Dingell talks environmental priorities in election year

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Dingell talks environmental priorities in election year

U.S. House of Representatives

Dingell talks environmental priorities in election year

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. – When U.S. Rep.-to-be Debbie Dingell was growing up in St. Clair, she’d get in an inner tube and ride in the wake of freighters passing on the St. Clair River.

She fished there too.

“Those waters were dirty then,” says Dingell, a member of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and co-chair of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force.

“We didn’t know how dirty,” says Dingell, an Ann Arbor Democrat.

Due to high levels of contamination, the U.S. and Canada designated the entire 40-mile St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair, as an Area of Concern in 2012.

Michigan’s other Areas of Concern are Deer Lake, Manistique River, Lower Menominee River and St. Marys River in the Upper Peninsula and the Clinton River, Detroit River, Kalamazoo River, Muskegon Lake, Saginaw River and Bay, Torch Lake, White Lake, Rouge River and River Raisin in the Lower Peninsula.

In the St. Clair River, the principal sources of the contaminants were from intensive industrial and agricultural development in and near Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

A dozen years after the designation of the St. Clair River and 30 other Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Basin, Dingell says she expects continued bipartisan government action on improving and protecting Great Lakes water quality.

That’s despite the fact that this is a bitterly partisan election year.

Republicans and Democrats in the congressional delegations of Michigan and the other Great Lakes states have successfully pushed for federal funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, fisheries protection and the cleanup of contamination by PFAS, a type of chemicals that don’t break down in the environment, build up in wildlife and fish, and can move through soil and pollute drinking water sources, Dingell said.

“There’s strong bipartisan support,” she said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office. “How can you not support” the source of 20% of the world’s freshwater? 

“There are a lot of things we’re doing together,” said Dingell, who also belongs to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and congressional caucuses dealing with the Endangered Species Act and national wildlife refuges. “We understand the importance of clean water. It’s not just a Great Lakes issue.”

Her other legislative priorities on the environmental front this year include continuing efforts to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes, she said.

When it comes to the auto industry amid increased attention to electric vehicles, she says the federal government needs to support jobs and ensure that vehicles are affordable. She noted that half of U.S. households have no garages, which is where owners usually recharge their EVs.

EVs have become a national campaign issue. On one side, the Biden administration has aggressively advocated and funded research and manufacturing initiatives for EVs and batteries. 

For example, U.S. Energy Secretary and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su recently released the Battery Workforce Initiative’s National Guideline Standards for certified apprenticeships for battery machine operators. The announcement came in Lansing, where they were joined by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

And in January, the Energy Department announced $60 million in funding for a vehicle battery research and development project in a collaboration by Stellantis, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. 

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump has targeted EVs on the campaign trial.

For example, speaking in Macomb County last September, Trump told supporters that President Joe Biden “wants electric vehicle mandates that will spell the death of the American auto industry.” Biden, he said, “is selling you out to China, he’s selling you out to the environmental extremists and the radical left.” 

Dingell called Biden “the most pro-environment president we’ve ever had.”

The Biden administration’s newly announced budget proposal would significantly increase funding for public lands, including a 21% boost for the National Park Service, a 7% boost for the U.S. Forest Service and an 11% boost for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, according to a statement by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a national advocacy group.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the Fish & Wildlife Service, would get a 14% boost under the proposal. Dingell has long championed the agency’s 6,200-plus acre Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge straddling the Michigan-Ontario border.