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Posts from the ‘legislation’ Category

Three key issues to watch as lawmakers return to Lansing

When the leaves begin to turn colors each autumn, the wardrobe around the MEC offices also undergoes an unmistakable change.

Friends, the glorious days of t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops are coming to an end. Now begins the season of the necktie. The Legislature is coming back to town.

Our summer dress may have been casual, but we’ve been working hard behind the scenes on issues we expect to make some waves in the next few months. There’s no time to waste; lawmakers will only be in session for nine days in September, three days in October and a smattering of lame-duck days after the November election.

Some of the fall’s meatiest environmental debates will be hammered out quietly through the administrative rulemaking process, not in the Legislature. And what follows certainly isn’t the only important legislation that will see action in the House and Senate chambers. But for our money, here are a few of the most interesting issues to watch in the new legislative session that begins Tuesday.

Oil and gas.

As oil and gas operations have moved beyond rural parts of the state to more populous residential areas, citizens have begun organizing to call for greater local control over drilling regulations.

A crowd of those advocates will greet lawmakers on their first day back in Lansing. The rally is in support of legislation introduced by a pair of Republican state senators from Macomb County—Jack Brandenburg and Tory Rocca—that would restrict drilling in townships with more than 70,000 residents. Read more

Good budget news overshadowed by road funding dead end

Michigan lawmakers are in for a bumpy ride home.

They are in the unenviable position—but one they put themselves in—of explaining to constituents why they couldn’t work out a solution to a maddening problem we all face every day and that the majority of Michiganders say is the most urgent issue facing the state.

Their inability to pass a transportation funding package means our roads will only get worse, doing more damage to our vehicles, driving away businesses that might otherwise invest in Michigan and likely even costing more Michiganders their lives.

It also means the rest of Michigan’s transportation system will lose out. As we wrote here recently, public transit, passenger and freight rail, cargo shipping infrastructure and public boating facilities all will suffer because the Legislature couldn’t get the job done before breaking for summer recess.

But! It’s Friday and the forecast looks gorgeous. Summer in Michigan is too brief and too lovely to spend much time grumbling. Let’s keep on the sunny side.

In the Legislature’s mad dash toward summer break, they passed a budget that actually will do great things for Michigan’s people and environment. Here are a few examples to cheer you up for the weekend. Read more

Michigan’s Sleeping Bear, ‘America’s Most Beautiful Place,’ set to earn Congress’ first wilderness designation in years

(Second update: President Obama signed the bill March 13, designating roughly half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a federal wilderness area!)

(Wednesday morning update! The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on a voice vote late Tuesday, and it is on its way to President Obama’s desk. Said U.S. Senator Carl Levin: “This is good news for all of us who cherish the matchless beauty and the ecological importance of Sleeping Bear Dunes.”)

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Michigan’s iconic and globally rare freshwater dune system is on the verge of getting Congress’ first wilderness designation since 2009, capping more than a decade of discussion about how best to protect one of the region’s signature natural areas while keeping it open to hunters, anglers, beach lovers and others.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act would designate as wilderness 32,500 acres of the park that gained national attention in 2011 when Good Morning America viewers voted it the nation’s most beautiful place. The bill is set for a House vote this evening and is expected to land on President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The bill is a rarity for the polarized 113th Congress, which hasn’t designated a single acre for protection under the Wilderness Act. (Neither did the 112th – the first Congress not to add wilderness since 1966.)  It enjoys bipartisan support among Michigan’s congressional delegation—Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow co-sponsored the Senate version, which passed in June, while Republican Dan Benishek introduced the House bill—and has the backing of local residents and the National Park Service. Read more

Speak up for Michigan’s public lands!

Please show your support for public lands by attending a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) on Monday, February 17, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the Acme Township Hall.

Doors open at 6:30, we suggest arriving early. The Acme Township Hall is located at 6042 Acme Rd, Williamsburg, MI 49690.

Rep. Schmidt and other public lands advocates will be speaking in support of his House Bill 5210, which would approve the new Department of Natural Resources (DNR) strategic land plan and lift the so-called “land cap.” Rep. Schmidt should be applauded and supported for his efforts to right a wrong that was committed when the land cap bill was passed in 2012.

Please show up and speak out if you:

  • Believe public lands managed by the DNR – OUR forests, rivers, dunes and parks – provide great benefit to Michigan’s natural resources, people, economy and local communities.
  • Think Michigan’s residents want MORE protected landscapes, natural communities and outdoor recreation opportunities, not fewer.
  • Want to remove the arbitrary acreage cap on state-owned public land that was put in place in 2012 (through the so-called “land cap” law).
  • Agree with MEC’s Board of Directors in their endorsement of the new DNR-Managed Public Land Strategy of 2013 ”as a critical step to removing the state’s current public land cap.”

We need your voice to be heard at the meeting, because we fear the extreme private-property and small-government advocates that gave us the land cap law will again be out in force, speaking against Michigan’s great tradition of supporting public land conservation, resource stewardship and access to natural resources.

Background: Rep. Schmidt’s bill (HB 5210) is needed to officially have the legislature approve the DNR’s land strategy and to remove the acreage cap that currently limits the amount of public land the State of Michigan can own and manage.

The DNR land strategy was required by Sen. Tom Casperson’s PA 240 of 2012, which limited the total allowable acreage of land under state management to 4,626,000 acres (just above current totals) until May 1, 2015, and to 3,910,000 acres north of the Mason-Arenac line thereafter (also just above current totals).

PA 240 also required the DNR to create a strategic land plan that had to be approved by the Legislature in order for the land cap to be lifted. The DNR has completed that plan, available here, and MEC’s board has passed a resolution in support of the plan and of lifting the land cap through legislation (such as HB 5210).

You can read earlier Michigan Distilled posts about MEC’s position and our history of advocacy on the land cap issue here and here.

Thank you!

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Photo courtesy Robert Emperley via Flickr.

Friday linkaround: Big week for cyclists and the DNR finds a lost toddler!

Good Friday everyone! Here are some items of interest from the week that’s drawing to a close:

It was a big week for our friends at the League of Michigan Bicyclists, with two legislative victories: House passage of revised right-turn signals and vulnerable roadway user legislation.

The state released this draft report last week on its findings regarding customer choice in the electric utility market. The report stays scrupulously neutral on the question of whether to expand competitive choice beyond the current 10% cap….perhaps indicating the governor will not be proposing significant changes to the program. More explanation on the choice cap is here (PDF)

Read more

Anti-biodiversity SB 78: Michigan scientists (133 of ‘em!) poised to tell Gov. Snyder it is “against the best advice” of state’s academic experts

The good news is the Michigan Legislature is on summer recess.

Even better news; they left without taking up SB 78, legislation that would redefine the term “biodiversity” in state law and prohibit state agencies from designating public lands to protect biological diversity. (We’ve written extensively about the bill’s flawed premise and terrible consequences, and you can read about it here and here and here.)

But Rep. Andrea Lafontaine, who chairs the House Natural Resources committee, told MEC earlier this year  that she expected to give the bill a hearing prior to legislature’s summer recess. Due to a busy close of session and – we’d like to think — lots of letters and calls to her office, the bill was not brought before the committee.

But we have every reason to believe the bill, which already passed the full Senate, is still likely to reappear. And when it does, the environmental and conservation communities need to be ready to stand in opposition.

University of Michigan School of Natural Resources Professor Bradley Cardinale PhD, whose work focuses on the challenges of protecting biodiversity, has been working to point out the far-reaching ramifications of the bill. He, and 133 other PhD-level professors representing 13 Michigan universities, have signed this letter urging Gov. Rick Snyder to veto SB 78 should it reach his desk. Signing SB 78, they agree, would be a significant setback for the scientific management of state lands – a decades-old philosophy that has successfully restored Michigan’s once–decimated forests, protected its freshwater lakes and streams, and done a reasonable job of balancing the needs of multiple constituencies who use state lands for diverse activities.

We sat down with Professor Cardinale to ask him a few questions about the professors’ letter and the effects SB 78 would have on Michigan conservation.

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— Tell us about your letter to the Governor. And you have not yet sent it, is that right? When will you?

Read more

Update: SB 78 “Anti-Biodiversity Bill” passes full Senate

SB 78, the “Anti-Biodiversity Bill” passed the full Michigan Senate on March 5.

It was approved on what appeared to be a strict party-line vote of 26-11.

Notably, Sen. Rebekah Warren took a courageous stand against SB 78 on the Senate Floor, arguing eloquently on behalf of Michigan’s history of science-based natural resource management. You can watch her statement here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYkQvY3i0a8

She also offered several helpful amendments including language that would have reinstated the original, science-based definition of biodiversity; another to keep original language saying that human activity is the primary cause of biodiversity loss; and a substitute bill that would have ensured humans could access any designated Biodiversity Stewardship Areas — an attempt to address an unfounded concern about “locking up land’ often reiterated by the bill’s Republican sponsor. All amendments were rejected on what again appeared to be party-line votes.

The fight for biodiversity will next move to the House Natural Resources Committee.

We will alert you when a bill is up for consideration there, but feel free to reach out to House Committee members about this issue now. They are:

 

For complete background on this issue, we recommend the following links:

State Senate bill puts forests at risk of disease, pests, environmentalists say.” Detroit Free Press.

Legislation redefining conservation puts Michigan’s diversity of nature at risk:  MEC Commentary.” Detroit Free Press

Biodiversity: Key to healthy forests, yet target of terrible proposed law.” MEC blog Michigan Distilled

Anti-biodiversity bill hearings continue.” MEC blog Michigan Distilled

 

“Anti-Biodiversity Bill” Hearings Continue

Another hearing on SB 78, the “anti-biodiversity bill,” has been scheduled for Thursday, February 21. Last week’s hearing was packed and those who were allowed to testify did a great job. Thank you League of Women Voters, Michigan Botanical Club and others! I have added some commentary below to explain and highlight some issues that were raised there.

Please keep the pressure on! Consider testifying in person at the committee hearing (note earlier start time, especially if you attended last week but weren’t give time to talk), and please contact legislators and encourage others to contact those listed below. It’s time to let the committee members know where you stand!

Committee Hearing Time and Location:

•    Room 210, Farnum Building, 125 W. Allegan Street, Lansing, MI 48933
•    Time: 8:30 am, Thursday, 2/21/2013


Please call and email the following:

Senate Natural Resources Committee Members:
Chair,
Senator Tom Casperson (primary bill sponsor): 517-373-7840, SenTCasperson@senate.michigan.gov
Michael Green (sponsor): 517-373-1777, SenMGreen@senate.michigan.gov
Arlan Meekhof (sponsor): 517-373-6920, SenAMeekhof@senate.michigan.gov
Patrick Colbeck (sponsor): 517-373-7350, SenPColbeck@senate.michigan.gov
Mike Kowall: (517) 373-1758, SenMKowall@senate.michigan.gov
Phil Pavlov: (517) 373-7708, SenPPavlov@senate.michigan.gov
Rebekah Warren: (517) 373-2406, SenRWarren@senate.michigan.gov
Morris W Hood III: (517-373-0990), SenMHood@senate.michigan.gov

Other bill sponsors (especially if you are in these legislators’ districts):
David Robertson: 517-373-1636, SenDRobertson@senate.michigan.gov
Darwin Booher: 517-373-1725, SenDBooher@senate.michigan.gov
Howard Walker: 517-373-2413 SenHWalker@senate.michigan.gov


What is SB 78? Confusion With DNR Biodiversity Stewardship Areas (BSA) Program

At the recent committee hearing and in the media, the lead sponsor and author of SB 78, Sen. Tom Casperson, has repeatedly claimed that the intent of his legislation is to stop implementation of a very specific program — the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area, or “BSA”) program.

While this may the sponsor’s intent, we as advocates and concerned citizens must deal with the actual bill language that has been introduced.

Read more

Don’t Fence Me In

Limiting Public Land Jeopardizes Michigan’s Character

Nobody’s going to confuse it with Chicago or Denver, but Lansing is an honest-to-God city, albeit mid-sized.  We’ve got a decent food scene, a solid bus system, skyscrapers—even our own professional ball club.

It’s a great place to work.  But like Melville’s Ishmael when he was away from the sea awhile, if I’m too long in town without at least a brief escape to the woods, “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.”

Luckily, a couple of years ago I discovered a secret spot on a little trout creek about an hour southwest of my home in East Lansing.  (I’m not divulging details.  Unless you buy me a Two Hearted Ale—then I’ll tell you exactly where it is.) Read more

Michigan finally bans open garbage burning. Some of it, anyway….sort of

This week Michigan became one of the last Great Lakes state to outlaw burning trash in outdoor burn barrels.

But, not really.

The legislation signed into law allows open burning, but prohibits the most toxic items. Stuff like foam, plastic, rubber, chemicals, electronics, etc.

That’s better than nothing. And the evidence that open burning is a huge health hazard is unequivocal.

But we’re disappointed the ban didn’t include all household wastes. And, that it included language forbidding the state from outlawing the burning of any materials not on the legislation’s list.

With more than half the state’s residents living in places that exceed allowable levels of particulate matter, there’s no need to add to the harm. It’s 2012, and we have better systems in place to recycling, reuse, and more safely dispose of our garbage.

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