GOP launches "race to the bottom" for Michigan environment

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Republicans in the state legislature do not care about Michigan's people or its natural resources, charged labor and environmental activists in response to pending legislation designed to weaken the state's environmental protections.

At a July 26 press conference held on the shores of Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, representatives of the Blue Green Alliance and We Are the People explained that the Republican-authored HB 4326 and SB 272 would prohibit state agencies and government entities from adopting rules regarding environmental policy that are stronger than current federal law.

This "no stricter than a federal bill" rule ties the state's hands, Mike Berkowitz, a chapter organizer with the Michigan Sierra Club, said. He noted that deferring to federal law means that issues unique to the Great Lakes and the state will not receive special attention.

"This legislation sends a clear message that state politicians don't think the Great Lakes are worth protecting," he added.

Sue Levy, United Auto Workers Region 1D Community Action Program coordinator, said, "State politicians need to get their priorities straight."

The law would strip the state of its authority to protect natural resources as well as to guarantee important health and safety protections in the workplace for Michigan workers, unless those rules are already mandated by Washington.

"Instead of stripping important workplace and environmental protections, our elected leaders should focus on rebuilding our economy and creating jobs for working and middle-class families," Levy said.

Past experiences where state agencies moved on their own to address phosphorous and mercury poisoning in the Great Lakes show why these unique problems can't wait for Washington to notice them.

The specific needs of this state - protections for the environment and workers - cannot be left up to bickering Washington politicians, Berkowitz said, pointing to the current impasse over the debt ceiling.

"Racing to the bottom on environmental protection and worker safety isn't a jobs plan for Michigan," added Mark Schauer, national co-chair of the BlueGreen Alliance Jobs 21! campaign.

"In fact, it's the opposite. We need a 21st century plan to spur innovation, break our dependence on foreign oil, and protect workers. These proposals don't do that," Schauer said.

"Economies are built on their assets. Michigan has two great assets: its people and its natural resources," Schauer explained. "Economies that value those resources create the right incentives to grow new jobs needed in the 21st century. Michigan's is unique in its assets." Unfortunately, the speakers made clear, Republicans in the state government have shown they do not care about protecting those assets.

"We've got the best innovators in the world, the best workers in the world. The question is do we value them?" Schauer said.

He said that after eight years of serious attention to developing Michigan's green economy with new investments in solar, wind and biomass renewable energy sources, Republican efforts to scale back this innovation are already driving job creators out of the state. Last April, he noted, a Michigan-based company chose to open a solar-power equipment operation in Ontario rather than here in Michigan.

Republican policies are already driving out green jobs, Schauer suggested.

The law will also cost Michigan taxpayers more, according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency. It found the law would "increase the cost of processing administrative rules by the several departments and agencies."

Photo: Joel Wendland/PW.

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