Our Daily Planet: Midterm election watch On Michigan, Plus a Quick News Roundup
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, October 22nd, 2018

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We all can make a difference.  Please help The Last Weekend to Get Out The Vote (GOTV) in these last crucial weeks before the Nov. 6th election. There are several crucial races in Michigan (see below) that NEED YOUR HELP.   Please click here if you’re able to volunteer!   Share this link with your friends too — see how many you can recruit to help!  And in many other swing states, you can even help turn out voters by sending texts — sign up here.  Build the Wave is launching a campaign to send 1 million texts for 25 congressional candidates in 2018’s most critical races, including in Michigan.  

 What Are The Issues?  Why Environment Matters

Foggy Mackinac Bridge – Mackinaw City, Michigan.
Today, Our Daily Planet focuses on Michigan, where climate change, conservation, and environmental issues will matter in the closest swing races in the 2018 midterms. President Trump won Michigan by only 10,704 votes.  Michigan is literally defined by the Great Lakes which provide its borders and its recognizable “thumbprint” shape.  The state’s economy early on was built on the resource-intense furniture, steel, iron, and chemical industries due to abundant supplies of hardwoods, ores, and mineral salts. Agriculture in the state also thrived because of the state’s fertile soils and temperate climate.

More recently, however, Michigan’s many lakes, streams, forests, dunes, wetlands, and beautiful landscapes support a booming tourism industry.  Moreover, Michigan is best known for being the home of the U.S. auto industry.  According to MLive.com,  Michigan is the top state when it comes to auto manufacturing

So as Michigan transitions to a more sustainable economy — dependent upon manufacturing cleaner cars and using renewable energy as well as on tourism — green issues are at the center of the political debate there.


 Environmental Threats

Michigan’s gravest environmental threat in recent years has been the Flint Water Crisis, where cost-cutting measures and aging infrastructure led to contaminated drinking water that was chock full of toxins in one of America’s poorest city.  As CNN reported, tests in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water at residents’ homes. Lead consumption can affect the heart, kidneys, and nerves. Health effects of lead exposure in children include impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty. While public officials have vowed to fix this, just this past October several schools in Detroit’s school district tested positive for excessively high levels of lead and other toxins. The ongoing drinking water crisis is one of the most tragic examples of environmental injustice in America–prompting a debate in this nation about whether clean drinking water is a human right or a privilege

Here are some other environmental threats that Michigan faces:
  • Invasive Asian carp were first brought to the US in the 1970s to help clean commercial ponds but escaped captivity and have been wreaking havoc on the ecology of waterways where they spread. While there has been bipartisan political action to close dams entry points and prevent the carp from making it into Lake Michigan, carp have been spotted in the lake. Efforts to minimize their spread are crucial to the health of Lake Michigan. 
  • Harmful algal blooms or (HABs) have become more frequent in the Great Lakes in recent years and are a result of massive amounts of agricultural runoff from farms. these blooms threaten the health of people and Lake Michigan as well as the economy that depends on a healthy lake. 
  • The Enbridge 5 pipeline is controversial agreement with the State of Michigan to rebuild an extremely old and worn section of their Line 5 pipeline that runs through the Straights of Mackinac at the top of the Upper Peninsula. A rupture of the Line 5 pipeline would cause devastating impacts to Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  The local non-profit fighting to shut down the Line 5 pipeline recently released a new short film about the risks and impacts of such a spill.  You can watch it here
  • Reliance on fossil fuels is high in Michigan and results in a per capita emissions of greenhouse gasses more than 20% higher than the national average. This reliance on fossil fuels also results in pollution and health and economic impacts.

 Climate Change Threats

The 2010 Meridian Fire burned thousands of acres of Huron-Manistee National Forest in Michigan. Photo: Michigan Climate Action Network
According to the Michigan Climate Climate Action Network, warmer temperatures are making air quality worse, and allowing vector-borne diseases to spread. The average temperature in the United States has gone up nearly 1.6 degrees while in Michigan, it has gone up 1.78 degrees, making it the 16th highest increase among the lower 48 states. Warming has been especially high in the northwest Lower Peninsula, which since 1988 has experienced a 2.16-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase.
  • During the summers, Michigan has been experiencing more extreme heat days (the number heatwaves has tripled compared to the long-term average), which lessens air quality and makes breathing difficult for residents with respiratory problems, and is particularly hard on poor residents who cannot afford air conditioning. Additionally, increased use of air conditioning can overload Michigan’s electric grid and cause power outages. 
  • Growing average temperatures have also caused an increase in heavy rainfall. Very heavy rain events (the heaviest 1 percent of storms) now drop 31 percent more precipitation in the Midwest than they did 50 years ago. Increased heavy rain causes more flooding, erosion, agricultural runoff into waterways and decreases water quality throughout Michigan which poses a risk to human health. 
  • Climate change also threatens Michigan’s forests and heat damage is posing a major stress to trees which are a crucial carbon sink as well as an important natural water filtration system. Warmer temperatures also increase the range for invasive insects and scientists worry that Michigan’s forests will also face an increased risk of massive wildfires.

 What Can Be Done?

Photo: Virginia Lozano/Michigan Daily 
Safe Drinking Water: Michigan can’t just rely on billionaires like Elon Musk to fix the state’s water and environmental crises.  But Flint residents do not trust government officials because, as the ACLU explained, the law that caused the drinking water contamination has not been repealed, or even amended since the crisis was uncovered. And those in government who were responsible for causing the problem have not been held accountable by the legal justice system. Michigan’s new governor will need to change the state law that caused the Flint water crisis (which many residents say is still ongoing) and ensure that the state’s low-income African-American communities get the safe drinking water they deserve.

Clean Air and Climate Change:  Michigan voters can elect leaders that will support the Obama Administration’s clean car standards, which have provided Michigan with tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and which make a huge contribution to clearing the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions nationwide.

Invasive Species and Algal Blooms:  On the federal level, last year President Donald Trump’s proposed a federal budget that would have gutted funding for efforts to block Asian carp and other invasive species from the world’s largest body of fresh surface water and would cut funding for programs to reduce agricultural runoff that causes algal blooms. New leaders can work for increased federal funding for the environmental protection of the great lakes.

Enbridge Pipeline:  Environmental groups urge the closure of the current pipeline — let Enbridge run gas through Canada.  They argue that there is little benefit to this pipeline for Michigan residents. The new Governor can shut down the pipeline with the stroke of a pen.  

Voter Suppression:  As Mother Jones reported, Michigan has some of the least voter-friendly election laws in the country, which make it hard for poorer residents who are disproportionately impacted by pollution and unsafe drinking water to vote.  But there are initiatives on the 2018 ballot to enact automatic and Election Day registration, along with nonpartisan redistricting. These are measures that Democratic candidate for Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, supports.  Her opponent, Republican  Mary Treder Lang. opposes the ballot measures and has credited voter purging with electing President Trump in 2016 by giving him his 10,000-vote victory.

The Environmental Voter Project is actively working to get voters who prioritize the environment to the polls. They are completely non-partisan and volunteering with them is as easy as using your phone to text GOTV reminders. Sign their Environmental Voter Pledge here or sign up to volunteer here

 Green Job Opportunities

The 161.3-MW Pine River Wind Energy Center in Gratiot and Isabella counties, Michigan. 
Michigan is a state with serious renewable energy potential and the jobs that come along with it. According to the EIA, winds that sweep across the Great Lakes provide the state with substantial offshore wind energy resources. Dams on the state’s rivers provide hydroelectric power despite the generally level terrain and relatively small size of many of the rivers. With half of the state’s land area covered in forests, and its many cities and large towns providing municipal solid waste and landfill gas, Michigan has considerable biomass resources. Overall, renewable resources contribute about 8% of Michigan’s net electricity generation. Estimates of Michigan’s potential generating capacity from wind have increased with improved technologies and Michigan is among the top 15 states in the nation in terms of installed wind capacity and wind generation. While solar energy hasn’t caught up to that yet, there are a number of solar projects (as well as over 18,000 residential installations) throughout the state. 

Snapshot of solar and wind jobs in Michigan:
  • Wind Jobs: 3,000
  • 26 Wind Manufacturing Facilities in 2017
  • Solar Jobs: 4,134
  • 31 Solar Manufacturers in 2018
Why Renewables Matter in Michigan: Shifting to renewable energy in Michigan could be done in a way that creates 150,000 jobs, saves more than 1,700 lives per year and saves the average Michigander close to $11,000 each year, according to one analysis.  A government commitment to require more renewable energy would provide a real boost. State Rep. Yousef Rabhi introduced a bill last week that would require all of Michigan utilities’ energy to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2050. 

 Who’s Willing To Do Something About It?

From L-R clockwise: House Candidates Haley Stevens, Elissa Slotkin, and Gretchen Driskell and Gubernatorial Candidate Gretchen Whitmer
There are three Michigan candidates running for seats in the US House of Representatives who are in tight races and helping volunteer with their campaign could make the difference in electing a candidate who will fight for Michigan’s environment, clean energy, and environmental justice issues. 
  • Gretchen Driskell (MI-07), help volunteer for her campaign here
  • Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), help volunteer for her campaign here
  • Haley Stevens (MI-11), help volunteer for her campaign here
The League of Conservation Voters has endorsed Driskell, Slotkin, and Stevens saying: 
  • “Gretchen Driskell and Elissa Slotkin are tireless public servants and strong environmental allies, they understand the importance of protecting the Great Lakes and will fight to grow Michigan’s outdoor recreation and clean energy economies. In Michigan, we are blessed with so many natural treasures, from our beautiful parks and forests to the Great Lakes. Yet too many in our state still struggle to access to clean air and clean water on a daily basis. [They] are both dynamic new leaders who every Michigander can trust to always fight to protect our families, our communities and our environment. 
  • “Haley Stevens knows firsthand from helping save Michigan’s auto industry by building cleaner cars just how reducing pollution and growing our economy can go hand in hand. She will never stop fighting for Michigan families and will work tirelessly to create more good-paying clean energy jobs. We need that kind of common sense leadership in Washington and that is why we are proud to endorse her campaign. “
In Michigan’s gubernatorial raceDemocratic candidate, Gretchen Whitmer, had previously vowed to shut down Line 5 if she’s elected, but her Republican opponent, state Attorney General Bill Schuette, supports the tunnel agreement, which has been negotiated by the current Governor, Rick Snyder, a Republican. Environmental groups and Native American Tribes are opposed to the tunnel, preferring a diversion away from the lakes entirely. Whitmer aslo pledges to protect the Great Lakes and to improve the drinking water infrastructure in the state.  Take a look at her campaign video below:
Michigan Gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer on the importance of water to her state
There are also many other races this year that matter at the state and local level in Michigan. If you are a Michigan voter or know one, forward them this list of the green candidates up and down the Michigan ballot endorsed by the Sierra Club

 Environmental News Roundup

Environmental Stories Happening Now: 
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