're completing the circle of exploring, enjoying, and protecting) might mean pulling garlic mustard. I've been both horrified at the amount, and amazed that two people over a few years could make a difference. Garlic mustard is a tame plant brought here from Europe, and stayed contained for a very long time. Its roots secrete a chemical that makes it hard for other plants to compete. Pulling even a little makes a big difference, even if you pull it after the seeds fell.
    Know what else makes you feel you contributed and didn't just benefit? Taking a roll of TP and leaving it in one of the outhouses (usually stocked, not always.)
    Here are Some Great Ways to Support Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Get Engaged!
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    We welcome feedback on the Michigan Chapter Update - Contact us at michigan.chapter@sierraclub.org.