Jared Strong/States Newsroom
Michigan House Majority Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) on Friday outlined House Democrats’ environmental priorities for this term, pledging action on energy policy and highlighting issues like pollution in vulnerable communities.
Strengthening polluter pay laws, addressing aging infrastructure, and examining waste policies and environmental impacts are key issues, Aiyash said in a webinar hosted by Conan Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Environmental Council.
With a Democratic trifecta in control of the state House, Senate and the governor’s office, Aiyash said Democrats are working on a tight window to determine priorities and pass new policy.
Aiyash discussed the importance of taking a multi-faceted approach to address water contamination that includes solutions like strengthening the state’s polluter pay laws, addressing aging infrastructure like lead pipes and ensuring climate resiliency and environmental safety when installing new infrastructure or allowing new developments.
“We are looking at a [energy policy]rewrite that’s coming up regarding our distribution plans and distribution systems here in the state of Michigan,” Aiyash said.
Preventing blackouts is also a prime concern for House Republicans, but Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Coloma), minority vice chair of the House Energy, Communications and Technology Committee, does not support a rewrite of the current energy law.
“Republicans’ top priority is ensuring we have an adequate base load supply of energy as we continue the transition toward renewable energy. I know my constituents don’t want to deal with rolling blackouts in the summer or get text messages telling them to turn their heat down in the dead of winter,” Wendzel told the Advance in an emailed statement.
House Democrats will also work to remove a cap on distributed energy generation, or energy created near where it will be used. The cap is considered a barrier for citizens looking to install rooftop solar panels. Efforts to remove the cap received bipartisan support in previous terms, but were never passed into law.
“We will act on lifting the cap this year, this term,” Aiyash said. “That is something that I can say that we will fight like hell to get across the finish line.”
Aiyash said energy companies will likely have a large role in that discussion and encouraged citizens and advocacy groups to take action to ensure the companies do not have the final decision.
Electric vehicles (EVs) were also mentioned as a priority, but Aiyash said the state also needs to look into electrifying mass transit.
“EVs are the future of the automobile, but the automobile is not the future of mobility,” Aiyash said.
The Legislature also needs to overhaul the state’s policy on solid waste, as previous reforms did not go far enough, Aiyash said.
“We make it a business model where it’s easier to throw something in the garbage than it is to actually find ways to to reduce the actual waste,” Aiyash said.
Aiyash also advocated for legislation that assesses the cumulative impact of pollution in communities prior to issuing permits.
Rather than allowing permits for multiple facilities releasing different types of pollutants, Aiyash said the state needs to look at the concentration of emissions instead.
“We want to be able to empower our Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to say, ‘Hey, we cannot renew this permit for you. We cannot issue an expansion, we cannot issue a new permit for potential releasing of emissions or pollutants, because the health impact is so detrimental in that area,’” Aiyash said.
“We have a crisis in this country, where pollution and all of these unfortunate headlines about health happen to communities that are a little bit more poor, oftentimes a little bit more Black and Brown than the rest of the state,” Aiyash added.
While some residents are cheering the construction of new battery plans and the creation of new manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Aiyash said we need to consider the health impacts of new manufacturing facilities before giving them the green light.
“There’s an urgency to try to get all of these places ready to go, and all of these facilities activated and running, but we’ve got to look at the health impacts, the environmental impacts,” Aiyash said.
The agenda outlined by Aiyash received support from environmental advocates, with Smith saying these policies aligned with Michigan Environmental Council’s own list of policy priorities.
While Republicans share a commitment to avoiding blackouts, Wendzel encouraged Democrats to govern from the middle by pursuing common-sense solutions to common problems.
“I really hope they do, so my Republican colleagues and I can work with them,” Wendzel said.
“If they double down on the partisanship we’ve seen in these first 100 days and try to push through a fringe environmental agenda that will exacerbate the difficulties facing small businesses and residents, Republicans will fight as hard as we can to stop them.”
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