Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is strident on closing the Line 5 oil pipeline to protect the Great Lakes. Turns a blind eye to Lake Michigan by moving to keep a nuclear power plant open.
The puzzling moves on environmental protection continue from the administration of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She’s the progressive Democrat who ran for election on a strong environmental platform that was welcomed by the people of Michigan.
Recently Whitmer and the Republican controlled legislature agreed on a multi-billion dollar budget that included $1.7 billion for drinking water. That’s cause for applause. Most of the funding is found money leftover from federal Covid relief funding, so it won’t be available again. But it’s available now.
The drinking water portion is targeted at replacing lead service lines, eradicating PFAS and other water quality issues.
All good, right?
That puts Whitmer on track to keeping some of her water-related campaign promises. Well, except for the Benton Harbor water crisis where the USEPA had to intervene like it did in Flint in 2016 when Rick Snyder was governor.
But all that glittered in Michigan’s bi-partisan budget deal wasn’t gold. It included an undefined $50 million.
As budgets go, $50 million is a lot of money to not have a stated purpose. Turns out, the undefined line item was a subsidy to a private mining company that’s intended to jump start a potash mine. A project that will allow the taking of 725 million gallons of groundwater annually from an already sensitive area.
Tapping groundwater for a mining project is not progressive. It’s regressive, as is subsidizing an extraction project. That’s something a moderate Republican like Snyder would do.
Whitmer has teamed up with President Joe Biden’s energy secretary and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, on another less than progressive project. It’s an effort to secure funding to keep an aged nuclear power plant that borders Lake Michigan from shutting down.
The Palisades nuclear plant in SW Michigan is now 50 years old which is about the expected life of a nuclear plant and is scheduled to be shut down this year. The Whitmer-Granholm deal could extend its life until 2031.
The idea is that keeping the plant running will help Michigan meet its climate change goals, a top priority for Biden and Whitmer. Whitmer says the move is also to save high-paying union jobs. That’s probably an election year pitch for union votes, a constituency that struggles with some Whitmer policies. Whitmer made no mention that developing renewable energy will create high-paying jobs too.
Here’s the real head-scratcher.
Whitmer has been dogged on shutting down the old Enbridge oil pipeline that threatens the iconic Straits of Mackinac. That’s the right move and a progressive, forward-looking step that keeps her true to a campaign pledge to protect the Great Lakes. The issue is tied-up in the courts now and has an uncertain ending.
But she’s willing to extend the life of an aged nuclear power plant that’s literally on the shores of Lake Michigan. Like oil pipelines when they fail, a nuclear power plant failure can have disastrous results. One only has to look at a photo of the 50 year old Palisades plant abutting Lake Michigan to question its continued existence.
If Whitmer wanted to let the Palisades plant close but needed political cover, she only had to look to California. California, the undisputed leader in embracing climate change going back 10 years and more to the administration of former Gov. Jerry Brown.
California’s last nuclear plant is scheduled to shut down in 2024. So far, California’s progressive governor, Gavin Newsom, is letting that happen in spite of Granholm’s plea to keep it open. The community around the plant wants it shut down.
Shooting environmental layups
Whitmer seems to have pegged her environmental credibility to shutting down Line 5 and splashing money around the state for projects like replacing lead service lines.
Both are worthy endeavors but embracing them is like shooting layups, it’s easy. Press releases about spending billions of dollars make for popular headlines but it isn’t the hard and necessary work like environmental justice.
Whitmer made environmental justice a priority but she has failed. See Benton Harbor where Whitmer’s chief of the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) struggled to answer the simple question about the safety of the city’s drinking water.
And EGLE embraced the Snyder administration’s decision on taking water for bottled water. A decision made worse by subsidizing the water-sucking potash mine which is in the same area.
Whitmer wants Michigan to be seen as a state that leads, it’s a continuing thread in her statements and press releases.
If that’s the case, she should follow California’s lead and let the Palisades nuclear plant close.
Chicago-based environmental journalist