Gov. Whitmer’s Michigan Carbon-Neutral Plan a Step Forward, But Bigger Steps Needed Now

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A new climate action plan released by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is attracting both praise and calls for faster action from environmental organizations.

Announced September 23, the Governor’s plan calls for a carbon-neutral Michigan economy by the year 2050. That makes Michigan the ninth state to commit to a carbon-neutral economy.

“The science on this issue is clear,” Whitmer said. “Climate change is already affecting our state. Extreme weather has led to some of the wettest years in our state’s history, rising lake levels that erode our shorelines, and immense damage to public, private, and agricultural infrastructure. Rising temperatures and air quality changes worsen health problems and heighten COVID-19 co-morbidities. We cannot afford to wait to take action.”

But the urgency expressed by Whitmer is not fully embraced by her plan, which aims for carbon neutrality three decades from today, advocates say.

Jamesa Johnson-Greer, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition’s climate justice director, called the timeline “conservative” and noted that Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utilities, have already committed to carbon neutrality by 2040 and 2050, respectively.

“We’re at a point in the crisis where we know we have the next 10 years to act to stave off the greatest impacts of the climate crisis … so we need to act now.”

According to her executive order, Whitmer’s plan also calls for:

  • An interim goal of a 28-percent reduction below 1990 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
  • An Energy Transition Impact Project to assist communities in maintaining critical services and ensuring high quality employment for workers while moving toward a more sustainable future when faced with the closure of energy facilities.
  • A new Council on Climate Solutions to recommend opportunities for emissions-reduction strategies while focusing on targeted solutions for communities disproportionately being affected by the climate crisis. The Council and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will work with EGLE’s Office of Environmental Justice Public Advocate to ensure fairness for and representation from underserved communities.

“We applaud Governor Whitmer’s commitment to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “By setting this urgently needed goal, Michiganders can tap into their innovative know-how to protect this peninsula we call home. The health of these waters hangs in the balance and depends on our affirmative commitment to addressing the climate crisis head-on.”

Despite limitations, the plan is a big step forward for a state government that failed to take significant action on the climate crisis under the previous governor, said Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network.

“When we started the climate network five years ago,” Madigan said, “few leaders in our state were even talking about climate change and the rapid and equitable transition off fossil fuels needed to avoid worsening impacts. This silence and inaction were the results of the well-funded campaigns by the fossil fuel industry to create doubt and pressure elected officials to deny the climate crisis. Sadly, those campaigns delayed action for far too long. The action by Governor Whitmer shows that things have changed.”

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