Policy Tracker: Sierra Club opposes a bill to codify Michigan’s carbon credit program

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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.

Please let us know if we're hitting the mark.

And as always, please forward to a friend who you think might be interested and encourage them to subscribe to our newsletter.

– Nina at Planet Detroit

On to the policy update:


A bill in the Michigan House would codify the Department of Natural Resources’ carbon credit program, which was rolled out in 2020 in the Pigeon River State Forest in the northern Upper Peninsula. House Bill 6067 wouldn’t dramatically change the program, although it would clarify that any funds raised will go to the Forest Development Fund.

Scott Whitcomb, director of the Office of Public Lands for the DNR, told Michigan Climate News it could also open the door to monetizing other activities, like selling credits for filter strips that the agency might plant to treat runoff.

Carbon credits allow companies to purchase offsets for some of their greenhouse emissions by paying for programs to plant trees, protect forests or safeguard other ecosystems that sequester carbon. These offsets are frequently part of companies’ “net zero” or “carbon neutrality” pledges. But environmental advocates have criticized these programs because it’s very difficult to quantify how much carbon an ecosystem can sequester, CO2 can be released if there is a fire, flood, or other disruption, and, even under a best-case scenario, trees and other plants will only hold onto carbon until the end of their lifespan. This means that even well-devised offsets would still be kicking the can for climate heating emissions onto future generations.

Michigan’s program raises other questions because it’s based on preserving existing forests rather than planting new trees. Tim Minotas with the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter says the DNR puts forward the most aggressive timber harvesting program allowed by state law and then sells carbon credits to cancel it out. But while Minotas and others have questioned the likelihood of such aggressive logging, Whitcomb says the agency had been planning on this sort of activity in the Pigeon River forest because it was previously logged around the turn of the last century and trees are now ready for harvest.

The Michigan Sierra Club also cited the sale of credits to DTE energy in their testimony opposing HB 6067, which purchased credits through the original pilot program with the DNR. The group says utilities shouldn’t be allowed to participate in these programs because it allows them to continue polluting “while touting offsets that deliver far fewer benefits than advertised,” adding that money generated by the program should go to communities like those in southeast Michigan where the bulk of DTE’s pollution occurs.

However, Whitcomb told Michigan Climate News that the Forest Development Fund is “fairly broad” and that some of the money could be used to build out renewable energy on state land. Still, it’s unclear if much of this money would go towards urban communities in the state that deal with pollution, although there may be room to accommodate investments in these areas through the DNR’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

It’s also possible that some of this money could go back into developing more land for logging. The bill states, "The sale does not prevent or restrict continued land management as outlined by the department’s land management plans or strategies.”

This appears to leave the possibility that the overall level of logging on state lands could remain the same, potentially offsetting the offsets. Whitcomb says that the nonprofit American Carbon Registry, which will be issuing the state program credits, has guidelines to prevent this sort of “leakage.” But it’s unclear if anything in HB 6067 would reduce logging or if it actually ensures a business-as-usual scenario.

Minotas stressed that the Michigan Sierra Club wasn’t totally opposed to carbon credit programs but that these should be reserved for industries like air travel that may have an especially difficult time decarbonizing.

More state policy updates:

Protecting wells: The Michigan House is considering a bill passed by the state Senate that would place limitations on underground storage tanks, often used for gasoline. SB 991 would prohibit the installation of a tank within 2000 feet of community and non-community wells that serve more than 25 people or 15 housing units, among other restrictions.

American woodcock: The House continues to mull over legislation that would direct the state’s Department of Natural Resources to create a plan for restoring woodcock populations. HB 5631 could carry some costs for the DNR, and no additional funding is provided in the bill, so the agency would have to use existing appropriations. Michigan is an important breeding ground for the chubby, long-beaked birds, also hunted.

Boating week: House lawmakers passed Resolution 313, declaring June 4-12 Boating and Fishing Week in Michigan. It’s unclear if this will apply in future years or if the state only gets one boating week. “Whereas, In Michigan, recreational boaters are never farther than 6 miles from a lake or stream. Michigan has 11,037 inland lakes and ponds and 36,350 miles of rivers and streams…” the resolution reminds us.

No more wildernesses: State Sen. Ed McBroom introduced Senate Resolution 150 to push back against the designation of additional lands as national wilderness areas in the Upper Peninsula. The U.S. Congress designates these areas, but the resolution asks various federal lawmakers not to adopt new wilderness areas in light of hunting, timber harvesting, and other activities.

Rural drinking water: House Bills 5890, 5891, and 5892 to help rural communities access state drinking water funds have passed the House and are being considered by the State Senate. Analysis from the Senate Fiscal Agencies found the bills could reduce local governments' costs and require the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to create scoring criteria that prioritize projects in overburdened communities. (Daily Mining Gazette)

Nuclear future: HB 6019, which would study the potential for nuclear energy and potentially new nuclear plants in the state, has passed the House and moved on to the Senate. State Rep. Graham Filler, who sponsored the legislation, says smaller reactors and new safety features make nuclear power an energy source the state should explore. However, the Sierra Club opposes the legislation, saying wind and solar are safer and cheaper ways to generate power. (Planet Detroit, MLive)

Asking for oversight: Environmental groups, including the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, sent a petition to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate the U.S. utility industry for engaging in unfair practices that harm clean energy competitors and consumers. Both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are named as companies that use political lobbying and other means to undermine rooftop solar. (MI Radio)

Federal policy updates:

All tomorrow’s spills: Michigan Senator Gary Peters introduced legislation to strengthen federal pipeline safety and improve oil spill cleanup. The Preventing Releases of Toxic Environment Contaminants Threatening Our Great Lakes (PROTECT) Act would mandate better oil spill detection and allow external funding for a new center on oil spill cleanup that will be located in Michigan. In the last two decades, Michigan has seen a major oil spill at an Enbridge pipeline near Kalamazoo and two anchor strikes at the company’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. (MI Radio)

A lot of SO2: The Biden administration sued the DTE-owned EES Coke Battery facility on Zug Island for violating the Clean Air Act by increasing sulfur dioxide beyond allowable limits. In 2018, the plant emitted 3,200 tons of SO2 while it was only permitted to release 2,100. The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to fine the plant up to $109,024 a day and take actions to mitigate the health and environmental harms caused by the pollution. (Detroit News)

Public comment: The EPA announced a 45-day comment period, which started June 1, for the new Federal Implementation Plan to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution in Detroit. The federal plan proposes limits on U.S. Steel’s emissions, building on reductions from other downriver power plants and manufacturing facilities.

Brownfields: The Biden administration issued 6 Brownfield grants in Michigan totaling $4 million, including $2 million for EGLE to perform 110 environmental assessments and develop three reuse plans. EGLE will be targeting its efforts in the cities of Flint, Detroit, Benton Harbor, and Escanaba.

One down: The EPA and other agencies completed their cleanup and restoration of the Muskegon Lake Area of Concern. The cleanup area included several other lakes and waterways polluted with oil, lead, mercury, and other contaminants from years of heavy industry. This was one of 26 remaining areas of concern in the Great Lakes Basin.

Water quality: The state of Michigan will receive $281,000 from the EPA to set up a beach monitoring and notification program to help track bacteria, alert the public about dangers and identify pollution sources.

Get the money: EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore is encouraging Michigan school districts to apply for part of the $500 million made available for zero-emission school buses. Diesel air pollution is associated with asthma and other problems that heavily impact communities of color and cause students to miss school.

Executive action on renewables: President Biden used the Defense Production Act the U.S. production to expand the production of solar panel parts, building insulation, heat pumps, power grid infrastructure, and other components for accelerating the transition to renewable energy.

At the Michigan Public Service Commission:

Energy assistance: The Michigan Public Service Commission is evaluating its Low-Income Income Energy Assistance Fund (LIEAF), which provides energy assistance and other support to Michigan households that meet specific income requirements. LIEAF raises as much as $50 million a year through a monthly charge capped at $1 per meter. Last year’s surcharge was 87 cents. The MPSC must set next year’s charge no later than July 31.

Consumer choice: DTE Energy secured a waiver to use two updated studies for its long-range generation plan. But the MPSC denied a request to extend the deadline for modeling 50% of its retail choice load from 2023 to 2027. Citing warnings of power shortfalls from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the commission says rising prices could make consumer choice more likely for the utility.

Distributed power: The MPSC held a second hearing on distributed generation on June 22. The MPSC has proposed updates to distributed generation rules to increase the transition from centralized power plants to small energy sources like solar. Input may be emailed to mpscedockets@michigan.gov.

Upcoming meetings: Additional in-person and online meetings are listed on the MPSC webpage. These include meetings for the Low-Income Energy Policy Board, Renewable Natural Gas Study Workgroup, and Energy Waste Reduction Low-Income Workgroup. We aim to help keep you up-to-date on the latest state and federal government policies impacting


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