Harris joins Granholm, Dingell, Stabenow to champion climate change solutions in Ann Arbor

By: - January 12, 2023 7:04 pm

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about climate change to an Ann Arbor audience, Jan. 12, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

“Our responsibility now … is to continue with this moment and lead, not wasting a minute, because we don’t have a minute to spare,” Vice President Kamala Harris told a large audience Thursday in University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium.

Harris flew out to Ann Arbor to keynote the politician-studded event on climate change and social responsibility. Alongside U.S. Energy Secretary and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Harris spoke about intersectional environmental justice, advancements in clean energy and her enthusiasm for venn diagrams, among other topics.

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who announced last week that she will not be running for reelection. Both leaders have been prominent champions of actions and legislation to fight climate change.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who was named “Environmentalist of the Year” by the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter in 2020, was also present in the audience. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and former state Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) attended, as well.

The event was punctuated both by the news that University of Michigan President Santa Ono has tested positive for COVID-19, which was announced on stage, and a demonstration outside protesting Harris over the federal government continuing to back Israel despite the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Prior to the talk, Harris had held a private White House meeting with climate change activists and officials including Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Director Elayne Elliott, National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, implementation chief John Podesta, infrastructure adviser Mitch Landrieu and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory.

“For the first time in decades, we have state leadership that will prioritize climate action,” said Sierra Club political and legislative director Christy McGillivray, who attended Thursday’s event. “Michiganders voted for clean renewable energy and Great Lakes protections, and we will push our lawmakers to deliver on their election platforms.”

Dingell, Stabenow and Harris all emphasized that the midwest, and Michigan in particular, have been on the forefront of climate action — from the state’s push for clean energy in recent years to the protection of the Great Lakes.

“I’m going to get PFAS [action] done if it kills me,” Dingell said, referencing her work to address contamination from per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances in Michigan.


Harris stressed that forward momentum to shift the country’s energy sources toward renewables and work toward equitable environmental justice solutions needs to continue, and needs to be shaped by the country’s younger generations. She said it is important to recognize which groups are being affected by climate change the most.

“You think about who are some of the biggest [fossil fuels] emitters, and who is disproportionately paying a price for that,” Harris said, using the United States and the Caribbean nations as an example. 

She transitioned into a talk about intersectionality and the need to address other issues to protect the most vulnerable communities, like reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ issues and racially disproportionate medical care.

Kyle Whyte, a climate and environmental justice scholar and Indigenous activist who is a citizen of the Oklahoma-based Citizen Potawatomi Nation, moderated the event. He spoke about the need to include Black, Brown and Indigenous leaders at the table when addressing climate change-related problems.

He also stressed that “dangerous energy infrastructure” poses a grave threat to Indigenous communities like his, citing the embattled Line 5 oil pipeline that runs through the environmentally-sensitive and tribally sacred Straits of Mackinac.

“It’s going to disrupt some of the most sacred places for Anishinaabe people, threatening livelihoods, violating treaty rights, locking this state into a fossil fuel-intensive energy future,” Whyte said of the proposal to replace the current lines under the Straits with a new, tunnel-enclosed pipeline.

All Anishinaabek tribes in Michigan are opposed to the Canadian-owned Line 5 pipeline. Harris did not comment directly on Line 5 Thursday; President Joe Biden has also not expressed an opinion on the pipeline. Treaty talks between the United States and Canada are ongoing in the context of Line 5, as are court cases playing out between Line 5 owner Enbridge and the state of Michigan. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel has long sought to shut down the aging pipeline as it currently exists.


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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).