By MORGAN LINN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder has called on innovators across the globe to rise to the challenge of finding a way to prevent a Great Lakes carp invasion.
His recent State of the State Address covered a variety of environmental issues, including wetland protection and environmental justice.
The Great Lakes and the “wonderful” environment in which we live are some of our greatest assets, the governor said. “We need to focus on being cleaner, safer, healthier, more sustainable.”
In his speech, Snyder named energy legislation as one of the biggest achievements in 2016, saying, “It’s going to help protect our environment, it’s going to help us meet our energy needs and it’s going to save Michiganders money.”
Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said, “When a governor of either party pays special attention to our natural resources and our environment on the State of the State Address level, it’s always a great thing.”
Warren, the minority vice chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said the energy package guaranteed that Michigan is getting “an increased percentage of energy from renewable resources, which is good for our environment and so good for our public health.”
Snyder said tourism and the Pure Michigan campaign are key to showing the country the state’s beauty. Lonely Planet named the Upper Peninsula as one of the top destinations for 2017, placing it among the best places in the world, he said.
Snyder introduced several new environmental initiatives that the state is launching this year.
Invasive carp is one of the biggest threats Michigan faces, he said. “We’ve invested resources, but we need to catalyze all the Great Lakes states on doing more, and our nation.”
The state will launch the Michigan Invasive Carp Challenge, which will involve people from across the world developing innovative ideas to tackle the potential carp invasion, he said.
An Asian carp invasion could be devastating to Great Lakes fisheries because the carp would harm native fish by taking their food and habitat.
Snyder and the Legislature are providing $1 million to fund the initiative, according to the challenge’s website. Anyone with a creative idea on how to stop invasive carp from entering the Great Lakes can submit a proposal, with cash prizes for the top ideas.
Warren said, “The scariest thing about Asian carp is how quickly they could really change the entire ecosystem of the Great Lakes if they were to invade.
“I like the creativity, but it’ll be interesting to see what he does with it and how people respond,” she said.
The State of the State is a “big night to give a 10,000-foot view of policy ideas and priorities,” she said. The details will become clearer once the governor lays out a budget plan by the first or second week in February.
Wetlands conservation is another issue on the state’s to-do list, the governor said. Michigan has lost about 4 million acres of wetlands over the past few decades.
“We’re going to do something unique this year,” he said.
The Department of Natural Resources will work with local landowners to create and restore wetlands using “mitigation banking.” Whenever a development project destroys a wetland, another would be restored or created to compensate for the damage. That means no net loss of wetlands.
The effort will encourage development while also protecting the environment, Snyder said.
The Michigan Environmental Council is looking forward to working with Snyder to strengthen the program, said Sean Hammond, the deputy policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.
“We want to make sure that they are put forth to a very high quality and that they are more than enough to offset anything that’s lost,” he said.
Warren said wetlands are a critical part of our ecosystem and work as a natural filtration system that keeps our groundwater clean.
The governor’s plan “makes me a little bit cautious,” she said. “There’s no substitute for a naturally occurring wetland, and if you’re letting people fill in wetlands to do development in one area and trying to create wetlands somewhere else, it doesn’t have the same effect, necessarily.
“That just something that I would keep a really close eye on over the next year,” she said.
The governor also announced a work group to study environmental justice so that all Michigan residents can have a “clean, safe, healthy environment no matter who they are or where they live.”
Hammond said that getting a task force “up and off the ground is a big step, following everything that happened in Flint. Looking at environmental justice statewide is a huge next step in making sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
However, Warren said that while work groups can be a great way to work together and find a solution, sometimes they lead to busywork and no end result.
“We know what the problems are that we’re facing,” she said. “I’d be more pleased to see some action steps instead of spending another year or two in a work group.”
Snyder said the Flint water crisis, a lead contamination problem, was a sad chapter in Michigan’s history.
“Last year the people of Flint suffered an unacceptable crisis,” he said. “I made a commitment to the people of Flint to fix it.”
Snyder said he will propose a standard for lead and copper that will be stricter than federal regulations. The rule needs lower acceptable levels, better testing protocols and better public input, he said.
The state has worked toward making Flint’s water safe again, Snyder said. It has provided $27 million for pipe replacement and replaced 600 so far, but there is room for improvement.
Hammond said the Michigan Environmental Council is “looking forward to helping the governor push through the most stringent lead and copper rule in the country. We want to see this rule strengthened to better protect Michiganders and to ensure that everyone has access to clean, safe drinking water.”
The governor said improving infrastructure is a challenge that must be addressed statewide. “We are at risk in every corner of Michigan for aging infrastructure and we cannot take this for granted. Michigan residents deserve safe, reliable, sustainable infrastructure.”
The state needs to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure over the coming decades both from public and private sources, he said. This includes fees, taxes, grants and bonds.
“We need to start now working on this issue, and we need to stay committed to it,” he said.
Warren said it was a good sign that the governor addressed so many environmental topics in his speech, calling it a starting point and saying the state must now follow up with action and money.
Morgan Linn writes for Great Lakes Echo.
By MORGAN LINN