Jeff Irwin and Brian Imus speaking out about clean water on the banks of the Rouge River.
Michigan's Natural Resources
My love for the natural world and especially the Great Lakes - started as a child, growing up on the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie. Camping, fishing, and all manner of outdoor recreation was what we did as youngsters in the UP and I still love it.
My awe for nature only deepened when, as a Boy Scout, I was fortunate enough to visit natural treasures like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the parks and beaches that line our Great Lakes. I know from personal experience that our natural resources are treasures that must be protected for us and for future generations.
Later, at the University of Michigan, I had the opportunity to study environmental policy and our basic environmental protections such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Protection Act and others. Looking into the details, I realized that we aren’t enforcing these laws diligently. As a result, we are slowly poisoning ourselves, unnecessarily. The mercury in our lakes and fish, the awful by-products of so many industrial processes and the increasing pace of our wastefulness is unsustainable, creating economic and public health disasters.
Frustrated with the lack of meaningful change, I got involved in the best way I know how: political activism. I started to support politicians and organizations that were trying to reform our laws. I protested with the Ecology Center, knocked on doors for land preservation in Washtenaw County and I started working for the League of Conservation Voters – an organization dedicated to electing a pro-environment Congress. In 1999, I had an opportunity to run for County Commission and I took it – in part to advance my environmental ideals in county government.
Jeff's commitment to the environment stems from a love of the wilderness and Michigan's Great Lakes.
Since then, Washtenaw County has expanded its program of land preservation, instituted an environmentally-friendly purchasing policy and taken serious steps to reduce our energy consumption (saving over $300,000/year). Today, we’re working on improving our energy efficiency further and providing financing to our residents so that they can realize savings, reduce pollution and improve their homes1.
Even more can be accomplished in Lansing. If elected, I will propose energy saving measures that will reduce pollution and save money. I will fight to give citizens the right to know what is in the products we buy; and I will hold polluters accountable, making them clean up their act with a combination of incentives for pollution prevention and penalties for poisoning our air and water.
Here are some specific measures that I would propose to protect public health and promote environmental stewardship:
- Michigan’s intellectual capital and industrial history position our state to lead the way on advanced technologies and green jobs. As your legislator, I will champion the implementation of wind, solar and geothermal projects by greening government facilities and putting tools in the hands of citizens who want to save money and reduce pollution1. Also, I will support policy changes, such as net-metering rules and stronger RPS standards, that promote green energy projects and position Michigan at the forefront of green job growth.
- I propose strengthening your right to know what is in the everyday products sold in Michigan. Every time I see my daughter Sylvia put a toy in her mouth, I am reminded that Michigan law is insufficient to protect me and my family from the toxic chemicals in so many products. I would like to see an end to the systematic poisoning of our world; but at a very minimum, I’d like to at least enjoy the right to know what is in these products.
- Wetlands control flooding, filter bacteria and contaminants out of drinking water, and foster rich habitats. Protecting the wetlands we have left should be a priority, but budget pressures have put our state wetlands program at risk2. I don’t believe the federal EPA can manage our wetlands program as effectively as we can in Michigan – the EPA, for instance, wouldn’t protect the smaller wetlands that help control flooding and protect drinking water in Washtenaw County. I will fight to keep our state wetlands program and keep the protection of our unique ecology here in Michigan.
- Engineering the toxics out of the products we buy is the most logical step towards a toxic-free future. It can be done – and it is, through green chemistry. Michigan has the opportunity to become a magnet for this emerging science, and create green jobs in the process. Our state should foster this technology by supporting our leading universities and their green innovation – simultaneously promoting a greener future and a brighter economic future for our state.
- The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment is responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and many of our most important environmental laws. However it doesn’t have the funding necessary to do so, and even the worst polluters are not regularly inspected. I believe polluters should pay the cost of complete compliance with our clean air and clean water laws, and as your representative, I’ll fight to make sure that polluters bear the cost of a fully-funded system to preserve and protect our air and water.
- Our Great Lakes are routinely threatened by invasive species. Today, we’re worried about Asian Carp devastating fish populations; years ago, it was zebra mussels ruining beaches and clogging intake pipes. These are serious threats that cause more harm than the cost of control measures3. Unfortunately, while Michigan has tightened controls in our ports, other states and Ontario haven't enforced the same strict standards. Similar to the Great Lakes Compact, we need an international treaty that will bring the whole region into a strategy to protect the lakes and minimize the impacts of invasive species. Michigan needs to take the lead on these regional measures and, as your legislator, I will work with the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus to accomplish this goal. Together, we should require every ocean-going ship entering the Great Lakes to dump its ballast and ensure the elimination of microbes or other invasive species that will harm the fragile ecosystem of the Great Lakes.
- Michigan’s industrial history means that in almost every corner of our state there are abandoned and polluted industrial sites. Many of the firms originally responsible for this pollution are long bankrupt, leaving behind a legacy of pollution and a terrible public health threat. To address this problem and spur the redevelopment of these polluted sites, the Engler administration and the Republicans introduced a brownfield redevelopment law that focuses on protecting investors from environmental liabilities while eviscerating cleanup standards. I will fight to reinstitute strong cleanup standards so that if a developer receives tax credits to build on polluted land, they also are required to actually clean up the pollution.
- Michigan has more state-owned parks and forests than any state east of the Mississippi. This is a unique public treasure that we should maintain – not only because they’re a magnet for tourism and recreation, but because they serve as a window into our culture and collective history. As your legislator, I will support measures to increase park funding through voluntary programs such as the recently enacted Parks Passport program.
1Working with Rep. Rebekah Warren, I am proud to have helped develop and testify on behalf of HB 5640. Together with a coalition of clean energy advocates such as GLELC, the Ecology Center and the Sierra Club, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are pushing for new energy efficiency laws. This legislation, which gives local governments the authority to finance private energy conservation and generation projects will grow our economy today while simultaneously reducing pollution and saving money.
3For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that Great Lakes utilities and manufacturers will need to spend five billion dollars over the next decade in response to the zebra mussel alone. Great Lakes Commission, Great Lakes Aquatic Nuisance Species <http://www.glc.org/ans/> (accessed September 17, 2008).