This past Wednesday (11/28/12), Governor Snyder released a more detailed outline of his policy vision for Michigan’s energy and environment. In a document titled A Special Message from Governor Rick Snyder: Ensuring our Future: Energy and the Environment (click here: ) the Governor offers his perspective on a variety of issues which are likely to be of interest to those who follow this site. These topics include public land ownership, forest management, recreational trail use and development, Great Lakes issues including invasive species, and water withdrawal.
From a conservation and outdoor recreationist’s perspective the positive comments far outweighed those of concern. The overall message was consistent with someone who had promoted an image as an independent-thinker and one who was more likely to be influenced by science than by party politics. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the statement was to lay out a set of values we hope can serve as the foundation for future legislative or agency policymaking.
Perhaps the best part of the overall message was the separation which was created by the Governor’s vision and the numerous legislative initiatives which we had feared may be going forward in the name of “economic policy.” Page 15 of the message includes a commitment to “remaining a leader on ballast water standards.” This is in sharp contrast to Senate Bill 1212 which sought to undo the ballast water treatment standards which were adopted in 2005.
The Governor also elected to use words such as ecosystem management, biodiversity, and even climate change (regardless of cause)which we had feared had been banned from the state’s political vocabulary. While most of these terms were used within the context of utilitarian problem-solving, it was a clear departure from the regressive natural resource policy alternatives which we have been writing about for the past year.
The statement also included strong language relative to Asian carp as a threat to the Great Lakes as well as invasive vegetation such as phragmites. In addition to their environmental implications, the Governor correctly points out that it is far more cost-effective to deal with these emerging issues in advance, as compared to reactionary management as was necessary with the system-wide disruption caused by zebra mussels.
The “We Need to Know More”
The issue of declining Great Lakes water levels was also mentioned. A topic first discussed here back in July, this served as a segue to a proposal to establish a Water Use Advisory Council to “refine” the use of the State’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool. If the sole purpose of creating such a council is to “monitor large surface water users” as is stated in the Governor’s statement, then adding a public oversight component to the water withdrawal permitting process may be a good thing. If, on the other hand, such a council were to be given the authority (now or in the future) to issue permits which may have otherwise been denied by the assessment tool process then we see nothing to be gained by its creation.
While we applaud the Governor’s reaffirmation of the important role played by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, one initiative mentioned at the bottom of Page 10 is a source of concern. The statement is, “we need our Natural Resources Trust Fund to better work with our communities to realize their visions for Pure Michigan and align with local visions. We can take the first step today. I am directing the DNR to require a resolution of support from local government before funding any project from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.”
Although we agree that the new strategic plan being developed for public land ownership needs to contain a strong element of local unit of government engagement, the reality is that such a policy will likely preclude any future project which is intended to broadly benefit the citizens of the state but also includes an element of local opposition. The classic example is a new public access site on a lake or body of water which includes a significant amount of private riparian ownership. Lake property-owner associations have seldom (if ever) approved of public access site development projects. Many such projects have been funded by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, and in some cases only after surviving a bitter legal challenge.
Given the pressure that would be exerted on locally elected officials, it is hard to imagine that a resolution of support could ever be secured for such a project. One alternative worth considering would be to require local approval for acquisitions involving 40 acres or more (just as an example). Under this alternative, smaller projects (such as a public boat access) could still be presented and discussed through a system of local engagement, but a resolution of local support would not be a requirement. Although it may seem unreasonable to force a project in an area where local opposition exists, such a policy needs to be viewed as being in the interests of the greatest good for the greatest number.
As it relates to natural resource use and management, the Governor’s statements are a welcome and well conceived public policy document. We sincerely hope that the release of this statement will now serve to discourage the advancement of legislation which would otherwise undermine a vision which has now been clearly articulated by the Governor. If not, we’ll find out if he really is “one tough nerd.”