Could this be the end of Pure Michigan?
The following guest post was written by Janis Bobrin, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner from 1989 to 2012.
The Pure Michigan advertising campaign is so compelling because it touches on a fundamental Michigan value – the sense of place fostered by the state’s majestic waters, lands, fish and wildlife. No one who grows up or lives in Michigan is immune to the lure of these natural resources, and our responsibility to protect and manage them wisely.
All too often in Michigan’s history, however, our elected officials have shirked their duty. In the state’s first 70 years, they gave little thought or caring to what would come after their time. The result was a vast logged-over wasteland and lethal forest fires in northern Michigan. It took decades of stewardship to heal that land and create the special forest places and sustainable logging enjoyed today.
During most of the state’s second 70 years, legislators and governors repeated the failure of their predecessors. The result was degraded water and air – degraded rivers choked with waste and dead fish, groundwater contaminated with toxic chemicals, skies and lungs blackened with soot and smoke. The job of repairing that damage continues today.
There’s a key question for Michiganders in 2014: which candidates for office are likely to repeat the mistakes of the state’s conservation history – and which have the wisdom to learn from them?
There is perhaps no official more important to the future of Pure Michigan than the governor. The state’s chief executive sets the tone, sets forth a vision, and has the power to stop unwise policy choices sent to him by the Legislature. In the 1970s, Governor William G. Milliken used all the tools available to him – from appointments of conservation advocates to key posts, to funding increases, to support for environmental protection legislation – to spur Michigan’s environmental comeback.
Unfortunately, developments in Lansing in recent years do not give confidence that Michigan officials understand or care about the tragic conservation legacy of the first century-plus of the state’s history. Rather, there are indications that protection of natural resources is being sacrificed to political expediency. Governor Rick Snyder has not only failed to turn back these attacks, but has actively participated in some of them.
- His Administration is calling for the gutting of standards protecting the health of the public from toxic air pollutants.
- He signed into law a bill reducing the state’s ability to protect coastal wetlands.
- He signed into law a bill weakening protection of Michigan’s nationally-recognized, majestic coastal sand dunes.
- His Administration undermined protection of human health and the environment from chemical pesticides and herbicides.
- His Administration intervened on behalf of an industrial polluter cited more than 30 times for violation of air pollution protections.
- He caved under pressure from lobbyists and eliminated a key stewardship program to facilitate unsustainable exploitation of state forests.
- His energy policy consists of supporting permits for two dirty coal-fired power plants and signing a bill weakening energy efficiency standards for new construction.
- He signed into law a measure effectively allowing over 20,000 Michigan livestock facilities to pollute our waters with animal manure and sheltering them from law enforcement.
These are just the lowlights. The list of damage done in less than four years is appalling.
The author of a book on Michigan’s environmental history, Dave Dempsey, says the Snyder record reverses a half-century of progress in environmental protection. “Michigan used to be known as a national conservation leader. It’s now known as a state punching holes in its environmental safety net, and too timid to stand up to polluters who make the discredited claim that you can’t have a healthy environment and a healthy economy at the same time.”
Under Mark Schauer the narrative – and the policies – will change. It’s no longer adequate to say there isn’t any conflict between environmental protection and economic performance. It’s clear that environmental protection is primary and essential to long-term economic growth. Michigan can create tens of thousands of jobs in solar and wind energy and clean water technology if it has a governor who supports the policies of a hopeful future, rather than a retreat into a dismal past.
Nothing captures the spirit of Pure Michigan more than our Great Lakes, rivers, streams, forests and dunes. Governor Snyder misguided priorities and policies have undermined Michigan’s environment, ignored Michigan’s strengths and is eroding Michigan’s brand – Pure Michigan.
Michigan’s endowment of magnificent natural resources is our strength. On November 4, please join me in voting for Mark Schauer, to ensure that their protection is once again given the highest priority.
Photo by Anne C. Savage special to Eclectablog