Environment Nearly Absent From State of the State

  • Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

In his second State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder did not spend a lot of time talking about the environment. But he did say that agriculture, tourism, mining and the timber industry are key to the state’s future.

He also talked about his push to overhaul the state’s regulatory system.

“So far we’ve rescinded nearly 400 obsolete, confusing and burdensome regulations.”

Now… those 400 regulations are not all environmental. But Governor Snyder did call out one set of rules that was on the books.

“The Department of Environmental Quality has 28 separate requirements for outhouses, including a requirement that the seat not be left up.” (laughter)

That was the best punch line of the evening. But of course, there’s a serious undertone to the Governor’s plans for overhauling the way the state regulates businesses.

Jason Geer is with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. He says the Chamber would like to see some limits on the ability of state agencies to make new rules.

“You know, put some limits on how those rules come out. Just to make sure the business community has a little bit of a bigger seat at the table on how those rules come out at the end of the day.”

Geer says he’d like to see state agencies speed up the process of issuing environmental permits.

James Clift is the policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. He’s been part of a committee advising the Governor on changes to state regulations.

“Some regulation is needed to protect public health and the environment – make sure we’re moving forward, but making sure that it’s done in an area that’s smart and gets solutions to some of the problems we see out there.”

Clift says his committee has submitted a report to the Governor… so we’ll be hearing about those regulatory changes any day now.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

Consumers Energy is wrapping up the initial phase of its first wind farm. Construction of the 100 mega-watt farm began last fall. Lindsey Smith reports Consumers plans to have the wind farm operating by the end of this year:

The project is known as the Lake Winds Energy Park. Since construction began last fall, workers have built about half of the large bases for 58 utility sized wind turbines.

Dennis Marvin is a spokesman for the New Generation Group at Consumers Energy. He says Lake Winds Energy Park is not really a park… the project spans 30 square miles in rural Mason County…about 90 miles north of Grand Rapids.

“Some of the wind projects that you might see on television or on the web where all the turbines line up next to each other – it doesn’t work that way.”

Marvin says the area has enough wind to support a farm. But he says the availability of transmission lines there made all the difference in choosing that location. Transmission lines can get the power from turbines into the electrical grid.

“The best wind in Michigan is in the thumb area and that’s why most of the wind development is occurring in the thumb but what they lack is adequate transmission capacity to support all the wind development.”

Consumers is building an even bigger wind farm in the thumb area. That wind farm is supposed to come online in three years. And Consumers is planning a third wind farm too – they plan to have that one up and running in ten years.

Meanwhile, a court battle over the Lake Winds Energy Park is not over. Earlier this month a Mason County Circuit Court judge heard arguments in a case filed against Consumers Energy and Mason County.

A group of citizens claim there wasn’t enough notice to the public about the project. They also raise legal concerns about special zoning permits authorizing the wind farm.

It’s unclear when the judge will rule in the case. The group has filed an injunction to stop construction of the farm…but that decision is also pending.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

Meanwhile, in northern Michigan, Duke Energy says it’s scrapping its plans for a wind farm in Benzie and Manistee counties. The company says it doesn’t have a buyer for the electricity.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.