Snyder vs. Bernero on the Environment

  • Democrat Virg Bernero and Republican Rick Snyder are running for governor in Michigan.

Michigan’s next governor will have a lot of influence over what happens to our farms and lakes and state parks. Today we’re taking a look at the two major party candidates for governor, and how they compare on some of the big environmental issues.

Virg Bernero’s environment page

Rick Snyder’s environment page


Republican Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero actually agree on a few things. They both say the Asian carp is bad and the Chicago shipping locks should be closed to keep them out of Lake Michigan. They both want to limit urban sprawl, and they both want Michigan to become a manufacturing hub for wind and solar power.

In a surprise move, the non-partisan group Michigan League of Conservation Voters endorsed both candidates in their respective primaries.

“This was the first time the Michigan LCV has ever endorsed a gubernatorial candidate on the Republican side of the ticket.”

That’s Ryan Werder. He’s the groups political director.

“We endorsed Rick in the primary because he demonstrates real commitment to Michigan’s environment and he has a standing history of working on conservation issues.”

Werder admits it can be hard to evaluate someone who’s never held public office. He says Virg Bernero, on the other hand, voted in step with the LCV’s positions 87 percent of the time when he was in the legislature.

Bernero calls himself one of the greenest mayors in the state.

“I’m not going to put up with long term damage of the environment for short term gain. Whether it’s factory farms or mining or anything else. We’re going to look at the long term implications of every use of our environment.”

The League of Conservation Voters has not endorsed either candidate in the general election.

Other groups have clearly favored one candidate over the other. Virg Bernero’s gotten the endorsement of the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action.

Rick Snyder has been endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau’s political action committee.

Wayne Wood is the Farm Bureau’s president. He says he likes that Rick Snyder is in favor of the current program of voluntary environmental standards that’s in place for farmers.

“His support of that recognizes we can do more for the environment by creating incentives than we can by using the stick if you will.”

During a call-in program on Michigan Radio, Rick Snyder said the regulatory system in Lansing is broken.

“My goal is to switch that system from penalizing people and using it as a back door revenue source to saying how do you treat people as if they’re good honest people and how do you help them win compliance, and then the bad people, you really go after those people.”

But Snyder’s position on regulation worries some environmental groups.

Anne Woiwode is the state director of the Sierra Club. She says she’s concerned about pollution from the state’s several hundred concentrated animal feeding operations – sometimes called factory farms. She says they’re already poorly regulated.

“We’re extremely nervous that Mr. Snyder’s position right now appears to be one of rolling back protections of public health, food and water quality and air quality that would be the result of moving to a voluntary system for regulating agriculture particularly for these massive operations.”

Repeated attempts to schedule an interview with Rick Snyder were unsuccessful.

Another controversial issue is whether to build new coal fired power plants. The Detroit Free Press reported Rick Snyder wants to fast track permits for new coal plants.

Bernero says Michigan needs to be more energy efficient, but he won’t rule out new coal plants as long as they’re cleaner than the old plants.

“The real question is if we can’t get enough with reduction and with different renewable energies are we better off with newer coal technologies than the old plants?”

What either candidate would actually do as governor is still not entirely clear. The environment has not been a strong campaign issue on the stump. In their one and only general election debate, the environment did not come up at all.

Rebecca Williams, The Environment Report.