Senate Republicans introduce energy legislation

On July 1st, Senator Nofs introduced a new package of bills that puts the interests of corporations over the health of Michigan citizens. Despite a broad base of support for renewable energy and energy efficiency in Michigan, these bills eliminate the state’s current renewable energy and energy optimization standards and redefine clean energy to include sources of energy that are dangerous to the environment and public health, such as industrial waste and coal.  

The bills, SB437 and SB438, would alter Michigan’s current energy policy and have the potential to hurt the growth of advanced energy in the state. If these bills are passed, the renewable energy portfolio and energy optimization investments that have helped to save money for ratepayers while also creating billions of dollars in investments to our state would phase out by 2018. According to this legislation, any form of energy generation, including coal, would be considered “clean” as long as the plant was not in violation of any environmental pollution control requirements.  This means that there would be no mandate for companies to use clean, renewable sources for energy, creating an atmosphere in which they would be free to maintain their status quo of producing and burning hazardous fossil fuels.

Under this plan, utilities would be required to complete an Integrated Resource Plan to outline how they’ll generate energy for the state in the future, but without specific mandates, utilities are unlikely to make any significant investments in either efficiency or renewables. We have already seen evidence from other states that the elimination of specific requirements and a sole reliance on utilities to develop their own plans results a downturn in in clean energy generation.

From a public health perspective, Senator Nofs’s bills are dangerous for the safety and wellbeing of Michigan residents. Redefining clean energy to include dirty sources like coal and hazardous waste will result in an increase in adverse health outcomes. The burning of coal releases toxic chemicals in to the air, such as mercury, arsenic and particulate matter. Coal pollutants affect all major body organ systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of death in the U.S.,  including cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, heart disease, and stroke. In addition, Michigan’s asthma rates are already 10 percent higher than the national average. Allowing the burning of hazardous waste and coal will only increase the number of asthma sufferers in the state. We need legislation that will reduce pollution, not make it worse.

The Ecology Center and the health professionals we collaborate with will be speaking out against this dangerous plan, and providing evidence that continued coal pollution will damage the health of our communities and natural resources. The energy debate will be heating up this summer and fall, with ongoing hearings and debates about the proposed legislation. We’ll continue to keep you updated as things develop and what you can do to support renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public health.