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Environmental > Politics and Prejudices

Nature betrayed

Scoring Lansing pols on the environment

 

Published 5/26/2010

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Old Teddy Roosevelt oughta be angrily looking down and shaking his fist at those who run his Republican Party today. Bill Milliken is sitting up in Traverse City, presumably shaking his head.

Once upon a time, Republicans like these two men were leaders in the conservation and environmental movement. TR, for example, established the U.S. Forest Service more than a century ago, along with more national parks than he could swing his famous big stick at.

William G. Milliken, of course, is widely recognized as the most pro-environment governor Michigan has ever had. Yet today, that spirit is gone. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has just released its latest Michigan Environmental Scorecard, ranking every legislator in the state on a wide range of environmental issues.

Democrats were far from perfect ecological citizens. As the report notes, "in the late hours of the night, just before Christmas 2009, Speaker [Andy] Dillon and Senate Majority Leader [Mike] Bishop worked together to add amendments to a routine pollution prevention bill to actively weaken natural resource protection."

But many of the Dems had far better voting records on the environment than their leaders. And Republicans were almost all far worse than the Democrats — and Bishop, the man who now wants to be state attorney general, is worst of all.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters' ranking is based on a "scorecard" of votes on issues important to the environment. I went over it with Kerry Duggan, the deputy director of the Michigan LCV.

What it shows, she says, was "that inaction in the Senate was the common theme of the legislative session. Numerous bills were passed in the state House to protect Michigan citizens and children from toxic substances like mercury, arsenic and lindane. But none of the bills saw the light of day in the Senate."

Why? Mike Bishop — who scored a perfect zero for his environmental record — prevented any of the pro-environment bills passed by the House from coming up for a vote. 

"Most of the time spent by the Senate on conservation and environmental issues was spent trying to dismantle environmental protections," Duggan says. 

There were a lot of legislators who received a perfect score on voting for the environment — 32 of the 110 members of the House; 11 of the 38 state senators. But three state representatives voted against the environment every time — including Tom McMillin, the Rochester Hills Republican known mainly for his anti-gay positions. Nine GOP senators also were perfectly horrible. In fact, the highest score any Republican received was 50 percent — Sharon Tyler, a state rep from Niles.

The lowest score any Democrat registered was 44 percent — notched by Doug Bennett of Muskegon Township. A couple of other Democrats tied Tyler; the rest were all more environmentally friendly. That may make some think the LCV is some kind of front for the Democratic Party — something some GOP politicians would claim. But William and Helen Milliken are its honorary co-chairs, and former GOP congressman Joe Schwarz is a board member. Additionally, the immediate past president is William Farr, who was once the Michigan GOP's nominee for state attorney general.

LCV officials know their best chances of success come when they can be bipartisan. But they are more concerned that, as the Michigan Environmental Scorecard points out, Michigan's elected officials "too often have picked short-sighted policies that put our natural resources in danger."

Worst of all, according to the report: more and more dirty, coal-fired power plants; permitting "poorly regulated factory farms that dump mammoth quantities of manure into our lakes"; and continuing to export and sell Great Lakes water to bottling firms who ship it far away.

It doesn't have to be like this, the report accompanying the scorecard notes. Other states have enacted strong clean-energy policies, assured long-term adequate funding for habitat protection and clean water. "These states are attracting new businesses and stimulating the economy," while Michigan flounders.

Kerry Duggan, who grew up in Farmington Hills, is only 31. But she told me that she had been interested for years "in why lawmakers, especially in Michigan, do not vote in ways to protect Michigan's core assets — especially when we are talking about places where they and their families" go for recreation.

Duggan had been working for the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C., where, a couple years ago, she helped vet the various presidential candidates' environmental stands. But she came back last year to help raise awareness in her home state.

"Citizens expect that lawmakers will vote in ways that protect our natural resources," she says. "Unfortunately, politics gets in the way of logic." She sees her job as shedding light on the good, bad, and ugly regarding votes in Lansing. That's why the scorecard exists.

Don't you wish somebody had published one that would have drawn attention to offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?

For the full text of the Michigan LCV scorecard, including every legislator's individual score, see michiganlcv.org.


Why not just deport them?
It has been largely entertaining to watch what will probably be the final months of state Sen. Bruce Patterson's colorful political career. Colorful, of course, is a polite term for bizarre. Patterson, a term-limited Republican from the trackless wastes of Canton, has sometimes sensibly opposed the poisonous policies and strong-arm tactics of his leader, Majority Leader Bishop. But last week, some parts of Brucie's brain seemed to have locked up.

Forgetting about that pesky thing called the First Amendment, Patterson has introduced a bill that would have reporters be licensed by Lansing. According to MIRS, the Michigan Information and Research Service, he wants to add reporters to the list of occupations regulated by the state.

The idea is that "legitimate" reporters would prove their credentials, pay a fee, and then become a "Michigan Registered Reporter," something he suggests ought to be added to their byline.

My guess is that Old Bruce means well. He said that a lot of reporters don't really understand what's going on in Lansing, and nobody can dispute that. But his bill is a bad one.

Journalists know that the entire concept of freedom of the press depends on us not being licensed by government. Because if we start letting government determine who is a "licensed reporter," it's a short step to allowing them to decide who can no longer write and publish. And then you can kiss your democracy goodbye. At any rate, I don't know any reporter who could meet Patterson's standard, since it includes a requirement that we be of "good moral character."

However, I wouldn't worry much about his bill ever seeing the light of day. His non-buddy Mike Bishop doesn't like us either, but Patterson's bill would charge us a fee, and Iron Mike has decreed that he will prevent the state from collecting any revenue, no matter what.

Ain't democracy grand?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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