Solar panels in Grand Ledge | Laina G. Stebbins
As Michigan prepares for changes to its energy infrastructure, state leaders stressed the importance of an equitable transition that doesn’t leave vulnerable populations behind at a Friday climate summit at Oakland University.
Lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders met at the Oakland County college to talk about goals for combating climate change and precautions that need to be taken in adjusting infrastructure.
Lawmakers are planning to take up a package of Democratic bills in a Senate committee hearing to help Michigan reach various environmental goals as a part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan.
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Environmental Justice Public Advocate Regina Strong told attendees that as advocates continue the fight for environmental justice in the state, equity has to be at the forefront of policy.
Discriminatory practices like the historic redlining of families of color into communities without support or infrastructure needed to live healthy lives were done on purpose to individuals to secure the finances of those in power, Strong said.
“It is not by happenstance or coincidence that environmental justice communities exist. Many of the policies that predate most of us set it out that way,” Strong said. “There’s a 99% correlation between redlined communities and environmental justice communities and so it is not by happenstance, so we can’t correct it by happenstance. We have to be very intentional as we move forward in our work to address climate.”
The MI Healthy Climate Plan, which Whitmer unveiled in September 2020, outlines how Michigan plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
- Restructuring Michigan’s power infrastructure to have 60% of the state’s electricity come from renewable resources,
- Phasing out remaining coal plants in the state by 2030
- Building transportation infrastructure to accommodate 2 million electric vehicles on state roads by 2030.
During this shift, including careers that may change due to clean energy adjustments, it’s important that wealth discrepancies in Michigan aren’t unintentionally heightened, state Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City) said.
“You have to make sure that a high percentage of the investment dollars are going into our low-income communities,” Wegela said.
At least 40% of state funding to make adjustments to climate and water infrastructure is meant to benefit disadvantaged communities in the state, according to the state’s plan.
Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northville) noted that as the job market changes due to all the adjustments expected in the state’s infrastructure, part of the plan is to support job training and transitions to new careers.
“[Policies] should help people build wealth and a future here in Michigan so that people want to stay in Michigan. … And there’s a place for everybody and people aren’t being displaced,” Shink said. “In the past, I think that those are not things that have been considered when policies have been developed, but they’re absolutely being considered and they’re forefront now.”
Not every community in Michigan has been considered equally when it comes to environmental regulations, said Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck). He recalled growing up walking to school and smelling the pollution from the Detroit trash incinerator.
“This is the conversation that we must start as we talk about what a just transition looks like. Because it’s always the communities that are a little bit more black, a little bit more brown, a little bit more poor than the rest of the state that are suffering from the hyper-concentration of pollution in our state,” Aiyash said. “As climates continue to get hotter, those communities will have more impacts around things like asthma and cancer, skin disease and things of that nature.”
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