December 6, 2016

State Budget Needs Infrastructure Investment

It’s no secret that Michiganders are begging for better roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other infrastructure. Yesterday, the governor’s infrastructure commission released a report on expected long-term budget needs in Michigan in relation to water systems, roads, energy and technology. The elephant in the room? Michigan simply doesn’t have the funds to address the steep costs of road funding, drinking water and an overall huge infrastructure gap we’ve been facing as a state. And to be frank, we’re underfunding almost every public service.

This committee’s report is mostly a get-well card, but what Michigan needs is a Blue Cross card—a way to pay for what ails us. 

In the case of drinking water, Public Sector Consultants Inc. found that the state is “underinvesting in drinking water infrastructure by anywhere from $284 to $563 million each year.” 

Especially in smaller cities, budgets are even more strapped— increasing public health concerns. These smaller and, often rural, areas simply don’t receive the needed revenue sharing produced by our state’s budget. Most of our states water piping has existed for 50 to 100 years. This compromised integrity caused us the Flint water crisis. The report doesn’t even mention the city, which still requires a significant amount more funding. This is on top of noted overall state drinking water needs. The report notes that drinking water infrastructure will require an additional $19 billion over the next 20 years. 

In addition, our schools still face significant shortfalls—where we underfund at least $1 thousand per student—which totals a price tag of over $1.5 billion dollars. 
Bluntly, our budget needs an increase of more than 30-40% and that’s what this report fails to stress. Our legislature isn’t moving forward quickly enough on this critical issue. When an additional $165 million was proposed in fiscal year 2017 for infrastructure, the legislature settled at a $5 million increase. They also agreed on a road package that is statutorily expected to increase $1.2 billion for the issue. However, the $600 million of this price that is to come from existing spending risks cutting already underfunded state programs. 

It’s time to have a serious conversation about where these funds will come from—or Michigan will continue kicking the can further down the road, falling behind in economic development and seriously undermining environmental and public health. Our less than $10 billion discretionary budget simply won’t cut it. 

December 5, 2016

Michigan Must Look At Alternatives To Straits Oil Pipeline

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dakota Access Decision Prompts Renewed Calls in Michigan 
for Alternative to Enbridge’s Oil Pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac

A federal government decision Sunday to halt work on the Dakota Access Pipeline puts more pressure on state officials here to end the threat to Michigan drinking water and the Great Lakes by beginning the process of ending the flow of oil through Enbridge Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, advocates for shutting down Michigan’s controversial pipeline said today.

“Line 5 is going to be decommissioned,” said Aaron Payment, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairperson. “The only question is whether it happens before the pipeline ruptures in the Straits, or after it ruptures — leaving us with a catastrophe that will devastate our way of life.”

Like Enbridge’s Line 5 in Michigan, the Dakota Access Pipeline was slated to cross through a critically important waterway that is a drinking water source.   In Michigan the waterway is the Great Lakes. Payment’s Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is one of five tribes with federally recognized sovereign rights within the Straits. Eleven tribal organizations, 61 Michigan counties, cities and townships have passed resolutions calling for the state to stop the flow of oil through the Straits.

A University of Michigan study said an oil spill in the Straits could impact up to 700 miles of Great Lakes coastline, including drinking water in St. Ignace, Mackinac Island and Alpena. Up to 23 million gallons of oil flow through Line 5 in the Straits each day.

“The State of Michigan’s fiduciary role to protect our public waters is analogous to the federal government’s trustee role to protect sovereign tribal rights.  They are paramount to private interests like Enbridge,”  said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW.  “The State and the Army Corps must conduct a comprehensive review of Line 5 and explore alternative routes now because of failing pipeline supports.  Waiting another year for the state’s advisory board to complete its studies does not comply with the law."

Since June, 2014 the state has been studying Line 5 while refusing to investigate multiple violations of Enbridge’s easement agreement with the state or taking legal action to decommission the decaying 63-year-old pipeline.   The state has twice cited Enbridge Energy Partners for violating conditions of its easement agreement allowing the pipeline to operate in the Great Lakes.    Independent experts, citing at least eight additional violations by Enbridge of the easement agreement, have called on Gov. Snyder to investigate the company’s pipeline operations in the Straits.  

“The Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing a common-sense strategy to protect drinking water in North Dakota that should immediately be embraced by Michigan’s governor and attorney general,” said David Holtz, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair.   “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette need to end years of dilly dallying and strongly embrace shutting down Line 5 in the Straits as the only alternative for protecting the Great Lakes and our drinking water.”