Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > June 25 | This Week in Government: Schools Celebrate K-12 Budget; MIOSHA Relaxes Rules for Non-Health Care Settings

June 25 | This Week in Government: Schools Celebrate K-12 Budget; MIOSHA Relaxes Rules for Non-Health Care Settings

June 25, 2021
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. Schools Celebrate K-12 ’22 Budget, Supplemental Moving Through House
  2. MIOSHA Relaxes COVID Workplace Rules for Non-Health Care Settings
  3. Election Report Suggests AG Investigate Pushers of Misinformation
  4. Consumers Announces Goal to End Use of Coal By 2025
  5. Messer Chairs First MEDC Meeting; To Take CEO Role Full-Time July 12

Schools Celebrate K-12 ’22 Budget, Supplemental Moving Through House

A decades-long effort that has remained elusive to bring all districts to the same basic per-pupil foundation grant would be reached under a K-12 budget lauded by education groups that passed the House on Thursday.

In total, the School Aid Fund budget (HB 4411) passed Thursday contains $16.74 billion, a 7.8% increase for the current year. The House also concurred in the Senate-version of the School Aid supplemental in HB 4421, which provides $4.4 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. Both bills passed 105-3.

Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) called the closing of the funding gap historic.

“This has been 25 years in the making, and we’re doing it tonight,” she said. “We’re finally closing the funding gap and making sure that every student in our state receives an equal amount of funding. Every child should have a chance at the best possible education, and this bill gets us closer to that goal.”

Even with the boost in funding for schools, $880 million remains on the balance sheet in the School Aid Fund after Thursday’s action by the House.

The question remains if the Senate will follow suit. Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) has said he will review the action by the House.

All schools at or below the target foundation allowance would be at $8,700 per pupil under the K-12 budget proposal. In total, $421 million would provide an increase ranging from $171 to $342 per pupil using the 2x formula with an additional $262 million for equity payments of up to $247 per pupil.

In the supplemental, the House did not reinsert the equalization payment for schools receive less under the federal Title I formula, instead wrapping that into the full-year budget bill. That $362 million would provide payments of $1,093 per pupil to those districts. The Senate had removed it from the supplemental.

The Great Start Readiness Program, which provides pre-school for children in the state, would also see a big boost under the proposal.

As passed, the plan would increase funding by $168.5 million for a total of $418.5 million. The funding would increase the allocation per child for a full day from $7,250 to $8,700 for a full-day program and from $3,625 to $4,350 for a part-day program.

Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) praised the pre-school funding specifically and said the bills passed Thursday represent a bipartisan compromise.

“This budget makes transformational investments … that will help schools, and more importantly students succeed, this fall and beyond,” Tate said.

Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Township) said the education budget will help students catch up, “and get back on track to a brighter future.”

“Every child will be getting our support to help them catch up. First, we’re finally eliminating the inequality in our funding system treating students from different districts differently,” she said. “Second, we are making record-investments in early education. … Third, we are spending more than ever before on special education programs that help make sure no student is left behind.”

School groups universally applauded the budget passing the House, from the Great Lakes Education Project and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies to the K-12 Alliance and other groups representing traditional public school districts.

“It has been a critically important goal for superintendents across Michigan to get this budget done by July 1st and provide funding and certainty to schools in time to put procedures in place and hire the staff needed to support the recovery of our students,” Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director of external relations for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said in a statement. “We appreciate House members for putting Michigan’s schools and students first and with less than a week left until school budgets must be finalized, we urge the Senate to follow suit and send this budget to the governor’s desk as quickly as possible.”

GLEP Executive Director Beth DeShone called the closing of the funding gap “decades in the making.”

“Public school kids in Michigan deserve an education that’s funded equitably and fairly, no matter where they go to school,” she said in a statement. “Today’s landmark legislation by the state House of Representatives ends decades of funding discrimination that targeted Michigan kids – too often some of Michigan’s poorest kids – based on where they went to school. It’s a great day for Michigan’s children, and we encourage the state Senate to enact the same pro-student reform when they’re next back in session.”

Intermediate school districts would also receive 104 percent of their 2020-21 funding under the proposal and an increase for general operations support. The budget would increase funding for operations by $2.8 million for a total of $71.9 million.

The bill contains a $285 million increase for the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System as well as a $560 million deposit into the MPSERS Retirement Obligation Reform Reserve Fund.

There would be $100 million placed into the School Aid Stabilization Fund.

Another $240 million would be used for districts with the greatest need for psychologists, social workers, counselors, and nurses. Staff hired would be fully funded during the first year, 66% funded or the second, and 33% for the third.

At-risk pupil supports would also see an increase. Another $2.5 million, for a total of $524.5 million, would go to schools and could also be used for security, coaching models, support staff, or professional development.

Funding would also be provided for benchmark assessments for K-8 pupils to be given at the beginning and end of the school year. The Department of Education would have to approve four to six providers of the assessment.

The budget would also fund school safety grants at $10 million, isolated districts at $7.3 million (a $342,700 increase), court-placed pupils at $7.7 million (a $500,000 increase), $4 million General Fund for attendance recovery, partnership model districts at $6.1 million and provide $1 million for reimbursements for nonpublic schools.

Another $12 million would be put into school mental health supports for a total of $48.9 million ($1.3 million General Fund). Payments to intermediate school districts would increase from $460,700 to $675,000.

Early literacy coaches would see $31.5 million, the same as current year. Special education would see a $49.4 million with total estimated expenditures at $1.6 billion. Another $30 million, for a total of $90.2 million, would go toward reimbursing an estimated 3% of total approved special education costs.

One new program in the proposal is for a remote learning library. $3 million would go toward an associated for administrators of special education services to develop content for students and teachers.

A special education task force would also be created with an additional $7 million School Aid Fund, bringing the total to $14.2 million.

Another $1.5 million would go toward a task force to develop a comprehensive plan to attract, prepare and retain qualified personnel for children with disabilities.

An additional new program would provide $7.5 million for grants to cover eligible career education planning districts for a skilled trades initiative.

Other new items include $1.5 million for Project SEARCH to help students with disabilities find and maintain competitive employment, $3.8 million for the State Alliance of Michigan YMCAs for competitive grants to districts for the Youth in Government program.

For enrollment, the bill in 2020-21 supplemental funding, would provide $50 million toward districts for which their 2020-21 membership blend as it would have normally been calculated in a non-pandemic year exceeds the 2020-21 pupil membership calculation.

Supplemental funding in the K-12 budget would also provide more money for breakfast and lunch programs, federal grants toward substance abuse treatment, prevention, mental health needs, and homeless children and youth.

MIOSHA Relaxes COVID Workplace Rules for Non-Health Care Settings

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration Tuesday filed a new set of coronavirus emergency rules which align with the federal OSHA’s rules released earlier this month by the Biden administration, making mandatory rules applicable only to health care workplaces, including mask wearing.

With Tuesday’s rules, the emergency rules issued by MIOSHA on May 24 are rescinded. The new rules are effective through Dec. 22 and simply link to the OSHA rules.

Under the new guidelines, mandatory rules such as mask wearing would only be required for health care workers in the workplace. Health care workplaces would also still have to continue to utilize distancing measures, provide barriers between workstations, require the use of masks for employees, and other measures.

With the change, non-health care employers are no longer be required to keep mask wearing, daily health screenings, and distancing measures in place. Employers would have the option to use their own judgment, a release from MIOSHA said Tuesday.

MIOSHA urged employers to follow existing federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OSHA recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As we continue to get Michigan back to work, our priority remains keeping workplaces safe for employees and protecting customers as they support these businesses,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “With our state at full capacity, we can boost our economic jumpstart and ensure businesses can emerge from the pandemic strong than ever while keeping their workers safe.”

Sean Egan, the state’s COVID-19 Workforce Safety Director, in a statement said the rule changes reflect the improving situation in combating the virus.

“These updates recognize the great progress we have made in Michigan to contain COVID-19 and the power of vaccinations. We will continue to provide critical workplace protections more focused on areas of increased COVID-19 risk,” Egan said. “In non-health care settings, it’s important that all employers recognize that they have a general duty to provide a safe workplace.”

The updated MIOSHA rules come on the same day that the Department of Health and Human Services’ pandemic order requiring capacity restriction and masks was lifted.

In the MIOSHA rules, it was noted that since March 2020 there have been 64 COVID-19 deaths reported by employers in the state and 173 in-patient hospitalizations possibly linked to virus exposure. MIOSHA has also received more than 15,000 complaints from employees alleging COVID-19 workplace hazards and 584 referrals from local governments, including local health departments, stating that businesses were not taking all mitigation measures necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley in a statement called the move by MIOSHA a positive step.

“Small businesses have been among the hardest hit by this pandemic. We’ve said since the beginning that small business owners know best how to run their businesses,” he said. “The restoration of the autonomy of small business owners to establish workplace practices of their choosing is an important step toward recovery. It moves Michigan more in line with the mainstream across the country.”

Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity spokesperson Camara Lewis later explained in a statement why the department issued a new emergency rule rather than amend the previous one, which was set to expire Oct. 14.

“MIOSHA has an obligation to be ‘at least as effective as’ federal OSHA,” Lewis said. “This emergency rule was issued in accordance to be in compliance with our obligation as a state plan under OSHA and any timelines are determined by the Administrative Procedures Act.”

Election Report Suggests AG Investigate Pushers of Misinformation

The Senate Oversight Committee in a report on the November 2020 elections recommended that the Department of Attorney General consider investigating individuals who spread misleading and false information about election results in Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own benefit.

It was one of several recommendations in the report adopted Wednesday by the committee, which found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Michigan during the November 2020 elections.

An area of focus in the report was on events that occurred in Antrim County, where human error in handling a software update produced wildly incorrect unofficial vote totals. The mistake was due to a new flash drive being uploaded. Since all tabulator flash cards were not updated, the election night program would not load properly. Work began the morning after the election to correct the error.

The issue was flagged and fixed quickly, but still, supporters of former President Donald Trump latched on to it as evidence of voter fraud. This theory put forward has never been proven and the corrected results in Antrim County were found to be accurate following a hand recount of every ballot.

While the recommendation for potentially investigating persons did not name who to investigate, the section of the report in which the recommendation was found contained a lengthy narrative citing the actions of two individuals.

The first was attorney Matthew DePerno, retained by an Antrim County resident for a lawsuit against the county. The committee report said that DePerno’s evidence was found to be demonstrably false.

Former Sen. Patrick Colbeck was the other. The report cited an exhibit in the lawsuit involving claims of modem chips being embedded in the motherboards of the voting system computers on Dominion machines. However, the report noted that such a machine was not used by Antrim County nor was it used by Dominion.

“Events in Antrim County sparked a significant amount of concern about the technology used to count ballots. This concern led to much speculation, assumptions, misinformation, and in some cases, outright lies meant to create doubt and confusion,” the report said. “The many hours of testimony before the committee showed these claims are unjustified and unfair to the people of Antrim County and the state of Michigan. It has also been unfair to people across America.”

The report recommended that the Department of Attorney General consider investigating those who, the report said, have utilized misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own benefit.

This was a claim leveled by Dominion against Colbeck earlier this year, demanding he cease what the company in a letter called a disinformation campaign aimed at the performance of its equipment in Michigan and other states. The company also accused Colbeck of raising more than $1 million from supporters as part of his push against the company.

When asked by reporters whether the recommendation was aimed at DePerno or Colbeck, committee chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said: “The report says as much as I’m going to say in regards to that.”

Department of Attorney General spokesperson Lynsey Mukomel in a statement said: “We will review the report in its entirety to determine if a criminal investigation is appropriate.”

In a letter included in the report, McBroom said rumors about Antrim County were a waste of time to investigate further and said audits already conducted in the state were more thorough than the one being conducted currently in Arizona.

“At this point, I feel confident to assert the results of the Michigan election are accurately represented and audited results. While the committee was unable to exhaust every possibility, we were able to delve thoroughly into enough to reasonably reach this conclusion. The strongest conclusion comes in regard to Antrim County. All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further,” he wrote. “Most of the rigorous debate over additional audits comes from fears surrounding the technology used and the vulnerabilities as allegedly demonstrated in Antrim County. Without any evidence to validate those fears, another audit, a so-called forensic audit, is not justifiable.”

However, he did write he will continue to watch Arizona’s audit process and if it brings up any genuinely concerning information – or if continued investigations in the state brought up valid concerns – he would ask the committee to recommend another audit.

Another recommendation from the report section on Antrim County was to pass legislation strengthening state law governing logic and accuracy tests prior to elections.

Further items related to Antrim County in the report determined to be a significant misrepresentation of facts was from a chart in a report by Allied Security Operation Group and its alleged forensic report of the Antrim County election results.

The report said the information in the ASOG report left out specific data that provided full context outlining the process of vote tabulation, the correction of the initial error, the act of certifying the results, and confirming them as accurate through the hand recount. Further, the report said the committee was appalled by “a willful ignorance or avoidance of this proof perpetuated by some leading such speculation.”

Despite no evidence of fraud, the report said that testimony before the oversight panel in the months following the elections indicated a need to improve the state’s processes.

“A detailed examination of all evidence presented to the committee established an undeniable conclusion; while there are glaring issues that must be addressed in current Michigan election laws, election security, and certain procedures, there is no evidence presented at this time to prove either significant acts of fraud or that an organized, wide-scaled effort to commit fraudulent activity was perpetrated in order to subvert the will of Michigan voters,” the report, spearheaded by McBroom, said.

Recommendations in the report say county clerks should assist in removing dead voters from the Qualified Voter File, that the Department of State should discontinue its practice of sending out mass mailings for absentee ballot applications, that the state should update the tasks and duties of election challengers and should develop best practices and training for election workers.

The report comes after several hearings, dozens of hours of testimony, and from thousands of pages of documents before the committee following last November’s election.

Following the election, Trump and a vocal portion of his supporters pushed unsubstantiated and debunked claims of voter fraud when he lost to now-President Joe Biden. Numerous lawsuits in Michigan and other battleground states won by Mr. Biden were all dismissed, while supporters continued to urge additional audits and for lawmakers to reverse the election results in favor of Trump.

The vote to adopt the report was 3-1 along party lines, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) the lone vote in opposition.

“This committee gave a huge platform to people who used that platform to continue pressing those lies and continue trying to support a situation we had last fall, which was incredibly dangerous, where we had a sitting president who was trying to overturn the results of an election here in America and hold on to the presidency,” Irwin said prior to the vote.

Despite his misgivings, Irwin thanked McBroom for undertaking what he said in the end was a fair process, which concluded with “a very clear rebuke of the claims of election irregularities here in Michigan.”

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) in response said she spent about 140 hours reviewing the claims put forward by individuals during the course of testimony and review of the 2020 election.

Theis said she believed there have been claims of irregularities in elections on both sides of the aisle for years, citing claims by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II when he ran unsuccessfully for Detroit city clerk of voting irregularities, as an example.

“This is not new. That we need election reform is clear,” Theis said. “That there were vulnerabilities is also clear and also mentioned in this document. I think it’s extremely important that we highlight that.”

She also said her hope is that the Senate Republicans’ 39-bill election processes package is adopted to restore public confidence in elections.

FINDINGS DEBUNK NUMEROUS CLAIMS, CONSPIRACY THEORIES: Several pages of the report touched on concerns over voting tabulators and precinct computers, noting that many of the false claims made by those questioning the election results focused on tabulators, cybersecurity, and computers.

Dominion CEO John Poulos defended the company from many of these claims during committee testimony, noting that voting systems must be accredited through a stringent process conducted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and that there are numerous failsafe measures in place to prevent tampering with results.

The report points out evidence of alleged “fractional voting” was never provided to the committee.

As to claims of voting tabulators at the TCF Center in Detroit being connected to the Internet, it was found that tabulators were connected to a local area network but there was no evidence of any wider Internet connections. Results were also transmitted by flash drives, not electronic devices. The report confirmed that there was also no evidence of any alleged connections which could have led to tampering.

Claims of potential hacking of voting tabulators or software were also rejected by the committee.

“If the losing party had been so confident of any of these cyber-attack theories or software-based vote switching, simply asking for several hand recounts or re-tabulations in the various precincts would have demonstrated a genuine hack had happened and that there was necessity for additional recounts and investigations,” the report said.

Another topic centered on unbalanced precinct counts. Reasons for out of balance precincts can often include the copying of overseas ballots, leaving a precinct without correcting a spoiled ballot, empty absentee ballot envelopes, or having more than one absentee ballot in the same envelope from the same household.

Significant unbalanced precincts can be proof of a potential problem. However, it was noted that unbalanced precincts in Michigan were a marginal issue.

A committee recommendation was made to develop best practices and training of election workers on how to maintain balanced precincts.

Audits performed by the secretary of state with local and county clerks, it was noted, have been attacked by activists and residents upset over the election results with claims of a conflict of interest by the secretary of state.

“Such allegations demonstrate a significant lack of understanding regarding the rigor and depth of the audit performed, especially its decentralized nature,” the report said, adding that audits are administered by county clerks with assistance from local clerks, a step removed from the secretary of state.

The committee also recommended there be live video feeds and recordings of audit procedures as well as allowing members of the public to view audits in person and posting the results online when possible. Another recommendation was a suggestion the Legislature pass election law changes to guarantee an audit upon request of any elector, as referenced in Proposal 3.

The report also found claims of dead residents voting in the election were mostly were false with only two claims of dead persons voting found, with one being a clerical error.

Of these cases, the first was an instance of a dead man whose son had the same name and lived at the same address. The other involved a 92-year-old woman who had submitted an absentee ballot but died four days before the election. Ballots cast by individuals who die before an election are rejected.

The Department of State and local clerks removed from the rolls about 3,500 voters statewide who died before the election, the report noted, commending the action.

For county clerks, the committee recommended they be provided the ability in statute to assist in removing dead voters from the Qualified Voter File. It was also recommended that the secretary of state work to find methods, including statutory changes, to help identify and prevent individuals from voting in multiple states.

Regarding the mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, the report said “citizens across the state were left confused and frustrated by the arrival of applications for long-deceased family members, those (who) moved to other states, or persons never present at that address.”

The committee during the course of its work subpoenaed the Department of State for communications related to pre-election mass mailings.

“Review of those documents and communications provided no distinct evidence of nefarious intent behind the three mass mailings of absentee ballot applications and information sent in 2020 to millions of individuals,” the report said.

It was recommended, however, that the mass mailing of absentee ballot applications to voters be discontinued.

Also addressed in the report was the topic of the rights of poll challengers and poll watchers and several claims made by Republicans including that they were discriminated against and removed from polling locations. The GOP also provided claims that their poll workers did not hear back from Wayne County regarding efforts to volunteer or were told there were already enough volunteers to run the election.

The committee recommended the Wayne County Republican Party work with local and county clerks to ensure the proper number of workers are confirmed for each polling location. It was also recommended the Bureau of Elections investigate and provide the committee with an evaluation of partisan poll worker recruitment in Wayne County and in Detroit.

There was significant confusion and a hostile environment at the TCF Center during the election, the report said, with the partisan and ideological nature of some poll watchers and challengers contributing to that environment.

The report said the environment at the TCF Center was compounded by a lack of proper recruitment and training of election workers by the clerk, a failure of the GOP to verify recruitment and training, as well as failures by the party to have adequate election attorneys. It was also suggested that there be more done to properly train and counsel some of their volunteers and poll challengers.

“Republican officials, along with some ostensibly independent challengers, furthered the crisis by putting out the call to other members and citizens to descend on the location to stop what was described and presented as a stealing of the election,” the report said. It was noted that the response by poll workers, which to them may have seemed appropriate at the time, including covering windows, calling the police, and removing challengers, may have “exacerbated the situation.”

The committee suggested updating requirements for poll challengers, such as training and responsibilities, clerks being held to recruiting adequate poll workers, uniform training on law updates, and instructing law enforcement on proper responses to disturbances created by poll workers or volunteers. Similarly, the report urged the Wayne County Republican Party and other groups to repudiate the actions of individuals who urged people to descend on the TCF Center.

Another previously debunked claim addressed in the report was the allegation that thousands of ballots had been dumped at the TCF Center early in the morning after the polls closed on election night. Christopher Thomas, the senior election advisor for Detroit, said 16,000 ballots were brought to the TCF Center between 3 and 5 a.m.

These were ballots gathered at the clerk’s main and satellite offices and processed after the polls closed at 8 p.m. They were later sent to the TCF Center to be counted.

A photo online alleged to be ballots secretly delivered late at night was actually a WXYZ-TV photographer hauling his equipment to the TCF Center.

The committee recommended absentee ballot drop boxes either not be used or be closed prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day so that the gathering, processing, and tabulating of such ballots would not last late into the evening. Having staff immediately available to collect the ballots at 8 p.m. should be considered, the committee added.

Several further recommendations were provided in the report, including:

  • Ensuring absentee voter counting boards have more than one challenger per party and to allow challengers who leave the location after the sequester is lifted to be replaced;
  • Allow for the continued pre-processing of absentee ballots the day before Election Day with stringent security measures in place;
  • Consider allowing tabulation of votes in the week before Election Day with results not to be divulged prior to Election Day; and
  • Requiring canvassers to be present for canvassing activities, expanding certain county boards of canvassers in high population regions, and allowing additional time for the process to be completed.

McBroom said in conclusion the committee had conducted a thorough review of the elections and procedures as well as allegations of improper election activities and fraud.

“Our clear finding is that citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan,” McBroom wrote. “The committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain. We also conclude citizens should demand reasonable updates and reforms to close real vulnerabilities and unlawful activities that caused much of the doubt and questionability to flourish and could, if left unchecked, be responsible for serious and disastrous fraud or confusion in the future.”

Consumers Announces Goal to End Use of Coal By 2025

Consumers Energy Company announced a proposal Wednesday to phase out its use of coal as a source of producing electricity by 2025, or 15 years earlier than previously planned.

Company officials said it would be among the first utilities nationally to eliminate coal from its energy portfolio under the plan, which would require approval from the Public Service Commission. The company’s integrated resource plan is to be filed with the PSC on June 30.

The plan would require the company to set the retirement of several of the plant’s remaining coal-fired power plant units between six and 15 years ahead of their individual designed operating lives.

Consumers CEO Garrick Rochow said the proposal further commits the company to being a major steward of the environment.

“This plan is important for our company, our coworkers, our customers, and our planet,” Rochow said, calling the plan “a defining moment in our work to lead the clean energy transformation.”

Through the new integrated resource plan proposal, Consumers would build about 8,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2040. The plan maintains the goal of having 90% of its energy produced by clean energy sources by 2040.

The three coal-fired units are at the J.H. Campbell Generating Plant in West Olive. The first two units would be slated for retirement in 2025, about six years earlier than the end of their estimated operating lives. The units produce about 600 megawatts of electricity. The facility’s third coal-fired unit would also be shut down in 2025, which was originally estimated to have an operating life through 2040. The third unit produces about 840 megawatts of electricity.

Two further coal-fired units, the Karn 3 and Karn 4 units, would be retired in 2023, about eight years earlier than the end of their estimated operating lives. The two units produce more than 1,100 megawatts of electricity to meet peak demand. The units run on natural gas and fuel oil.

To allow for the transition to more clean energy resources, Consumers is proposing to buy four existing natural gas-fired plants. The plants are the Covert Generating Station in Van Buren County, the Dearborn Industrial Generation in Wayne County, the Kalamazoo River Generating Station in Kalamazoo County, and the Livingston Generating Station in Otsego County.

State and federal regulatory approval would be needed for the proposed purchases.

Consumers estimated the proposal would save customers about $650 million through 2040.

Rochow said the utility plans on supporting the employees and communities in which the plants slated for retirement reside.

He added that the plan would eliminate an estimated 63 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions – the equivalent of about 12.4 million automobiles coming off of the roads.

The purchase of the natural gas plants will allow the company to ensure adequate resources while the renewable sources are built out.

“We’ve got a playbook in hand, we know how to do this, and we know how to be successful in this,” Rochow said, pointing to retiring seven coal plants since 2016.

Brandon Hoffmeister, the company’s senior vice president of governmental, regulatory, and public affairs, said the plan makes the company a leader in the industry’s clean energy movement.

“Ending the use of coal as a fuel source for electricity is a historic moment for our company, our customers, and for Michigan. This plan makes a positive impact quickly,” Hoffmeister said.

He added that by 2030, more than 70% of the company’s energy capacity would be produced through clean sources. The plan for rapidly expanding solar power would also be flexible to adjust to emerging needs and new technologies.

“We’re buying a used car rather than a new car,” Hoffmeister said, calling the purchase of the existing natural gas plants a strong purchase, which would provide savings for customers.

Hoffmeister said the coal-fired plants and their employees have served their communities for years, so it will be important to help them during the transition. He said Consumers has worked hard in cases of past plant shutdowns to help employees in finding future work within the company.

Hoffmeister added the company also works with local leaders to develop plans for the economic redevelopment of the plant sites in advance of closures, allowing local governments the ability to plan what would work best for their needs.

The retiring of the coal-fired plants would be contingent on the purchase of the natural gas plants. The change to natural gas would amount to about an equal level of electricity production.

A total of 510 employees would be affected by the coal plant closures, the company said.

The initial response to the plan was positive from various groups.

“Consumers Energy’s plan to retire all coal generation by 2025 is a smart move that will benefit Michigan ratepayers by eliminating the most expensive, inefficient and polluting form of generation in our energy portfolio,” Ed Rivet, executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, said in a statement. “Michigan’s entire coal supply is imported from out-of-state, while we export our energy dollars to pay for it. Natural gas is a cleaner, more affordable alternative that is easy to store and readily available in Michigan.”

Charlotte Jameson, program director for energy for the Michigan Environmental Council, was also pleased with the announcement. She noted in a statement that the group would be intervening in the cases to see how the company can transition more quickly to fully carbon-free.

“This historic and critical announcement from Consumers Energy to shutter coal plants ahead of schedule will improve the health of Michigan residents and protect our Great Lakes from pollution,” Jameson said. “However, we are skeptical of the transition to using additional natural gas to fulfill our state’s energy needs.”

Messer Chairs First MEDC Meeting; To Take CEO Role Full-Time July 12

Tuesday marked the first Michigan Strategic Fund board meeting chaired by incoming Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Quentin Messer, despite Messer not starting in his official capacity until July 12.

In comments prior to the official board meeting, Messer told reporters that he would be helming the meeting to get experience prior to assuming the role to “have a smooth transition to my full-time employment status here at MEDC.”

“I’m humbled and honored to be here. This is an incredible team that I get to join,” Messer said. “But let’s focus on the projects. That’s the reason why we’re here today. It sends the message that Michigan’s economy is recovering. We’re creating jobs, we’re growing opportunity, we’re enhancing communities – and that we couldn’t be more excited about.”

At the full Michigan Strategic Fund board meeting Tuesday, the board would go on to approve two community vitality projects and two business investment projects.

First was for the Whirlpool Corporation and Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment, LLC which was approved for a performance-based grant in the amount of up to $750,000. The company was also approved for an Act 381 Work Plan, as well as an amendment to their 21st Century Jobs Fund Grant. Under the work plan, Whirlpool would be agreeing to a state tax capture in the amount of just more than $1.8 million.

Capital investment would total $20.9 million in result in an 89,600-square foot apartment complex development in Benton Harbor, with rent for individual apartments ranging from $1,120 to $1,682, along with a 153,000-square-foot Technical Center. The tech center project is anticipated to retain 400 full-time research and development, engineering, and administrative support positions.

“We’re the last major American appliance company – we have a 110-year history, headquartered in southwest Michigan,” said Don D’Anna, Whirlpool Corporation’s vice president of global tax. “We’re proud of that history. We must attract and retain talent in southwest Michigan. It’s vital to us.”

Both Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Township) and Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) submitted letters of support for the project.

The other community vitality project, a pier placemaking project in Houghton, was also approved for a request just more than $4 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for public improvements and infrastructure needs. The city of Houghton would be contributing 22% of project costs, totaling $1.1 million, through a general obligation bond. Overall capital investment would total $20.9 million.

As for business investment projects, the board also approved requests from American Axle and Manufacturing for a project in Three Rivers as well as Hollingsworth Logistics Group, LLC for a project in Brownstown Charter Township.

The board approved a resolution from American Axle requesting up to $2 million in CDBG funds and a 100% State Essential Services Assessment exemption for up to five years valued at roughly $468,800. This money would be used to purchase machinery and equipment needed to establish and maintain a Center of Excellence for axle manufacturing. It’s estimated the project would create 100 jobs and bring in a capital investment of $40.6 million. LaSata also submitted a letter in support of this project as well.

It also approved a resolution from Hollingsworth to approve a $1.5 million Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant. These funds would be used to expand operations in a 500,000-square foot facility in Wayne County, resulting in the creation of an estimated 250 new jobs. Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) submitted a letter of support for this project.

Following the MEDC’s approval of the projects, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer praised each investment in a statement.

“Today’s projects help us continue to jumpstart Michigan’s economy by creating hundreds of good-paying jobs, reinvigorating our hospitality industry, and supporting vibrant communities across Michigan,” she said. “Through today’s significant investments and initiatives, we are reminding the world that the ingenuity and innovation of Michigan’s people and businesses remains unmatched.”

In addition to the four approved projects, the MEDC Tuesday also approved the following:

  • A revision of the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Program guidelines to assist in streamlining the administration and reporting of the five innovation hubs overseen by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech University, and Wayne State University;
  • A reallocation of $177,335 to three of the five Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Statewide Program Innovation Hubs overseen by UM, WSU, and MTU;
  • A reallocation of $250,000 from the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program budget to the Technology Transfer Talent Network, a statewide university network supporting the commercialization of university technologies, licenses to industry partners and startup creation through key talent and business expertise program, and
  • An extension of the existing contract with Connected Nation Michigan to Dec. 31, along with a request of up to $500,000 of CDBG CARES Act funds to continue its existing work.