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Environmental Leaders Concerned About Lack of Justice Principles and Definition of ‘Clean’ in Energy Bills

Press Release | October 27, 2023

Environmental Justice SupportersThe Michigan Clean Energy Future bills (Senate Bills 271, 273, 502) that passed the Senate yesterday move the State towards renewable energy while also codifying industry bids to maintain the status quo. 

We applaud that the bills will strengthen the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC) oversight capacity by requiring the MPSC to take into account climate, justice, affordability, and health. Importantly, this legislation will increase the use of rooftop solar and embrace the capability of energy storage to improve our grid’s reliability.

The renewable energy portfolio is slated to increase from its current paltry 15% to 50% by 2030, and 60% by 2035. While this shift is intended to help mitigate one of the largest sources of pollution and drivers of climate change, it falls short of the more aggressive yet achievable demand that many environmental justice organizations advocated for: 80% renewable energy by 2035. 

The laudable goal of 100% clean energy by 2040 is tainted by a problematic definition that incorporates biogas from factory farms, waste incineration, nuclear energy, and natural gas with carbon capture. These technologies pose severe threats in already overburdened communities, with carbon capture not only utilizing dubiously effective technology but additionally requiring the construction and continued operation of dangerous infrastructure including pipelines and storage sites that present the risk of a leak or explosion.

While this bill takes a step in the right direction, the inclusion of such loopholes reveals just how deep the claws of energy utilities have reached into the Capitol. 

“The bills that passed today would have been commendable 20 years ago, but fail to show any real forethought in addressing the challenges of today,” said Andrew Kaplowitz, Climate and Energy Justice Lead at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. “We want to see our legislators looking out for us and standing up to utility monopolies instead of putting all these loopholes in the laws.”

"While we support the swift passage of the clean energy legislation that passed through the Senate yesterday," said Elizabeth Del Buono MD, Executive Director of Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action, "it is only an incremental step in the right direction and falls short of the emissions reduction targets necessary to offset the worst impacts of our changing climate. Appreciating the hard work of the legislators that negotiated this package, we are disturbed by the inclusion of carbon-based fuels like animal manure from factory farms and waste incineration as so-called "clean energy". Such compromises will slow progress towards reducing carbon pollution and potentially create significant health risks for near-by communities. As professionals who treat the cumulative health impacts of fossil fuel pollution every day, we recognize that there is still much more that needs to be done to protect the health of all Michigan residents, especially those living on the frontlines of such pollution."

“Climate impacts are here today, and the public overwhelmingly supports the transition to a renewable energy economy,” said Dr. Denise Keele, Executive Director of Michigan Climate Action Network. “We want to make sure the public understands what is included in current definitions of ‘clean energy’ so that we can continue to mobilize a just transition toward truly renewable energy like wind, solar, and small hydropower and not subsidize costly, dangerous, and ineffective projects that will continue to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and bring more pollution to already impacted communities.”

"Burning plastic, dirty hydrogen, and fracked gas with carbon capture and storage are simply not clean energy," remarked Ashley Rudzinski, Climate and Environment Program Director for Groundwork Center. "The bills that passed the Senate represent a troubling lack of ambition in the face of a mounting climate crisis, and a potential threat to frontline and fenceline communities. We desperately need to question whether this kind of incremental progress is enough."

“The bills that passed the State Senate last night will help Michigan transition to more clean and renewable sources of energy. However, more must be done to ensure that all Michigan’s residents can benefit and to ensure that we don’t embrace false solutions to the climate crisis in the process,” said Sean McBrearty, MI Director for Clean Water Action. “Incineration, biomass, and carbon capture are not clean energy sources. Further, while lifting the cap on distributed generation will enable more residents to access rooftop solar, the lack of community solar provisions exclude many lower income residents from the potential benefits of community solar programs.”



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