As Gov. Rick Snyder marks the days until his final year in office becomes overshadowed by the 2018 elections, he spent much of this week talking about environmental issues.
On Wednesday, Snyder announced a new multi-state partnership to further combat the threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes. On Thursday, he proposed a $110 million-per-year initiative to replace outdated and lead-laden drinking water pipes. And today, he proposed two new steps to improve the rate of recycling across Michigan.
Is Snyder going green? If so, he’s not likely to get much love from the environmental community, which has clashed with him repeatedly. At the same time, conservative Republicans in the Legislature believe he is too accommodating to the state’s environmentalists.
Sen. Tom Casperson, the Upper Peninsula Republican who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, told Bridge Magazine for a story published this week that he believes Snyder is too cozy with environmentalists who successfully push a “radical” Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) agenda at the expense of business.
“I wish he’d be a little more neutral, and not take everything they say verbatim,” said Casperson, whose family’s background is in the log-hauling industry.
Snyder’s office pushed back: “The governor has always made a point to listen to and take input from everyone at the table, on every side of an issue.”
Clearly, his lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, could use some help in his campaign bid for governor regarding environmental protection and perhaps the term-limited Snyder is hoping some of this week’s new plans will rub off onto his favored successor. The Flint water crisis still hangs around the governor’s neck like a lead anchor.
Snyder seems to be all-in on ambitious plans to dramatically improve the state’s “recycling infrastructure.” It’s a basic issue that everyone understands, though few realize that Michigan’s track record on recycling is remarkably bad:
- Only 15 percent of the state’s waste is recycled, far below the national average of 35 percent. The Snyder administration’s long-term goal, obviously with the help of the next governor, is to triple that level to 45 percent.
- Less than half of Michigan counties offer convenient access to recycling. Snyder’s DEQ seeks to gradually provide recycling in all 83 counties.
- The state’s landfill dumping fee charged to waste haulers is a mere 36 cents per ton while other Great Lakes states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania have levies that are more than 10 times that amount. Those fees help fund recycling programs while serving as an incentive for individuals and businesses to recycle. The details are a bit murky but it appears that the governor believes the state fee should jump to $4.75 per ton.
Earlier today Snyder issued an executive directive that will require on-site recycling services within one year at all facilities owned or leased by state government. Currently, about two-thirds of all locations comply.
Snyder also launched a new program to assist manufacturers with buying and selling recycled materials. The reason is obvious: An estimated $368 million of industrial materials that can be recycled are dumped into Michigan landfills annually.
Under the “Re:Source” program, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) will assist manufacturers with the logistics of adding recycled materials such as paper, metal, glass and plastic into their production process.
It’s entirely unclear how much any of this will please his environmentalist detractors or irritate his fellow Republicans in Lansing, but one environmental group issued a rather glowing endorsement of the plan to upgrade water infrastructure, even though it was a rather modest proposal.
The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), which has criticized the governor routinely, called the initiative an “important step forward.”
“We welcome Governor Snyder’s proposal and commend his leadership in addressing a long-simmering need,” said Chris Kolb, MEC president.
That should have put a smile on Snyder’s face. If just for one day.