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Q&A: With climate declaration, Brewery Vivant continues striving to “Beer the Change”

As if making delicious beer wasn’t enough to win us over, America’s craft brewers have also been strong leaders in showing that businesses can thrive while giving back to their communities and finding innovative ways to protect the environment.

Case in point: Two dozen craft brewers announced this week they had signed a Brewer’s Climate Declaration, which says the companies will take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and will engage with policymakers to support political action to halt climate change. Those breweries already are taking steps to reduce energy use, cut transportation emissions and conserve water, among other sustainability measures.

“It’s good for business, it’s not just good for the environment,” Craft Brew Alliance sustainability manager Julia Person told the Huffington Post. “We’re lowering our operating costs. It’s doing the right thing and having a benefit.”

So far, two Michigan companies—Rockford Brewing Company and Brewery Vivant—have signed the declaration.

In reading up about the climate declaration, we were impressed to learn that Brewery Vivant in 2012 became the first brewery in the country to attain LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. We checked in with co-owner and sustainability manager Kris Spaulding to learn more about how the Grand Rapids brewery is striving to support its community and shrink its environmental impact.

Kris Spaulding

Brewery Vivant's Kris Spaulding.

MEC: Why did Brewery Vivant decide to sign on to the climate declaration? More generally, why have you made sustainability such a priority?

Kris Spaulding: Sustainability is one of the values we founded our business on. We believe that a great business exists because of the support of the local community. Therefore a business should be an active member of the community and should strive to find meaningful ways to engage with it and give back to it. These are values we hold personally, but that we believe all businesses should be thinking along the lines of the triple bottom line.

As for the declaration itself, climate change is going to continue to impact our industry and our world so I think it is best to work towards solutions now rather than waiting for more catastrophic events to finally lead to change happening. I like that the declaration challenges businesses to innovate and work towards solutions rather wait and see what someone else will do. Read more

Transportation funding: Here’s what Proposal 1 does (and why it’s good for Michigan)

Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series on transportation funding leading up to the May 5 special election. Read part one here.

In our first post in this series, we explored the factors—changing driving habits, fuel taxes not keeping pace with inflation, more fuel-efficient vehicles—that have left Michigan and other states hurting for dollars to maintain transportation infrastructure.

In this post we’ll dive into what Proposal 1 would do to begin addressing that shortfall. We’ll warn you right now, folks: This is gonna get pretty wonky. But we think it’s important that voters really understand what’s on the ballot in May, so we’ll do our best to be both thorough and readable.

First, we need to understand how we currently fund Michigan’s transportation system. And as you’ll see, for all the talk by its opponents of how “complicated” Proposal 1 is, it’s not as if our current system is the model of elegance.

How transportation funding works today

The bulk of our transportation dollars comes in roughly equal proportion from two main sources: First, there’s the motor fuel excise tax—19 cents per gallon on gasoline and 15 cents per gallon on diesel—that we all pay at the fuel pump.  Second, there’s the vehicle registration fees we pay at the Secretary of State’s office. The motor fuel excise tax is a flat tax, meaning that it does not react to price inflation—we pay the same amount whether gas costs $1.50 or $3.50.

Current funding structure

About half of our transportation funding comes from the federal government. In recent years our transportation shortfall has been so significant that we’ve had to tap Michigan’s general fund—basically the state’s main checking account—just to meet the match required to be eligible for those federal funds. That money all pours into the Michigan Transportation Fund, the bulk of which pays for roads and bridges. The transportation fund also supports public transit and directs money to the Recreation Improvement Fund, which supports trails, waterways and other outdoor amenities that make Michigan a great place to visit and explore. Read more

MEC supports bill for local control of oil and gas

Imagine a football field. Now imagine that your house is in one end zone, and just past the other end zone is a fence. Behind this fence is a drilling rig operated by a company trying to find oil and gas. At this distance, the rig is allowed to operate at 70 decibels, even overnight, which is the equivalent noise level of a vacuum cleaner. Unless you are in Oakland, Macomb, or Wayne County, lights from the drilling rig can shine through your windows all night, every night.

This was the new reality citizens of Shelby Township woke up to recently when drilling rigs came to town. This mainly suburban, residential community of more than 73,000 people is one of the newest targets for oil and gas exploration in Michigan. Smaller but similarly situated Scio Township, near Ann Arbor, was also a target for exploration.

Legislative efforts last term to address concerns about residential drilling failed in the rush of the lame duck session, but the issue has resurfaced in the House. The Michigan Environmental Council is in support of new legislation introduced last week by Rep. Peter Lucido, a Shelby Township Republican, that would allow for greater local control over oil and gas activity. Read more

Lead Education Day: MEC and partners take to the Capitol to protect Michigan kids

The Michigan Environmental Council joined more than 30 advocates at the State Capitol yesterday to educate lawmakers about the dangers of lead poisoning and the urgent need to maintain the state’s current funding for removing lead hazards from homes.

It was the fourth Lead Education Day organized by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes. MEC is part of the leadership team for MIALSH, which includes public health agencies, lead-affected families, lead contractors and inspectors, environmental health organizations and the landlord community, among others.

Since its formation in 2010, the MIALSH coalition has been successful in educating legislators about lead hazards and advocating for state investment in lead abatement. Thanks to those efforts, the fiscal year 2014 state budget for the first time included $1.25 million set aside for lead cleanups in homes. MIALSH successfully increased that funding to $1.75 million for the 2015 budget year.

Meeting with Rep. Phelps.

MIALSH members pose after a good meeting with Rep. Phil Phelps (D-Flushing).

“At our first education day, many of the lawmakers we met with were unaware that, even though lead was phased out of paint and gasoline, Michigan’s housing stock still contains a lot of residual lead, and lead poisoning is still a serious problem,” said Tina Reynolds, MEC health policy director and a MIALSH leader. “Term limits mean there’s a lot of turnover in the Legislature and there’s always more education to do, but in general it feels like our messages are sinking in. Once they understand the problem, legislators find lead poisoning unacceptable, and they’re supportive of our coalition’s efforts.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for the 2016 fiscal year maintains the $1.75 million for lead programs, but protecting that funding from cuts as the budget moves through legislative committees will require that lawmakers understand the impact of lead poisoning in their districts. Read more

MEC boosts capacity at Capitol

MEC is proud to announce that we’ve hired Sean Hammond to strengthen our team of policy experts at the state Capitol.

Sean Hammond (center) introduced at MEC's Legislative Breakfast

As Deputy Policy Director, Hammond will help MEC build and maintain relationships with lawmakers, stay abreast of new bills and legislative committee activities, and keep our member groups informed about developments at the Capitol. Since joining our staff in January, he has met with dozens of state lawmakers to introduce himself and update them on MEC’s policy priorities. He’s also built new tools that will help our staff members work together to respond quickly and effectively to environmental legislation.

A native of Potterville, Mich., Hammond comes to MEC with experience working in the Legislature and state agencies. Most recently, he held a legal externship with Michigan’s Senate Majority Policy Office, where he provided Republican lawmakers with policy analysis and legal memos on proposed legislation.

Hammond also has interned with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the office of Attorney General Bill Schuette and with state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who was then serving in the House.

“Sean adds an important voice and viewpoint to the MEC team,” said Chris Kolb, MEC president. “Having him on board puts us in a great position to chalk up some important wins on key environmental issues affecting Michigan. His skills and experience will be particularly helpful in this new legislative term, when water protection, clean energy and public land management will be front-and-center topics at the Capitol.”

Hammond is a 2014 graduate of the Michigan State University College of Law. He graduated with honors from Saginaw Valley State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and minors in political science and chemistry.

“I really admire MEC’s solutions-oriented approach to public policy and the group’s vision for the kind of state Michigan can be,” Hammond said. “It’s exciting to be part of such a well-respected team, and I look forward to finding common ground with policymakers to protect public health and preserve the natural resources that make our state so special.”

Hammond lives in East Lansing and spends his off-work hours preparing for two important events: He’s studying for the state bar exam, and is planning an October wedding to fiancée Jess Averill, who is legislative director for Sen. Jones.

Welcome aboard, Sean!

Transportation funding: How’d we get here?

The package of transportation-funding bills Gov. Snyder signed  earlier this month sets the stage for a ballot initiative with high stakes for drivers, transit riders and Michigan’s economy.

Voters in May will have their say on a proposed 1 percent increase in the state sales tax. Along with $300 million per year in new school funding, the proposal would raise about $1.2 billion a year for roads and at least $107 million annually for the Comprehensive Transportation Fund, which supports maintenance and upgrades to public transit and passenger rail. If approved, it would be the state’s first structural increase in funding for public transportation since 1987.

Like many Michiganders, we would have preferred a full solution from the Legislature, rather than facing the added cost, delay and uncertainty a ballot initiative adds to the process. But a ballot drive is what we’ve got, and MEC fully supports its passage.

In the run-up to the May vote, we’ll use this blog to take a close look at Michigan’s transportation system and to make our case that supporting that system in its entirety—not just roads and bridges—is essential to our state’s quality of life and economic competitiveness.

In this first installment of an occasional series, we’ll explore how Michigan arrived at such a desperate need for new transportation funding, and show we’re far from alone in that need.

How we got here

It only takes a few minutes behind the wheel on most Michigan roads to see how badly we need new transportation revenue. (Drive down Pine St. in Lansing from MEC’s offices to I-496. We dare you.)

What’s going on here? Why have the roads gotten so bad? Read more

Gov. Snyder stands up for biodiversity. Help us say thanks!

Gov. Rick Snyder today took a stand for conservation and good science by vetoing Senate Bill 78, which would have blocked state agencies from designating land to protect biodiversity.

It takes guts to wield the veto pen, and the governor deserves heartfelt thanks for his leadership from everyone who enjoys our state’s great outdoors.

Please take a moment to call the governor’s office to express your support for his decision.

Call the governor’s office: (517) 373-3400.

Send him a good old-fashioned letter:

Gov. Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909

MEC President Chris Kolb signaled the veto’s importance for future Michiganders’ conservation heritage in a press release applauding Gov. Snyder’s decision.

“Biodiversity means healthy, functioning ecosystems and productive, resilient forests,” Kolb said. “I’m glad the governor has made sure Michigan’s professional resource managers are able to protect biodiversity and all its benefits for future generations.

“Gov. Snyder’s decision today shows a respect for and understanding of science, and honors Michigan’s heritage as a conservation leader,” he added.

In a letter to the Senate explaining his decision, the governor said the bill “causes confusion and inconsistencies and could make it more difficult to sustainably manage Michigan’s Public forests and world class natural resources to meet the changing needs of current and future generations.”

By vetoing the bill, the governor sided with 133 scientists from Michigan universities who sent him a letter highlighting biodiversity’s importance for healthy ecosystems.

Thank you, Gov. Snyder!

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Photo courtesy Kyle Rokos via Flickr.

White River Township seeks funding to purchase lakefront land at center of dune debate

One of MEC’s most-read blog posts was a 2013 analysis that pointed out serious flaws in—and helped build the opposition needed to block—a controversial proposal to develop a road through a public dune preserve on the Lake Michigan coast.

If a new fundraising effort succeeds, the piece of private lakefront property at the center of that debate could soon be open for public enjoyment.

Public attention turned to the two-acre parcel when a developer proposed building a home on the property with an access road through the White River Township Barrier Dunes Sanctuary. The proposal represented the first test of a 2012 law that gutted key provisions of Michigan’s Critical Dunes Act.

Thankfully, the Department of Environmental Quality rejected the proposal from Bro G Land Company, echoing MEC’s arguments that what the proposal called a driveway was, by the state’s definition, clearly a road—one that would have fundamentally changed the scenic character of a public sanctuary carefully preserved and managed by thoughtful leaders.

Following the permit denial, Bro G filed a lawsuit against the township seeking a judgment that it had the right to build the road. That suit ended last month in a settlement that gives White Lake Township 18 months to purchase the property for $900,000. Read more

MEC turns focus forward with new policy agenda

Onward!

With an intense lame-duck session in the rearview, MEC’s focus has turned toward a new legislative cycle and the policies we’ll pursue for a stronger economy, cleaner environment and higher quality of life in Michigan.

Today we released a proactive policy agenda for the next couple of years—one that reflects input we gathered from MEC member groups over the past several months. It includes our targeted outcomes across a broad range of issue areas, from protecting our water resources and iconic wild places to accelerating our state’s transition to a clean-energy economy, building a modern transportation system and ending lead poisoning in Michigan.

“This is about realizing our state’s promise as a great place to live,” said MEC President Chris Kolb in our press release announcing the agenda. “We’re at the center of the world’s greatest freshwater resource, we have unmatched manufacturing know-how and we offer outdoor experiences you can’t find anywhere else. These policies will leverage Michigan’s unique assets to create new opportunities and a higher quality of life for Michiganders. They’ll also help keep more of our college graduates here and signal to educated workers elsewhere that Michigan values healthy, thriving communities and a clean environment.”

You can read the press release here, or click here to view the full list of policy priorities.

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Photo courtesy Brian via Flickr.

Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad

With Michigan’s lame duck session in full swing, we thought we’d update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a very…interesting—yes, we’ll go with interesting—week at the Capitol.

The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.

And so, here’s a roundup of this week’s environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.

Ugly

There’s bad legislation, and then there’s House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan’s clean energy law, changing the definition of “renewable” to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.

Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer. Read more