Can Michigan move forward with fighting climate change after SCOTUS decision?

CO2 2022/2021 : 420.21 ppm / 417.21 ppm

Dear Michigan Climate News readers,

The U.S. Supreme court took a cudgel to the federal government's ability to administratively regulate carbon. In the absence of congressional action, can states go it alone?

In other news, DTE Energy is at it again with the dark money campaigns — this time in California and Michigan. Cherries may become a thing of the past in Michigan. And the Great Lakes are growing.

Keep your chin up!

— Nina Ignaczak, Editor of Michigan Climate News

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Disorder in the court: In a 6-to-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can’t regulate carbon emissions from power plants, making it much more difficult for the country to respond to the climate crisis. David Wallace-Wells opined that the decision was more “gloom than doom” because it applies to powers the EPA is not currently using. The ruling doesn’t fully limit the agency’s ability to regulate emissions but would require Congress to grant explicit powers to the EPA for controlling specific pollutants. States like Michigan could pick up some of the slack by requiring utilities to reduce emissions. However, such a piecemeal approach is not a substitute for federal action and environmental advocates warn the decision could open up many other federal rules to legal challenges. Not that the court is likely to need much encouragement. Following rulings to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion and to expand gun rights, the court seems intent on pursuing an increasingly counter-majoritarian agenda. This includes plans to consider a case that could give state legislatures sole authority over how federal elections are conducted, potentially paving the way for extreme partisan gerrymandering or increased voting restrictions. The move could help cement Republican control at the state and local level, imperiling climate action and perhaps the republic itself. (NY Times, New Yorker, MI Radio, MLive, Politico, WaPo, Insider)

DTE’s long reach: Apparently unsatisfied with just swaying politics in its home state, DTE Energy appears to be trying to influence California’s climate policies by advocating for largely unproven carbon capture technology, using two 501(c)(3) organizations to do so. These groups aren’t required to disclose their funding sources, but their management includes DTE employees and they’ve frequently pushed the company’s interests. DTE seems to be motivated by its ownership of “biomass” plants in the state that burn woody waste to generate power. These plants can be significant sources of pollution for communities that host them and they generate carbon emissions. Yet research, which received funding from the DTE-backed organizations, claims that carbon capture can be used to store emissions from the plants underground in regions like the San Joaquin Delta east of Oakland. DTE has a track record of using dark money nonprofits to sway legislators in Michigan and may be associated with a new front group led by Republican state Rep. Joe Bellino and House Energy Committee chair to sway voters this election season. (LA Times, Guardian, Crain’s Detroit, Energy and Policy Institute)

Long-range forecast: Researchers predict Great Lakes water levels could continue to rise over the coming decades with Lake Superior levels rising 7.5 inches over 2010-2019 levels by 2050, Lake Erie by 11 inches, and Lakes Michigan and Huron by 17.3 inches. Pengfei Xue, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University, used computer modeling to make these long term predictions. “We were able to develop a coupled modeling system that not only accounts for the interactions between the lakes, atmosphere and surrounding land, but also presented a more realistic and accurate representation of the Great Lakes hydrodynamic processes in climate modeling,” he said. Climate change is considered a major driver for these changes, creating increased precipitation in the region as well as periods of dryness that could cause water levels to dip. (Great Lakes Now, WaPo)

‘Strong step’: The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a settlement that would see Consumers Energy end its coal-fired power generation within three years and accelerate a rollout of solar generation and battery storage. “Today’s approval is a strong step towards the clean energy future Michigan needs, one that phases out coal-power this decade, avoids reliance on new fossil gas plants, and significantly invests in clean resources such as solar,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. But while Consumers is moving quickly to phase out coal, DTE Energy continues to run one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country, which it doesn’t plan to retire until 2040. (MLive, Freep)

Cherry capital, hold the cherries: The Grand Traverse area became a major producer of tart cherries in part because the water of Lake Michigan regulates temperatures, protecting trees from swings in temperature that can damage the crop. But in recent years, climate change has brought more extreme temperature variations, damaging yields. Invasive pests and competition from foreign cherry producers have further exacerbated the situation. Although 2022 is looking to be a good year for cherry producers, many growers are diversifying their farms, planting fruit like strawberries, raspberries, pears and plums to provide some insurance against years where one crop does poorly. Meanwhile, other growers are moving into agribusiness ventures like U-Pick orchards or selling to developers that pay a high price for land in places like the Old Mission Peninsula. (Northern Express)

Plans and planning: Kalamazoo has approved a sustainability plan that will push for things like ensuring year-round non-motorized transit, installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure, electrifying city fleet vehicles and promoting rooftop solar for new construction. An interdepartmental working group will track progress by measuring the number of trees planted and EV charging stations installed. The plan also looks to inventory carbon emissions to see if climate goals are being met. (MLive)

Climate haven? Discuss: An article in Crain’s pressed refresh on the debate over whether or not Michigan and other Great Lakes states are likely to become a climate haven for those fleeing hurricanes, wildfires, sea-level rise and heat in other parts of the country. But although “climigrants”, as they are dubbed here, are already coming in from places like Las Vegas and Boise as a result of water shortages and air quality concerns, cities may not be ready to receive large numbers of newcomers. Marquette, for example, has a shortage of affordable housing, and increasing development in rural areas could put pressure on Michigan’s agricultural sector. Great Lakes cities like Detroit and Chicago have their own climate problems like flooding and heat to deal with, while their residents, who are disproportionately people of color, struggle to access quality health care or affordable drinking water. A previous article pointed out that the region needs to do serious work to address issues like toxic algal blooms and contaminated drinking water before it can pitch itself as any sort of climate haven. (Crain’s, Bloomberg)

What questions do you have about the environment and climate change in Michigan? Please let us know by reaching out to me at or hit reply!


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