Dems plan to center climate legislation this fall to secure billions in federal funds ⋆

Energy industry representatives and environmental advocates gathered with lawmakers on Thursday in Detroit to discuss a newly released report outlining the benefits of clean energy policies in Michigan and pushing for swift action to leverage federal dollars to support the state’s growing clean energy industry. 

Lt. Gov Garlin Gilchrist; state Sens. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.); and state Reps. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) and Jason Morgan (D-Ann Arbor) joined representatives from the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, Michigan United and Evergreen Action at Walker-Miller Energy Services to discuss how proposed climate policies could impact the state. 

Since taking control of the House and Senate in January, Michigan Democrats have introduced a number of policies to help write the goals of  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan into state law. This includes transitioning to a 100% clean energy standard by 2035 — which includes renewable sources as well as nuclear energy — increasing the state’s energy waste reduction standard to 2% of total annual electricity sales and decarbonizing businesses across the state. 

Courtney Bourgoin, the Midwest senior policy and advocacy manager for Evergreen Action, outlined four key findings from a report published by 5 Lakes Energy and the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council on Thursday, which assessed the economic and health benefits of policies aimed at achieving the state’s climate goals. 

“First, it’s going to slash energy costs for Michigan families by at least $145 a year. And that will happen by the end of this decade. Second, it’s going to more than double investment in Michigan if we add state policy on top of federal policy” Bourgoin said. 

“It’s also going to avoid 1,000 premature deaths in our state by 2050 by avoiding pollution. And lastly, it’s going to continue increasing our job growth in the state. By 2050 we’ll see an additional 160,000 jobs if we pass these policies,” Bourgoin said.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) explains the disproportionate impacts Detroiters face from climate change and pollution at an Aug. 10, 2023 press conference focused on clean energy and climate policy. | Kyle Davidson

A separate report published by Climate Power, which highlighted the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on clean energy projects across the nation, found that Michigan has secured the greatest number of clean energy projects of any state in the country, bringing in more than $21 billion in investments.

While lawmakers are looking to grow Michigan’s clean energy industry and address climate issues, advocates have encouraged lawmakers to act fast on this legislation or risk losing out on more than $1 billion in federal dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act to support clean energy efforts. However, Michigan has already taken a key step by introducing policies to implement the governor’s healthy climate plan, Bourgoin said.

According to Thursday’s report, Michigan would be able to secure an additional $5 billion in federal investments by 2032 if its proposed climate and energy policies become state law. 

“Our nation is calling out for leadership in this space and there is no better place than the state of Michigan to deliver that leadership,” Gilchrist said.

“We have to make sure that we have the legislative and regulatory framework in place to capitalize on this historic opportunity that’s been delivered to us by the [Joe]Biden-[Kamala]Harris administration,” Gilchrist said. 

Gilchrist also noted that the additional 160,000 projected jobs will come from large and small companies, in addition to companies that have not yet been created that will drive Michigan’s clean energy job sector. 

“Those will be jobs that exist in communities where we need to have innovation partnered with environmental justice,” Gilchrist said. 

A sign at a press conference on Aug. 10, 2023 breaks down how proposed clean energy and climate bills could help Michigan leverage federal funds. | Kyle Davidson

In addition to the potential economic benefits that clean energy policies could bring, these policies will also help to address environmental injustice in Michigan communities including concerns like high energy rates, negative health impacts from air pollution and poor electrical reliability. 

“Here in the city of Detroit, we all know too well that Black and Brown communities have faced disproportionate impacts from pollution. Detroit’s asthma rates, childhood asthma, hospitalization rate, heart disease, lower life expectancy,” Chang said. “The list is much longer than that. Many of these indicators are reminders of just how important it is that we tackle environmental justice and climate head on.”

Additionally, Detroit has seen the impacts of climate change through flooding, extreme heat, major storms resulting in extended power outages, Chang said. 

After a severe ice storm in February knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents, McKinney said that some residents in his district, which covers northeast Detroit alongside parts of Macomb County in Warren and Center Line, lost power for 45 consecutive days. 

“It was reported to my office, we lost seven. Seven people died in my district,” McKinney said. “And that’s reported. Think about the ones that aren’t reported and you extrapolate that to every single district across the state. I’m sure the numbers are scary. This is unacceptable. This is atrocious.”

Angana Shah, policy manager for Michigan United, also drew attention to how climate-related events such as the spread of smoke from Canadian wildfires can worsen conditions for communities that already face negative impacts from pollution.

“When the smoke came down, I was obsessed with the air quality numbers. They were higher in all the communities where air pollution is currently higher,” Shah said. 

Michigan United Policy Manager Angana Shah explains the impact of Canadian wildfire smoke on communities that face air pollution at a press conference on Aug. 10, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

“Naturally, if you layer smoke over existing air pollution, it’s going to be a higher number. It’s going to have worse effects and it’s going to lock people in their houses for longer,” Shah said. 

In hopes of addressing energy reliability issues and pollution from energy generation, lawmakers have introduced policies aimed at improving access to clean energy sources, including rooftop solar and community solar. 

In June, McKinney introduced a package of bills — House Bills 4839 and 4840 — with Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) intended to aid low and moderate income individuals access rooftop solar and battery storage systems by providing rebates, as well as requiring the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to develop new rules to allow customers who generate their own power to act as independent power generators for the energy grid.

Shink also introduced a policy in March that would allow the MPSC — which regulates electrical companies in the state —  to consider factors like climate, health, equity and affordability when evaluating companies’ prospective plans on how they will operate and generate energy. 

Lawmakers have also introduced bipartisan bills to allow communities to establish community solar energy projects, and to raise the state’s cap on distributed generation, which only requires energy companies to purchase 1% of its average yearly peak load from customers generating their own energy.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan includes $7 billion in federal funds to expand community solar projects across the nation.  

Chang also said she is planning to introduce a Senate version of Hill’s House Bill 4256, which would require Michigan’s energy providers to develop a total 2,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2030. 

“Supplying our state with a robust energy reserve is going to make our supply of electricity more reliable, more efficient and more affordable,” Hill said in a statement

As the state works to transition its energy system to clean energy sources, Chang said there is also support for a just transition office to provide resources for individuals transitioning from other jobs to positions in clean energy. 

“The landscape of jobs is going to change, but it’s going to change in a positive way,” Chang said.

“I believe that the just transition office is a great idea. It’s something that a lot of us are very supportive of,” Chang said. 

State Rep. Donavan McKinney says his residents have been severely impacted by power outages and poor energy reliability at an Aug. 10, 2023 event centered on climate and energy policy. | Kyle Davidson

With two representatives, Lori Stone (D-Warren) and Kevin Coleman (D-Westland), advancing to the November general election in separate mayoral races, Michigan Democrats’ slim majority in the House could be in jeopardy, albeit temporarily, and could thwart some of the party’s policy priorities. 

Gilchrist, however, welcomed bipartisan support on proposed clean energy and climate policies. 

“I would love to have bipartisan support here,” Gilchrist said.

“I think that there frankly is no argument against it. There’s no good argument against investing in a clean energy future,” he said. “A future that makes Michigan a more aggressive state in leadership when it comes to conservation. A future that makes Michigan a more aggressive state when it comes to innovation in the energy sector.”

Gilchrist said there has been ample opportunity for bipartisan support on these policies, and that Democrats have worked to address concerns raised by Republicans, and they will continue to take those concerns seriously. 

When these policies come to the floor for a vote, Gilchrist said he and Whitmer hope they will receive bipartisan support. 

“It’s the right thing to do for every person in every community in every corner of the state of Michigan,” he said. 

authored by Kyle Davidson
First published at

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