July 7, 2023 | This Week in Government: Dems Seek to Require Polluters to Clean Up SpillsJuly 7, 2023
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides 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.
Dems Seek to Require Polluters to Clean Up Spills
Democrats reintroduced legislation recently that would give state regulators authority to require companies to clean up environmental damage following an incident, something bill sponsors say is needed to protect land and to ensure a timely response from polluters.
At least one business group is opposed, saying it upends due process for companies and provides unilateral authority to a state agency.
Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) said his bill is a reintroduction of a proposal from the last session and that the legislation’s origins are from a sediment release in 2019 caused by a lowering of water levels by STS Hydropower, operator of the Morrow Dam, which resulted in a large release of sediment. The 2019 sediment release totaled about 400,000 cubic yards.
With the ongoing lawsuit, he said, “It was pretty clear there wouldn’t be a whole lot we can do about it except try to find money for the cleanup.”
On June 21, McCann introduced SB 398, and Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) introduced HB 4832. The bills would enable the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to issue written emergency orders when inland lakes and streams are threatened. The department would also be able to order responsible parties to begin immediate cleanup.
“The best outcome here is … a tool in the toolbox after-the-fact to give EGLE and the director for future kinds of situations that might be a dynamic like this,” McCann said. “This basically allows the EGLE leadership to enact a faster response, but only to be used in … specially called-for circumstances.”
Michael Alaimo, director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, expressed concerns with the increased authority provided to EGLE in the legislation in a Monday statement.
“We are very concerned with a state agency having this extraordinary power to take property with no due process prior to issuing the emergency order,” Alaimo said.
Alaimo called the proposed changes a significant unilateral authority that would operate outside of the current statute surrounding environmental clean-ups and state of emergency-declarations. He said the chamber will be communicating its concerns to lawmakers as the bills are considered.
These comments were in line with pushback McCann said he has heard from the business community in the past and which he expects to hear again this session. That pushback is that it would give unelected government officials too broad of a level of authority to clamp down on businesses.
“It’s just this kind of the general standard response that is ‘This is giving too much power to the environmental regulators … it’s just too dangerous that they’re going to use this power willy-nilly, and that’d be bad for business,’” McCann said.
McCann said he rejects that mindset.
He said there are clearly some bad actors, and this legislation would address those companies when they have a major environmental violation.
“They can order a response faster, or they can issue higher fines,” McCann said, adding that EGLE could have the option to issue escalating fines to compel a response from the company following environmental incidents to which the bill would apply.
McCann said he believes the STS lawsuit is not expected to be taken up in court until sometime in 2024.
He added he would ideally like to see the Kalamazoo River situation resolved, preferably with some form of voluntary cleanup. However, he was unsure if that scenario would be in the cards at this stage.
Bottle Deposit Law Expansion Eyed by Legislature
Lawmakers may begin looking to expand the state’s bottle deposit law after they return from their summer recess, with legislation set to be introduced that would expand the existing 10-cent deposit to include most non-carbonated beverages.
Democrats announced last week they plan to introduce legislation that would require the acceptance of all recyclable containers at places that take recycled bottles.
The bills, when formally introduced, would require retailers to accept all non-carbonated beverage containers, excluding milk containers.
A bottle-handling fund would be created to reimburse distributors and dealers for each bottle.
McCann, in a statement, called the state’s 1970s bottle deposit law “iconic” and a mechanism that spurred conservation.
“There is no good reason that some of our plastic, glass, and aluminum water bottles, and other single-use containers are not returnable when we have a functioning system that consumers and retailers are familiar with,” McCann said. “We must act to protect our future by expanding our beverage container recycling system to keep bottles and cans out of landfills now!”
Under the bills, funding would also be provided for audits and fraud enforcement. Also, $25 million would be provided yearly for dealing with contaminated sites.
“By updating our current bottle return system and adding additional incentives, we can continue to solidify Michigan as one of the leaders in our nation when it comes to bottle returns,” Morse said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Senator McCann and stakeholders to strengthen our return system and keep our environment clean.”
Andrea Bitely, vice president of marketing and communications for the Michigan Retailers Association, in a statement, said the addition of more containers “only exacerbates the problems that the program currently has” and increases challenges to grocers and retailers that take back recyclables.
“Previous legislation to expand the number of containers would have caused WIC and SNAP recipients to encounter the $.10 bottle fee and offers no proof that expanding the bottle bill would actually increase Michigan’s all-time low recycling rates,” Bitely said. “Michigan residents would be better served by establishing more community recycling centers to safely dispose of containers, rather than continuing to traipse soiled pop cans through the same aisles where we purchase fresh food.”
Michigan is one of 10 states and the territory of Guam to have bottle deposit laws and was one of the first to pass such a law, in 1976, via ballot initiative. Any effort to change the initiated act would take a three-fourths majority of the Legislature (editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the supermajority needed to amend the bottle deposit law).
Under current law, 25% of deposits of bottles not returned by customers go to grocers and retailers, with the rest going to the Cleanup and Redevelopment Trust Fund.
The most recent statistics from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy show $413.6 million in deposits were collected in 2021, with refunds totaling $311.8 million.
EGLE, on its website, states that Michigan does not gather statistics on beverage container return rates.
Last session, legislation was passed to provide funding toward enforcement of the bottle deposit system, creating a Bottle Bill Enforcement Fund and additional record keeping of deposits (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 9, 2021).
Henry Ford College to Offer Battery Technician Job Training Program
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday there will be a new battery technician certification program available at Henry Ford College, with the program aimed at helping residents earn a range of skills and the state produce electric vehicles.
“The new battery job training program at Henry Ford College will offer Michiganders seeking an in-demand, high-skill career the training and education they need to succeed,” Whitmer said in a statement. “By forging effective partnerships, we are shoring up our leadership in mobility and electrification, helping employers fill their workforce needs, and delivering on the goals of ‘Make it in Michigan,’ our comprehensive vision for economic development that focuses on winning projects, investing in people, and revitalizing places. Let’s keep connecting hardworking Michiganders with the education they need to land one of the thousands of good-paying jobs we are competing to bring home.”
The program is anticipated to help 3,000 residents across the state through 2027. It will also help employers who participate in the Electric Vehicle Jobs Academy to prepare their current and future employees and will likely lead to employees earning an average wage of $30 an hour.
The Southeast Michigan Community Alliance Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity worked with the Electric Vehicle Jobs Academy to make the program possible. The Academy includes partners at Henry Ford College, the Michigan Workforce Training and Education Collaborative, and the Education Programs in Collaboration (MWTEC EPiC).
“The WIN Board of Directors and EV Jobs Academy partners have been working together to collect and analyze data identifying the training gaps around EV and mobility. The need for high-quality training curricula has been a focus of the EV Jobs Academy,” WIN Executive Director Michele Economou Ureste said in a statement. “With over 130 partners in the EV Jobs Academy employer-led collaborative, this investment moves us one step closer to training and reskilling the Michigan workforce with electrified vehicle technology at the forefront.”
WIN also was awarded a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to be used to build an “industry infinity supply chain” in addition to the EV Jobs Academy grant it received in 2022. The release stated that the overlap of the eligible occupations of both grants allowed Henry Ford College to acquire the battery technology curriculum through the industry infinity funds expected to be delivered to community colleges currently working with the Education Programs in Collaboration in fall 2023.
“Thanks to Henry Ford College, we are able to scale the Battery Technology curriculum through the EPiC platform, which includes 16 Community Colleges in the State of Michigan,” said Amy Lee, President of MWTEC’s EPiC Consortium. “The Henry Ford College purchase allows other colleges access to the cutting-edge curriculum.”
The EV Jobs Academy will also provide residents with tuition assistance and supportive services, including a registered apprenticeship that allows participants to earn money while learning the necessary skills.
Henry Ford College was able to procure the first EIT InnoEnergy Battery Technician curriculum in the U.S. The battery technology program is expected to enhance existing programs and current careers, such as automotive and maintenance technicians, providing incumbent workers with the skill sets needed for battery technology.
Hill Harper Poised to Enter U.S. Senate Race
A long-rumored U.S. Senate election bid by actor Hill Harper may be close to becoming reality, which would expand the Democratic primary field and could increase the challenge to current frontrunner U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin.
Harper, who has been named among those weighing a run for the open seat following the retirement of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), has not gone public regarding his intentions.
An online form inviting potential supporters to a Detroit launch event on Tuesday, July 11, has begun circulating. On Monday, Politico reported that sources close to Harper said the Detroit actor may be weeks away from formally kicking off a campaign.
Sources in the Politico story added that an announcement video has been shot through The Win Company, a New York City-based Democratic media and consulting firm, and that campaign t-shirts have been ordered.
A request for comment left Thursday with Harper publicist was not immediately returned.
Harper’s acting experience includes a leading role on “CSI: NY,” which ran from 2004-13, and, more recently, “The Good Doctor,” which has aired since 2017.
He also has written four books and served on former President Barack Obama’s Cancer Panel in 2011. Harper founded a nonprofit focused on helping underserved youth and bought the Roasting Plant Coffee shop in downtown Detroit in 2017.
Slotkin announced her campaign for U.S. Senate in late February and held her first campaign rally in early March (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 6, 2023).
Prior to her entry into the race, most big-name Democrats rumored to be weighing the race opted out, which appeared to clear the field for the representative.
Since then, four others have entered the race: Dearborn businessman Nasser Beydoun, Ann Arbor attorney Zack Burns, former Rep. Leslie Love of Detroit, and Board of Education President Pamela Pugh of Saginaw.
Harper’s entry could give Democrats a second candidate with the ability to raise big money. Harper, who is Black, could also potentially draw support from Black voters and more liberal party members, though Love and Pugh are also Black.
Slotkin, who has won three highly competitive U.S. House races while touting her moderate credentials, has been working to increase her name recognition across the state. She also has been courting Black voters in Detroit and other major communities across the state.
For the Republicans, Board of Education member Nikki Snyder of Dexter headlines their primary field so far, with former Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott of New Buffalo, Laingsburg businessman Michael Hoover and attorney Alexandria Taylor of Romulus also in the race.
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is also reportedly considering the GOP primary, which could give the party a top-line candidate who has won tough races, raised large amounts of cash, and has national security experience, which the existing field lacks. (See Gongwer Michigan Report, July 3, 2023).
Slotkin will have a multi-million-dollar head start on a Harper campaign should he enter the race. She raised $1.2 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign and raised more than $3.06 million through the last quarter ending March 31. Federal Election Commission data showed that through the end of the last quarter, Slotkin had $2.3 million cash on hand.
The next FEC quarterly fundraising deadline was June 30, and reports are due July 15.
Rogers May Be Inching Closer to U.S. Senate Bid
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is reportedly seriously weighing entering the Republican primary for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat.
On Friday, Politico reported the former congressperson had been increasingly considering the race. He also has been potentially weighing a presidential run, despite downplaying both earlier this year (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 2, 2023).
Rogers’ potential entry into the U.S. Senate race would add to a primary featuring four GOP candidates, including Board of Education member Nikki Snyder of Dexter. Rogers, however, would be the first to run with both a history of running and winning tough campaigns, as well as the ability to raise funds.
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) is the considered favorite for the Democrats in their primary thus far, having raised millions in her first month of her campaign earlier this year, though she has several opponents for the Democratic nomination in business executive Nasser Beydoun, Ann Arbor attorney Zack Burns, former state Rep. Leslie Love and State Board of Education member Pamela Pugh.
If he is to run for the seat, Rogers will need to purchase a home in Michigan, as he moved to Florida and registered to vote in Florida last year.
The former representative served in the U.S. House from 2001 to 2015 and was in the state Senate from 1995 to 2001.
After leaving Congress, Rogers and his wife founded Leadership to Ensure the American Dream (LEAD).
Also running in the GOP primary for the seat are Laingsburg businessman Michael Hoover, former Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott of New Buffalo, and attorney Alexandria Taylor of Romulus.
A former FBI agent and U.S. Army officer, a Rogers-Slotkin race would pit two candidates with a national security background. Slotkin is a former CIA analyst who worked in intelligence in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
While Rogers would have a resources advantage in a Republican primary over the current field, he also has not been on a ballot in Michigan since 2012. And while he was one of the Republican Party’s most gifted retail candidates at the time, how he would mesh with today’s core Republican voter is unknown.
Rogers was at times critical of former President Donald Trump.
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