Advocates rally for clean energy as lawmakers continue to tweak legislation ⋆

Students, lawmakers and environmental activists from across the state gathered Tuesday on the Capitol steps, calling for climate action, environmental justice and clean energy policy. 

In recent weeks, members of the Democratic-led Legislature have heard testimony and made tweaks to clean energy policies, including a 100% carbon free standard for electricity generation, energy waste reduction, and a policy requiring Michigan’s energy regulator, the Michigan Public Service Commission, to prioritize equity, health, affordability and climate impacts when making regulatory decisions. 

State Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), who chairs the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, said the committee expects to vote on these bills “very soon.”

“These bills, I assure you, are only the beginning of our work, not the end,” McCann said. “We can and will make changes necessary here in Michigan, and I look forward to making that happen.”

Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.), who testified before the Senate Energy and Environment last week in support of her bill, Senate Bill 502, called for greater accountability from Michigan’s energy companies. 

“I know that many of the families in my district, especially in Ann Arbor, experienced terrible power around power outages this year. And it’s made us painfully aware the status quo is working for big utilities like DTE, but it’s not working for us,” Shink said. 

“My legislation will empower the Michigan Public Service Commission — that’s the board that regulates the big utilities — to take affordability, climate impacts, public health and equity into its decision making. The Michigan Public Service Commission has been fighting climate change with one hand tied behind its back and my bill will fix that,” Shink said. 

Environmental activists also warned against loosening the definition of clean energy sources when crafting policies to establish a carbon-free energy standard. 

At a Sept. 14 meeting of the Senate Energy and Environment committee, Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) gave updates on her Senate Bill 271, which would establish a 100% clean energy standard for the state, noting the original timeline to reach 100% renewable energy sources had shifted from 2035 to 2040. 

Changes also included provisions for carbon capture and storage and zero-carbon hydrogen technologies, and would grandfather in existing commercial biomass fuel plants as renewable sources when the bill takes effect.

Climate activists sit on the Capitol Building steps during a rally for clean energy policy on Sept. 26, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.) calls for greater accountability from Michigan’s energy companies at a really for clean energy policy on Sept. 26, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Andrew Kaplowitz, climate and energy justice lead for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice called on activists to support a strict definition of clean energy in proposed clean energy standard legislation. | Kyle Davidson

Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) said members of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee expect to vote on three clean energy bills “very soon.” | Kyle Davidson

Michael King, a Grand Valley State University Student and organizer for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters addresses a crowd on the Capitol steps on Sept. 26, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Lisa DelBuono, a retired doctor and the founder and president of Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action outlines the negative health impacts of climate change and air pollution. | Kyle Davidson


While some organizations called for a broader standard, environmental justice advocates testified in favor of the more aggressive standard. 

“The climate bills are being negotiated and they’re at risk of being gutted,” Andrew Kaplowitz, climate and energy justice lead for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice said during Tuesday’s rally.  

“We need to stand firm. We need to demand the strictest definition of renewable energy. That means wind. That means solar. That means geothermal and small-scale hydroelectric. We don’t want loopholes,” Kaplowitz said. 

Lisa DelBuono, a recently retired doctor and the founder of Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action highlighted the threats climate change poses to health, in addition to the ways clean energy sources could help alleviate the negative impacts of air pollution from energy generation. 

“Health professionals are seeing the impacts of climate change right now in their clinics and in the offices in the hospitals,” DelBuono said. “You see climate change acts as a threat multiplier. It takes preexisting conditions that we could previously manage very easily and often exacerbates them, sometimes into medical emergencies.”

“Any first responder will tell you that extreme weather events — whether it be heat, flooding, power outages due to storms — are offering tipping points for previously stable patients,” DelBuono said. 

However, a transition to clean energy would lead to cleaner air and water, particularly in cities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution, DelBuono said. 

“Cleaner air means fewer hospital admissions and tremendous, tremendous health care savings from avoided asthma attacks, heart attacks, avoided stillbirths and preterm deliveries, and fewer cases of lung cancer and dementia,” DelBuono said. “Simply put, clean air saves lives, saves healthcare dollars and increases productivity at work and school.”

Activists also called on young people to take action to address climate change and environmental injustice. 

“The reason why we are here today is because of urgency. It’s because of these different problems that have been ignored by previous generations, that we have to make sure we emphasize these different problems now,” said Michael King, a student at Grand Valley University and an organizer for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. 

“We have to make sure that we are standing up for a sustainable future. … You have to make sure that literally hundreds of years down the line we have to preserve our great state of Michigan and our amazing amazing country of America,” King said. 

King also called on activists to amplify the voices of marginalized people whose voices are muffled in conversations about climate change and sustainability. 

“We have to try to be beacons of change and we have to start that now because it’s extremely important that we get on these problems. … We cannot let this bill of 100% clean energy pass us by because we have to make sure and ensure a positive clean, renewable future for generations to come,” King said.

authored by Kyle Davidson
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