By George Weeks
July 13, 2014
The Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which in recent years has shown growing clout in politics, last week exercised it on two fronts, especially in northern Michigan, where it made two of its only three endorsements in legislative primaries.
The LCV’s annual environmental scorecard gave state legislators a 2013-14 grade of “incomplete,” declaring that so far they have “stalled, roadblocked and rolled back” progress on air, land and water issues.
But LCV said, “A few leaders stand out as advocates” on those issues, including Reps. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, whose 107th district includes Chippewa, Mackinac and Emmet counties, and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, in the one-county (Grand Traverse) 104th district.
Foster was praised for sponsoring legislation “that would safeguard our lakes, rivers, and streams from over-extraction and contamination.” Schmidt was praised for introducing legislation that would remove the arbitrary cap on the amount of public land the state can own.
Four downstate lawmakers also were headlined as “Advocates.”
Two lawmakers were classified as “Adversaries,” including Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, criticized for introducing legislation that would prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from managing public land to promote biodiversity. The other is a downstate lawmaker.
In politics, it’s one thing for interest groups to issue scorecards and press releases. Good PR, especially with like-minded voters. But one reason that the Michigan LCV is a significant player in state politics is that it makes endorsements backed up by contributions -$270,000 in the last election cycle.
On Friday, the league announced its endorsement of Foster over Republican primary challenger Lee Chatfield of Levering, and of term-limited representative Schmidt in the GOP primary for the 37th Senate district that spans both peninsulas. He’s in a lively primary with 105th district Rep. Greg MacMcMaster, who is giving up his solid Republican district to seek the Senate seat that will be vacated by Howard Walker.
“We are in serious need of strong conservation leaders in the state Legislature who will turn protections for Michigan’s land, air and water into political priorities,” said Michigan LCV Deputy Director Jack Schmitt. He called Foster and Schmidt “proven leaders on our priority issues.”In a teleconference where Schmitt announced the endorsement, a downstate reporter noted that Schmidt and MacMaster had almost identical overall records on the House floor on issues consistent with LCV positions.
Beyond the fact of Schmidt’s legislation that’s hailed by the league and opposed by MacMaster, Schmitt said MacMaster advocates “we gut Michigan’s Michigan’s Natural Resources Trust Fund.”
MacMaster Friday defended his positions and said there needs to be more analysis of the implications of “more land purchases by the state.”
LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak joined leaders of 18 Michigan environmental organizations in sending an 18-page letter to Gov. Rick Snyder urging him to “swiftly address” issues regarding 61-year old underwater Enbridge oil pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac.
A University of Michigan research scientist has said rupture of the lines would be “the worst possible place for a spill on the Great Lakes.
Traverse City attorney Jim Olson, president and founder of For Love of Water (FLOW), said the groups want Snyder “to take lead as chief trustee of our Great Lakes and require Enbridge to submit an application for complete review” of its lines.
The letter said: “These twin 61-year-old pipelines located in the heart of the Great Lakes are one of the greatest threats to our water, our economy, and our Pure Michigan way of life.”
The letter, whose signatories include the high-profile Michigan Environmental Council, said, “The Straits of Mackinac are held by the State in trust for its citizens. The powerful underwater currents and extreme weather conditions at the Straits make them ecologically sensitive and would make cleanup or recovery from a pipeline spill especially difficult.”
The National Wildlife Federation estimates such a spill could release up to 1.5 million gallons of oil in just eight minutes. The 2010 Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek near Marshall released about 800,000 gallons of crude from an underground pipeline — and only now is the cleanup nearing completion.
Snyder would be wise to mobilize his administration in positive response to the letter.
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalim Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.