Policy Tracker: Bottle deposits, DTE shutoffs, solar caps


Dear Michigan Climate News readers,

We asked you what topics we should cover in this newsletter, and we got a resounding response — you want to stay up-to-date on climate solutions, politics, and policy. To that end, in addition to regular solutions-based stories, we will be bringing you this monthly policy tracker.

Our aim is to help keep you up-to-date on the latest state and federal government policies that impact climate and the environment in Michigan.

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– Nina at Planet Detroit

On to the policy update:


Bottle deposits and contaminated site cleanup

Two “bottle bills” currently under discussion in the Michigan Senate, HB 4443 and HB 4444, would provide tax breaks for beverage wholesalers and divert some of the money from unclaimed deposits away from contaminated site cleanup. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters is pushing back on these changes, saying in a statement that the bottle law has been “a successful anti-littering and pollution prevention tool for decades.” The group is looking to ensure that any new legislation prevents the closure of return facilities, allows for the redemption of all eligible containers at any location, and protects funding for cleaning up environmental contamination.

“There's some 24,000 contaminated sites now in Michigan, of all different natures, that we want to start to clean and return to the economy, return to various uses as quickly as possible,” said Nicholas Occhipinti, state government affairs director of the MLCV. “And we don't have the staff, resources, and capacity to even do that now.”

Since 1976, Michigan has had a 10-cent deposit for most beverages in cans, glass bottles, or plastic containers. The law drives a high recycling rate, and 75% of the money saved from unreturned deposits is sent to the state’s Cleanup and Redevelopment Trust Fund, while 25% of the money goes to retailers. Of the 75% sent to the trust fund, 80% goes into the Cleanup and Redevelop Fund, 10% goes into the Community Pollution Prevention Fund, and 10% is left to grow in the trust fund portion of the “trust fund.”

Retailers have often complained about the difficulty and expense of handling returns, and while they may realize some benefits under the new laws, the biggest beneficiaries of the new bills could be distributors or wholesalers who are responsible for picking up returns from stores and preparing them for recycling. HB 4443 would provide these businesses with a $0.005 tax credit for every container they collect, costing the state general fund an estimated $20 million a year. And HB 4444 would divert money from the cleanup trust fund if the total revenue from unreturned containers tops $50 million, splitting it between the state and retailers.

A Senate Fiscal Agency analysis found that an earlier draft of HB 4443 would have diverted $42.8 million from the Cleanup and Redevelopment Fund in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, although this was a record-setting year for unreturned bottles. This money may be desperately needed to clean up the state’s thousands of contaminated sites, some of which are threatened with climate change-related flooding.

Occhipinti believes a compromise between business and environmental groups on the bottle bills is possible. This could provide wholesalers with money to reinforce their back-end operations while expanding the bottle bills to allow for the return of more items or even raising the deposit amount. He notes that inflation has significantly lowered the value of the 10-cent deposit since 1976. The legislature could also send money directly to the actual trust fund portion of the Cleanup and Redevelopment Trust Fund to shore it up against any losses from the bottle bills.

The diversions of money from contaminated site cleanup under HB 4444 are currently scheduled to sunset after three years. Occhipinti says this would give different parties an incentive to reach a compromise now and work on a long-term solution over the next several years.

City of Detroit

Service interruptions: At the request of City Councilmember Angela Whitfield-Calloway, the City of Detroit Legislative Policy Division sent a request to DTE Energy to issue a moratorium on utility shutoffs for one year. This followed a report that showed the utility disconnected power 208,000 times between April 2020 and December 2021, surpassing other investor-owned utilities in the state. (Outlier/ProPublica)


Big money: Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed SB 565, the $4.7 billion infrastructure bill that will direct large amounts of money towards wastewater and stormwater systems, drinking water projects, state parks, and public transit. However, the bill relies largely on federal stimulus money and isn’t likely to cover all of Michigan's problems with aging and neglected infrastructure. “If we spent every year like this, I think we could fix our system,” said Lance Binoniemi, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. “But we aren’t going to see years like this every year.” (Great Lakes Now)

Sunblock: The nonprofit Michigan Environmental Council hosted a town hall calling for action on HB 4236, which would lift the cap on distributed power generation, including rooftop solar. Currently, utilities are only required to issue credits for energy put back on the grid by a distributed power equivalent to 1% of their peak energy load, although some companies have raised this to 2% or 3%. The bill has bipartisan support but is being blocked by Rep. Joe Bellino, the House Energy Committee chair. Since 2016, Bellino has received $11,000 from DTE Energy.

Water equity: House bills 5890, 5891, and 5892 would help rural and disadvantaged communities access funds for water infrastructure, like the funding going to municipalities through the $4.7 billion infrastructure bill. A report by the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and the University of Michigan found that between 2011 and 2020, revolving drinking water funding was less likely to go to smaller and more racially diverse communities. (MLive)

Buried trouble: A recently introduced bill, SB 0991, looks to limit the installation of underground storage tanks near public water wells. Michigan has an estimated 8,000 leaky underground storage tanks, and there was recently a high profile leak from a nearly century-old storage tank into the Huron River in Flat Rock. (Bridge, WXYZ)

‘Advanced recycling’: Senate Bill 954 looks to amend Part 115 of the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to redefine some “advanced recycling” practices for plastic waste as manufacturing, exempting them from laws governing solid waste. Industry advocates say the rule change could divert materials from landfills. However, many environmental groups oppose the legislation and State Sen. Rosemary Bayer said the chemical industry is trying to “avoid environmental regulation” that comes with solid waste laws. (MLive)

Feedback: Michigan is asking for input on its new Environmental Justice Mapping and Screening Tool. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) says the tool can help identify areas disproportionately impacted by environmental threats but encourages residents to reach out about anything that may be missing from its current iteration. (MI Radio)

Federal Policy

Future bus: The Dearborn School District will receive $300,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to purchase an electric school bus. The grant is part of $7 million American Rescue Plan funds sent to underserved communities to replace diesel buses.

Assessing pollution: The EPA awarded the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community $75,000 as part of its Environmental Justice Small Grants program. The money will be used to identify current and legacy environmental pollutants, perform an environmental risk assessment and disseminate project findings. “This EPA EJ funding opportunity will assist KBIC with the completion of a health risk assessment focusing on environmental contaminants,” Kim Klopstein, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community president, said in a press release. “This study will analyze the impacts of risk values set for the general population that are not reflective of our tribal lifeways and those members who rely on the environment to hunt, fish, and gather.”

Student grants: Michigan State University students received funds from the EPA to make water and oil-resistant paper coatings to eliminate the use of toxic PFAS chemicals in the waste stream. This was one of three grants totaling roughly $300,000 sent to students working on strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of PFAS and other contaminants.

Michigan Public Service Commission News

Low-Income workgroup: The Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates private utilities, recently started a Low Income Workgroup to address issues like reducing the energy burden or the percentage of household income spent on energy bills. A recent meeting featured presentations documenting the histories of environmental advocates in underserved communities, Michigan’s Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Strategy, and the Leading With Equity Initiative. (Detroit Documenters)


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