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SMITH: Make Michigan the best in quality of water, use of natural resources

• Mar 1, 2019 at 3:30 PM

“If you seek a beautiful peninsula, look about you” — State of Michigan motto

I’m afraid that if we don’t take action, and take action very soon, we are going to have to change our state motto to something like, “If you are a business and looking for a place where you can pollute the water, air and land, without any repercussions, and take all the natural resources you want for free — choose Michigan.”

The May 2018 U.S. News and World report ranked Michigan 35th in the country when it comes to drinking water quality, air quality and total toxic chemical pollution per square mile. Put another way, 68 percent of the United States has better drinking water, breathes cleaner air and has fewer toxins in their soil than Michigan. Throughout the past eight years, the Republican Legislature has done everything in its power to continually weaken the Department of Environmental Quality to the point where this once great state is now in the bottom third when it comes to our environment!

In June of this past year, our Republican representatives in Lansing (Jim Lilly and Arlan Meekhof) caved to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to create business-backed environmental review boards giving these unelected boards the final decision on permits over the administration. Even Gov. Snyder’s DEQ director, Heidi Grether, was critical of these boards.

Our new governor is attempting to turn the DEQ around and stop the devastation of our natural resources. However, state Rep. Lilly, R-Park Township, and new state Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, were quick to push back and voted to keep our state on course in this race to the bottom. Instead of stopping the continuing attacks on our natural resources, they chose to do what the lobbyists told them to do — support the continued path of failed resource management.

I could fill pages listing the Republican Party’s failings when it comes to protecting our natural resources, but as one who prefers to look forward, I’d like to offer the following suggestions to those who are supposed to be representing us in Lansing.

(1) Acknowledge and own the damage that has been done in the last eight years. The Republican actions of having the fox (business and corporate polluters) guarding the hen house (our natural resources) has been an unequivocal failure. If you care about leaving a “beautiful peninsula” for your children and grandchildren that is at least as clean and beautiful as your parents left you (a good parent would want to leave it better), then it is time to admit the failures of the past, own these failings and lead! It is impossible to move forward if you are unwilling to acknowledge where we are and your role in this race to the bottom.

(2) Stop giving away our water! You have stood by while Nestle is free to steal 567,000 gallons of our greatest natural resource (water) every single day. (To put this in perspective: An average oil well in Texas produces under 500 gallons per day.) By doing so, you have shorted our state’s treasury by over $200 million each year. States like Alaska and Texas would not dream of giving their greatest resource away for free. Sale of natural resources in Alaska continue to dominate the state’s unrestricted revenue stream, accounting for just over $6 billion in fiscal year 2010. The Alaska Permanent Fund has been distributing a dividend since 1982 and is worth approximately $51.7 billion. Where is Michigan’s Permanent Fund? Are the legislators in Alaska and Texas that much smarter than those in Michigan?

(3) Commit to stopping this race to the bottom when it comes to the use and care of our natural resources. Take time to listen to experts (your lobbyist is not an expert) to study and to understand the best ways to get out of this mess that has been created in the past eight years. When looking for experts, you need look no further than to our many outstanding universities, loaded with knowledgeable people who study and understand the complexities of our natural resources. Work with the administration (not your lobbyist) and these professionals to determine a strong path to stop this race to the bottom and begin the process of striving toward that “beautiful peninsula” where the air is clean, the water drinkable and the soil fertile. 
Step one is to create a partnership with the current administration now! Bring in the experts (your lobbyists are not experts) to open hearings, work with them to put together a plan that can be implemented quickly to stop the bleeding no later than June 1. In the 13 days of this past lame-duck session, you were able to vote on over 300 bills, so I suspect if caring for our natural resources is important to you, 90 days is more than enough time.
 Next, be willing to work over the coming year with these same groups to develop a sustainable long-term plan that all can agree to and work with. And no, you should not invite the people you’ve had at the table for the past eight years, as they have proven themselves unworthy of being trusted with protection and use of our natural resources.

The goal of this plan is quite simple: “We (Michigan) want to be the best when it comes to the quality of our water, air and soil, and the use of our natural resources!”

We will continue to watch. Peace.

— By Mark Smith, Tribune community columnist

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