Gov. Snyder’s Missed Opportunity
State of State address gives remarkably short shrift to energy policy
Power to Change | January 17, 2014 | By Jim Dulzo
About the Author
Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at 231-941-6584 x 18.
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|Gov. Snyder missed a perfect opportunity to address energy issues in his 2014 State of the State address.|
Gov. Rick Snyder has had a significant problem since the day he took office: He’s part of a largely vanished breed—elected moderate Republicans—leading a state party and working with a state Legislature that are extremely conservative.
That’s why clean energy advocates weren’t expecting a whole lot from him on energy issues during last night’s State of the State address. But we were at least hopeful, given the pre-speech scuttlebutt, that he would say something substantive and positive about them.
After all, his energy officials spent much of last year looking closely at energy issues—taking both public and expert comment, conducting an admirably transparent evaluation process, and publishing findings that were careful and forward-looking.
The governor’s experts concluded, rightly, that more renewables and efficiency were technically doable and economically benign, even stimulative. Last month, Snyder hosted a press briefing where he agreed with the findings, supported some unspecified expansions of renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates, and observed it would be a good idea to burn less coal for environmental and economic reasons.
More than 1,600 people participated in the year-long process that led to that briefing, and it’s hard to think of what else Snyder could have done to set the table so nicely for taking the next step—touting the findings at his annual address and urging legislative action.
He had the facts the process produced, which clearly support higher renewable and efficiency mandates, and polls confirming strong public support. Michiganders favor more renewables and efficiency by a three-to-one margin, while self-identified Republicans support them, too, albeit by a smaller majority.
He also had editorials from around the state that, with few exceptions, urged action and often noted that, with the current clean energy mandates almost fulfilled, expanding them soon makes technical, economic, and environmental sense.
So his State of the State was a perfect, but missed opportunity for a very positive shout-out (he did dozens of those, for all sorts of things, throughout the hour-long address) about the study results or how well the utilities are doing meeting their mandates.
|Bill Latka, of Rivet Entertainment and TC350, reacts to Gov. Snyder's speech.|
But none of that happened; Snyder literally spent six seconds on energy. As Nic Clark, of Clean Water Action observed, you could fit more about energy into a 140-character Tweet than the governor did in his entire speech. No wonder even those cynical about Snyder’s true intentions on energy—and MLUI is not among them—were shocked.
There are dozens of groups, including the Michigan Land Use Institute, and thousands of citizens who want the governor to lead on energy—and not just within his administration, where he is, in fact, doing an excellent job via directives and appointments.
Before his speech, however, an MLUI fan who is a major Snyder supporter and an industry-bred energy expert cautioned us not to expect too much from Snyder’s address or, indeed, this session of the state Legislature.
He said Snyder doesn’t want to undermine Tea Party lawmakers up for re-election by forcing them to choose between doing what science, economics, practical experience, and the people of Michigan support—promptly and aggressively expanding renewable and efficiency mandates—and doing what Tea Party ideology” dictates—either absolutely nothing or attacking clean energy as a liberal plot.
Clearly, Snyder “gets it” about clean energy, as his informal press briefing and the “energy framework” he described there confirm.
What is not clear is whether it makes tactical sense to wait until elections are over to push lawmakers. The ways of Lansing right now are deeply convoluted and too often unresponsive to what people actually want. Ideology reigns within the dominant party in both chambers, and getting non-ideological things done is usually very difficult.
|Betsy Coffia, candidate for state representative, reacts to Gov. Snyder's speech.|
So, what’s next?
As the Snyder administration continues to quietly chip away at energy policy, MLUI and dozens of other groups—not to mention thousands of citizens—will continue making the case for stronger clean-energy mandates, more good-paying clean-energy jobs, the clean air and water they provide, and the stronger leadership role Michigan should be playing in both the national and world economies.
Those economies are, at a steadily increasing pace, leaving fossil fuels and their health and climate-harming emissions behind. Let’s hope—and act to make sure that—we don’t get left behind, too.
Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.