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On Environment, Activism vs. Incentives

Granholm stresses government role; Posthumus more skeptical

October 31, 2002 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

MLUI/Keith Schneider
  Dick Posthumus and Jennifer Granholm have taken steps to appear green.

Last August, just a few weeks after her decisive Democratic primary victory, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm told a group of the state’s prominent environmental advocates that if she were elected Michigan’s water and air would get cleaner, its parks and natural lands would be protected, and environmental laws would be enforced. She also promised to establish a new Office of Smart Growth to shape new policies to halt urban sprawl and conserve the state’s dwindling farmland.

The environmentalists who gathered with Ms. Granholm immediately sought a similar get together with Republican Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus, but were repeatedly rebuffed by Mr. Posthumus’ campaign and the meeting never occurred. Instead, late in September Mr. Posthumus attended one of the two candidate forums – Ms. Granholm attended the other a month later -- held by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, an alliance of hunting,  fishing, and conservation organizations.

According to several people who attended, Mr. Posthumus talked to a select group of leaders from gun owner, timber, hunting dog, fishing, trapping, and wild game groups about his plan to safeguard the Great Lakes, his love of farming and hunting, and his concern about sprawling development.

Environment More Prominent Than in Other States
With the 2002 Michigan gubernatorial campaign in its final days, the quality of Michigan’s environment and natural resources is playing a more influential role in the outcome than in any other race for governor in the nation. The security of the Great Lakes, the loss of farmland and wild spaces to sprawl, and how to prevent fecal contamination in water are priorities for Michigan voters, according to polls by both campaigns.

In response, the two candidates have taken steps to appear green. They published comprehensive plans to protect freshwater from contamination and diversions. Both support expanding the state Natural River Act, which hasn’t been used since 1988 to safeguard a wild river in Michigan. Both opposed drilling for oil and gas beneath Lake Michigan. Both have expressed concern about sprawl, though Ms. Granholm is more specific about where she would start to develop solutions. Both worry about the loss of farmland. And both have felt the sting of criticism from several of the state’s environmental leaders.

Anne Woiwode, the state director of the Sierra Club, called Mr, Posthumus “remarkably ignorant” about pollution from factory farms, and declared his environmental record as a state senator and as lieutenant governor “pathetic.”

During the primary campaign earlier this year, Alex Sagady, a consultant and environmental advocate in Lansing, lashed Ms. Granholm’s record on garbage imports to Michigan. “She’s certainly been missing from the action,” he said. Mr. Sagady added: “I’ve yet to see Granholm do any heavy lifting at all on state environmental policy.”

In other words both candidates are not only talking with varying degrees of clarity about many of the same environmental problems, they are jostling each other for position in the moderate center. Having arrived there it appears that regardless of who wins, the state’s environment and natural resources seem likely to attract more respectful attention than they did during the years of studied indifference and aggressive neglect by outgoing Republican Governor John Engler.

Who Really Cares Most?
The issue then is the one that Dave Dempsey, the author, policy specialist at the Lansing-based Michigan Environmental Council, and advisor to Ms. Granholm, raised in August: “Who as governor will bring together people who genuinely care about protecting our state?”

The answer to that question is where the candidates’ supporters and critics find the telling clues about their differences, which are striking.

Ms. Granholm has sought during the campaign to portray herself as an activist. Her record as the attorney general for a conservative administration is strong. In 1999, she filed a lawsuit seeking $425,000 in penalties from the developers of the Arcadia Bluffs golf course in Manistee County who had contaminated Lake Michigan with thousands of tons of sediment. It was the largest penalty ever sought for water quality violations caused by soil erosion. The case is still in court.

In September, 2001 she wrote a letter opposing drilling for oil and gas beneath the Great Lakes and criticized the Engler administration’s oversight of the issue, calling it “unwise” and a “serious mistake.” That same month Ms. Granholm again opposed the governor and issued a formal legal opinion that found the Perrier company’s withdrawal of groundwater in Mecosta County an illegal diversion of Great Lakes water under federal law. Two months later she stood with environmental organizations and several Democratic lawmakers beneath the state Capitol rotunda to announce her support for comprehensive legislation to establish new water security safeguards. “As a Great Lakes state Michigan shares responsibility for one-fifth of the world’s fresh water,” she said. “Yet we are one of just two states in the region without a framework for using this precious resource.”

Granholm's Activist Campaign
Throughout the race, Ms. Granholm also made numerous stops to support grassroots environmental campaigns, many of them aimed at overturning decisions made by the Engler administration.
In September, she and state Senator John Cherry, her running mate for lieutenant governor, traveled to Saginaw where Ms. Granholm explained her commitment to “openess in government and the protection of family health” and then met citizen groups concerned about high levels of dioxin along the Tittabawassee River.

She stepped up the environmental campaign in October. On October 12 she went to Grand Haven to lament the “destruction of scenic, ecologically important sand dunes” under what she called the “Engler-Posthumus regime.” She promised to “improve enforcement of sand dune protection laws.”

On October 16 Ms. Granholm was in Macomb County to criticize Mr. Engler and Mr. Posthumus for failing to “stand up for the people’s resources,” especially Lake St. Clair. She promised to appoint a “state-level Lake St. Clair coordinator” and convene a Lake St. Clair summit to “implement a plan to protect and restore the lake.”

On October 25 she sent Mr. Cherry to meet with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer and staff member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was in Michigan to promote a new Riverkeeper Program for Detroit. Mr. Cherry said if elected, the Granholm administration would develop a “comprehensive water use strategy” to protect Michigan’s watersheds and create a “Michigan Clean Water Corps” of volunteers to monitor water quality across the state.

Such advocacy prompted the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action to endorse Ms. Granholm in October, along with the League of Conservation Voters and a sizable list of prominent supporters – Marlene Fluharty, a former member of the Natural Resources Commission; Jim Goodheart, the former director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Chris Shafer, a professor of environmental law at the Cooley Law School. “Jennifer Granholm has one of the best environmental platforms we have ever reviewed and her efforts as attorney general on behalf of the environment are excellent,” said Daniel Farough, political director of the Sierra Club in Michigan.

Posthumus Not As Aggressive
Mr. Posthumus’ campaign on environmental issues has been less visible than Ms. Granholm’s. It’s also been characterized by inconsistency, say his critics. On one hand, Mr. Posthumus issued a “Marsall Plan” to protect the Great Lakes, a plan that includes new legislation to prevent water diversions and improve enforcement of environmental laws. During an appearance in April in Harbor Springs, he told the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, “Folks, it is the water that defines us and we need to protect it.”

On the other hand, in appearances before farm groups, Mr. Posthumus steadfastly supports the development of more factory farms and encourages voluntary guidelines to reduce extensive water pollution around the state caused by manure draining into lakes and streams. Mr. Posthumus also blames environmental regulations for harming the state’s farmers and has called for eliminating environmental rules that he considers unnecessary. He has not been specific, however, on which rules he dislikes.

In recent months Mr. Posthumus’ public statements on environmental issues have taken on a decidedly skeptical tone about advocacy organizations and the government’s role in managing natural resources. In October, he used an appearance in northern Michigan to criticize the National Park Service and its effort to establish wilderness safeguards in the 77,000 acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the lower peninsula’s only national park.

Last summer he accused the Michigan Environmental Council and the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor of being “environmental extremists” after both groups successfully enforced the air quality law and countered a permit that the state issued to General Motors, which would have made the air in Lansing dirtier.

And Mr. Posthumus has aggressively responded to criticism from environmental organizations about his record as Gov. Engler’s lieutenant governor, and in the legislature, calling the Sierra Club and several other advocacy organizations “radicals.” Sage Eastman, Mr. Posthumus’ campaign spokesman, said in an interview that “certain environmental groups do not want to seek the middle ground. Dick Posthumus is not antagonistic to environmentalism or the environmental movement. There are just segments of it he doesn’t agree with.”

One segment is environmental organizations that see government as indispensable in properly managing natural resources. Mr. Posthumus said he favors “self-initiated actions,” “incentives,” and other carrot-like approaches to encourage better environmental performance.

In response to criticism about his role in passing a 1996 state law that allows companies to conduct their own “environmental audits” and keep the results private, Mr. Posthumus said the law has prompted 2,000 audits that led to corrections and “actually helped to clean up Michigan’s environment.” Environmental organizations say there is no evidence to support Mr. Posthumus’ conclusion.

The lieutenant governor, a farmer and avid outdoorsman, has turned to the Michigan Farm Bureau Federation to shore up his environmental credentials. The Farm Bureau endorsed Mr. Posthumus because of his “firsthand knowledge of agriculture, hunting and fishing, and environmental stewardship, and he has a proven record of leadership.” The Michigan Association of Home Builders and the state Chamber of Commerce also issued endorsements for Mr. Posthumus.
Sam Washington, the director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said that during the meetings his group convened with the candidates there was notable consistency in their interests with the exception that Mr. Posthumus wants to maintain the 7-year-old separation of the Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality, and Ms. Granholm favors putting them back together, as they were prior to 1995.

Mr. Washington also said both candidates are mindful about one more issue that is overwhelming Lansing.  “Both of them started out almost immediately by addressing the real $1 billion or $1.5 billion state budget deficit,” he said. “Both realize the limitations of what they can practically do in the first year of their administration. No matter who is elected it appears the best that we can hope for in state support for natural resources is status quo. Neither of them said they would institute massive cuts in the area of the environment and natural resources.”

Keith Schneider, a regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press, New York Times, and Gristmagazine.com, is program director of the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at keith@mlui.org. For more of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s coverage of the Michigan gubernatorial campaign see The Great Choice 2002.

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