What will it take for Michigan’s climate plan to succeed?

MICHIGAN POLICY UPDATE

With this monthly policy update, we aim to help keep you up-to-date on the latest state and federal government policies impacting climate and the environment in Michigan. Please let us know if we’re hitting the mark by emailing us at [email protected].


Environmental advocates say that for the state to meet its climate goals, it needs to require consumers to buy all-electric homes by 2035 and only allow electric vehicles to be sold by 2030. These policies are would help the state meet the goals set out in the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which looks to reduce emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and 52% by 2030 – and make the state carbon neutral by 2030.

The report, put out by the Michigan Environmental Council, 5 Lakes Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the research group RMI, lays out policies in several sectors, including housing, industry and transportation. Most ambitious recommendations focus on accelerating the transition to renewable energy by retiring all coal plants by 2030 and suspending the construction of new gas power plants.

The report says that implementing these policies would allow the state to reduce emissions by 94% from 2005 levels by 2050. Still, it emphasizes that aggressive climate action will be needed shortly to achieve these reductions. Notably, the report does not include any “carbon offsets,” i.e., pledges to plant trees or otherwise try and cancel out emissions. These are often included in climate pledges and have received criticism for enabling continued carbon pollution.

Key to the planned emission reductions is a recommendation to increase Michigan’s Renewable Energy Standard to require 60% of the state’s power to come from renewable sources by 2030. The standard is currently set to 15%.

Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, says wind is likely the most promising renewable source for the state – an increasingly inexpensive energy source that Michigan can either produce itself or import from the Great Plains. This option may soon be made easier and cheaper by planned improvements to the Midwest’s grid infrastructure. 

This emissions reduction model does include maintaining some existing nuclear facilities, but not the Palisades nuclear plant in West Michigan. This plant was recently closed, although some have advocated reopening it to meet state climate goals, among other things. The report also recommends that by 2040, natural gas facilities should only operate as “peaking” plants, delivering power during periods of high demand when other energy sources are insufficient.

Battery storage would also be essential to account for the intermittent nature of wind and solar. The report recommends increasing battery storage from 50 megawatts in 2020 to 16,000 MW by 2050. Another important factor is improving “demand response,” using pricing and other means to discourage customers from doing things like charging electric vehicles during times of high demand to avoid drawing on non-renewable backup power. 

The timing of all these recommendations could be critical. Jameson says federal money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act could decarbonize Michigan’s electrical grid and other sectors. However, this isn’t a foregone conclusion, even if Democrats perform well in the November election. Still, the existence of the MI Healthy Climate Plan itself and Whitmer’s promises to prioritize climate action is promising, she said.

“It’s really important to have the governor’s administration saying, ‘no, we’ve got to work on climate change,’” Jameson said. “Because otherwise, how do you get the trains on the tracks in Lansing to get something done?”

More state policy updates:

Seems bad: HB 6101, which would require septic inspections for houses being sold or transferred, received a hearing in the Michigan House last month. Michigan is the only state without a uniform code for septic systems, and it’s estimated that one in five systems could now be failing. Along with requiring inspections, the bill would compel property owners to fix or replace failing septic systems. Research shows human fecal contamination is higher in areas with more septic systems, putting people at risk of contracting diseases. (Bridge)

Nuclear study: The Legislature passed a bill to commission a study of nuclear power generation, sending it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk. HB 6019 would consider constructing new nuclear plants, including small modular reactors or SMRs. Proponents say these reactors would be safer and cheaper than conventional nuclear power plants. Still, opponents of nuclear power argue the falling cost of wind and solar generation makes them unnecessary. (Bridge)

Filter first: The Senate passed SB 184 and SB 185 to ensure all schools and childcare centers filter water for harmful contaminants, including lead. The legislation would require these facilities to have a drinking water safety plan, filtered bottle filling stations and faucets, and signage near outlets to show if the water is safe for human consumption. (MLive)

Mineral rush: Last month, the House discussed several bills to streamline permitting for mines and improve inspections for existing mines, which could provide materials for batteries and solar panels. House Bills 6218, 6220, 6254, 6255, 6257, 6258, 6388, and 6403 received some praise from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters for improving the inspection of old mines, although they criticized the failure to address recycling. “Not only must we work to prevent the environmental impacts of mining practices in Michigan, but we should maximize the reuse and recycling of materials before virgin materials are extracted,” the group writes in a blog post

Last call for recycling: Advocates hope to pass bipartisan bills in this year’s lame-duck session to modernize laws to encourage recycling and composting. The eight-bill package passed the House in 2021 but will expire at the end of this session if the Senate fails to act. Among other things, the bills would encourage regional cooperation when developing landfills, recycling and composting facilities, and institute standards for curbside pickups and convenient drop-off locations in larger communities. (MLive) 

Climate tax: In November, Ann Arbor voters will decide whether to approve a tax to fund the city’s “A2Zero” carbon-neutrality plan. If passed, the millage could generate an estimated $6.8 million annually to fund solar and geothermal energy investments, neighborhood resilience centers, energy efficiency upgrades, and an expansion of non-motorized transit corridors and public transportation. (MLive)

Federal policy updates:

Unreformed, for now: Progressive lawmakers and Republicans shot down plans for permitting reform, which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wanted to attach to a government funding package. This would have relaxed regulations for oil and gas projects, a move progressives resisted on environmental grounds, and Republicans opposed because the changes didn’t go far enough. However, Republicans were also likely getting payback for Manchin’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act. Still, environmental advocates warn permitting reform may resurface as part of another funding bill or the National Defense Authorization Act. (Vox)

At the Michigan Public Service Commission:

Explain yourself: The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) ordered a third-party audit of DTE Energy and Consumers Energy to address ongoing reliability and safety issues. MPSC chair Dan Scripps said this represents a new approach for holding utilities accountable that fail to deliver the kind of reliability that customers expect. “Ultimately, what will be needed are new regulations to financially penalize the utilities when they fail to perform as they should, but as we work toward those bigger reforms, CUB strongly supports actions like this order,” Amy Bandyk, executive director for the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB), said in a statement. (Planet Detroit)

“Low carbon” grants: Michigan is making $50 million available to nonprofits, governments and businesses for “low carbon” energy infrastructure projects that could include natural gas, renewable natural gas, or electrification projects. Although these grants could help build energy infrastructure in rural areas, the program has come in for criticism because it could help large, politically-connected utilities like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy finance projects. (Detroit News)

Renewable natural gas: The MPSC submitted a report to the state Legislature on renewable natural gas, i.e., gas captured from landfills or other places where organic materials are broken down, finding that it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it comes from sources where methane would otherwise be emitted. The report found renewable natural gas could replace between 8.5% and 22% of Michigan’s current gas usage. However, experts have cautioned that capturing and transporting renewable natural gas could be more expensive than current gas sources, money that might be better spent on more cost-competitive renewable energy. (Detroit News)

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