Citing a rising threat to public health and the environment, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive order battling climate change, aiming to make Michigan’s economy carbon-neutral by 2050.
“The science is clear – climate change is directly impacting our public health, environment, our economy and our families,” Whitmer said in a statement.
“This dangerous reality is already causing harm throughout Michigan, with communities of color and low-income Michiganders suffering disproportionately, which is why I’m taking immediate action to protect our state. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave them a cleaner, safer and healthier world.”
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The move was hailed by environmentalists as continuing forward momentum t toward cleaner energy and technologies, as Michigan warms and endures stronger storms that scientists have tied to global climate change. But it comes as Whitmer battles with the Republican-led state Legislature over her executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and restrictions on businesses and life in the name of public health that Republicans have called heavy-handed.
“The Majority Leader is not surprised by the governor using an EO (executive order) to attempt to control the climate as she has used EOs to try and control everything else in Michigan,” said Amber McCann, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
Whitmer’s decarbonization-by-2050 goal includes an interim target of a 28% reduction from 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2025.
Carbon neutrality generally means getting carbon emissions as close to zero as possible, and then utilizing various “offsets” – projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as planting trees or increased efficiencies at power plants – to address the remainder.
It’s unclear what kinds of changes the order might mean for Michigan businesses and residents. It’s a framework with large goals that gives the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, with the help of a newly formed Council on Climate Solutions, the task of devising ways to get there.
The council will include the directors or director-designated representatives from nine state agencies and 14 state residents appointed by the governor, “representing the range of sectors, experiences and expertise relevant to this issue.”
The council will advise EGLE in formulating and implementing a “MI Healthy Climate Plan,” the state’s action plan for greenhouse gas emissions. The work is to include identifying and recommending emissions-reduction strategies, and identifying solutions for communities disproportionately impacted by changing climate.
The council may establish advisory work groups, make inquiries, studies and investigations, hold hearings, and receive public comments. It may hire or retain contractors, advisers and consultants, and enter into relevant contracts “as the (EGLE) director deems advisable and necessary.”
EGLE “must assist the Council in the performance of its duties and provide personnel to staff the Council,” the order states.
Whitmer, in an accompanying executive directive, called on EGLE to provide her with the climate plan in draft form by Sept. 1, 2021, with a final plan by the end of that year.
A 2019 study by 18 university researchers, most of them from institutions around the Great Lakes, including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, found that the Great Lakes Basin has warmed faster than the rest of the contiguous United States over the past 30 years. The warming is mostly tied to human activity, according to scientists.
The Midwest and the Northeast are getting more precipitation than in the past, and more of that coming in larger events, particularly in the winter and spring. Since 1951, total annual precipitation has increased by 13.6% in the Great Lakes region, with the amount falling in heavy storms increasing 35% in that time period, according to Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments, or GLISA, an Ann Arbor-based partnership between the University of Michigan and Michigan State Universit…