Michigan

Detroit Free Press OpEd: Hey Michigan, use VW Settlement Money to Buy EV Buses for Schoolchildren

 

Hey Michigan, Use VW Settlement Money to Buy EV Buses for Schoolchildren

OpEd

By Toby C. Lewis and Janet McCabe

In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder and state officials have an opportunity to help kids get a healthier start to their school day by purchasing clean electric school buses to replace dirty, diesel-powered school buses that cause asthma attacks. The state is about to get access to $65 million from a Volkswagen settlement that can only be spent on a few items to reduce air pollution, including electric school buses to replace the aging, dirty diesel fleet.

Over the course of nearly seven years, Volkswagen sold close to 600,000 diesel cars in the U.S. with engines programmed to trick emissions standards, contributing many tons of pollution to the environment. As part of a national settlement, the company is providing nearly $3 billion to states to support pollution-reducing projects.

A lot of Michigan kids can benefit from riding cleaner school buses. An estimated 660,000 children in communities across Michigan are climbing onto about 17,000 diesel-powered school buses every day.

There are three reasons why electric school buses make sense:

Healthier children: Children’s lungs are still developing and they breathe more rapidly than adults, making kids particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of exposure to diesel pollution. About 10% of Michigan children currently suffer from asthma, a disease that leaves lungs sensitive to irritation from the complex mix of fine particles, nitrogen oxides and other air pollutants in diesel fumes. These fumes seep into the cabins of school buses. Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Washington have found that diesel school buses are responsible for millions of missed school days in the U.S. each year.

Healthier communities: A diesel bus driving around our cities and towns emits a chemical cocktail at ground level, near our schools, playgrounds and homes. The average school bus makes 85 stops per day. With an electric school bus, there’s no danger from running or idling engines, because no emissions come out of the tailpipe. In fact, there isn’t a tailpipe at all.

A healthier economy: States understand that a strong economy depends more and more on a healthy environment, which includes shifting to renewable energy resources. Because school buses operate according to school schedules, they can recharge their batteries overnight, when demand for energy is low. Electric school buses can also serve as local battery packs to provide extra juice back to the grid when it’s needed most. That reduces the demand on all energy sources providing power to the grid and creates a more sustainable power system with more clean energy as the source.

Electric school buses are not science fiction. There are already more than 100 on the road in North America, and American companies known for their diesel technology, like Cummins and Blue Bird, have announced investments in electric technologies for school buses.

Funds from the Volkswagen settlement are expected to be released once state agencies submit spending proposals. Governors putting VW money towards electric school buses would drive the market forward and costs down. School buses represent the largest category of mass transportation in our country, larger than transit and rail combined. We urge Michigan to help move this market to zero emissions and demonstrate leadership for health, the environment, our energy future, and most importantly, our children.

Toby C. Lewis is associate professor of pediatric pulmonology and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan and attending physician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Janet McCabe served as the U.S. EPA’s acting assistant administrator for Office of Air and Radiation during the Obama administration and is currently a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

READ OpEd HERE

News Release: Michigan Public Service Commission Sets Rates for Clean Energy

For Immediate Release

Michigan Public Service Commission Sets Rates for Clean Energy

Rate Certainty Sets Stage for New Private Investments, Solar Energy Development

LANSING, MI – An order setting rates for renewable energy developers from Consumers Energy will create the certainty necessary to spur private investments and new growth in solar energy while ensuring utility customers’ electricity rates don’t increase.

“The Commission adopted a strong methodology that reflects the value solar provides to Michigan during peak periods,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. “This decision makes Michigan more attractive for renewable energy development at no additional cost to ratepayers.”

The Commission adopted new avoided cost rates that Consumers Energy must pay to renewable energy facilities in Michigan for the power those facilities supply to the grid.  This completes Michigan’s first update in 25 years of the approach utilities must take under federal law to compensate the owners of qualified clean energy facilities.

Solar industry officials hailed Wednesday’s announcement saying it can help make Michigan a leader in Midwest solar.

“The Commission correctly recognized the significant long-term value of solar to Michigan, and the need to update old rules to capture that value,” said Rick Umoff, director of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Solar companies can now ratchet up investment in Michigan’s economy, creating well-paying jobs and providing clean reliable energy to the state.”

Advocates also celebrated the news.

“The Commission’s decision to enable a level playing field for clean energy will launch a new wave of solar development in Michigan,” said Becky Stanfield, senior director of western states at Vote Solar. “Michigan’s leadership demonstrates to regulators and lawmakers across the country how to attract private investments, build a clean energy economy, and create local jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) was enacted in 1978 to encourage renewable energy development, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and promote energy independence. It requires utilities to purchase energy from small qualified cogeneration and renewable energy providers and establishes what are known as “avoided costs” and “must-buy prices” that utilities pay to small renewable energy providers. Since its inception, PURPA has spurred more than 16 GW of cumulative capacity across the country.

In June, the Commission established avoided cost calculations based on the costs of energy and capacity from new natural gas facilities, creating an even playing field for independent developers of qualified clean energy projects. The order also simplifies the development and financing process for small projects by establishing 20-year contracts at a standard rate for projects up to 2 megawatts in size. Previously only projects up to 100 kilowatts were eligible.

Read the Commission’s order.

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MLive Michigan: Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order

Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order

by Garret Ellison

ALPENA, MI — A 3,850 square-mile expansion of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron could be rolled back under President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider protections for offshore waters that could be opened to oil and gas drilling.

The 30-day public comment window began June 26 on the Department of Commerce review of 11 national marine sanctuaries and monuments following Trump’s April 28 executive order, called “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The order targets any marine sanctuaries or monument established or expanded since April 2007 and halted the government from naming any more. It includes designations made under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

The order aims to expand offshore drilling, but questions remain about how that might pertain to the Great Lakes, which have been off-limits to oil & gas drilling since 2005. Michigan banned drilling in its Great Lakes waters in 2002.

The Thunder Bay sanctuary and preserve in Lake Huron was designated in 2000 and expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles in 2014. The sanctuary is a destination which draws shipwreck divers and tourists to Alpena. It’s the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Great Lakes or fresh water.

The boundary, which extends from Cheboygan to Alcona counties and east to the mid-lake border, protects from disturbance several hundred known and suspected shipwrecks in Lake Huron. The Alpena headquarters features a shipwreck museum and provides a staging area for scientists and researchers studying ecology, natural resources and maritime archaeology.

Thunder Bay researchers are busy this summer conducting an extensive review of the expanded area for undiscovered shipwrecks.

Environmental groups called the federal review a continuation of Trump’s “war on the Great Lakes.”

Trump’s White House has taken several actions seen as hostile to the ecology and economy of Great Lakes states, most notably eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cleanup program in the administration’s 2018 budget proposal and blocking the release of a plan to stop Asian carp in the Illinois Waterway.

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 6, 2017                                                                      

 

Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

ELPC & Groundwork Gathering in Traverse City Urge Attendees to Fight Back Against Trump Administration’s War on the Great Lakes 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI. – Michiganders gathered in Traverse City today to hear two Midwest environmental leaders present strategies to push back on threats to the progress of restoring the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water. They focused on countering the Trump Administration’s proposed complete elimination of $300 million in funding for the bipartisan-supported Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 budget, which has provided $2.2 billion for about 3,000 projects since its inception, and persuading Michigan policymakers to decide on an alternative to the dangerous Line 5 pipeline.

“President Trump won his election in the pivotal Great Lakes states, but his misguided policies and practices amount to a War on the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Trump Administration is eliminating funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, rolling back Clean Water standards and reconsidering the additions to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to understand how much Michiganders care about protecting the Great Lakes where we live, work and play, and which provides safe clean drinking water for 42 million people.”

Hans Voss, Executive Director of Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and a leader in the campaign to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill from the Line 5 pipeline, urged attendees to comment this month on safer alternatives proposed by the State Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

“The time for state decision-makers to study and debate what to do about the Line 5 pipeline is over,” said Voss. “Now is the time for citizens to speak up and push for lawmakers to shut down the pipeline once and for all.”

The gathering took place at the Bluewater Event Center in Traverse City.

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PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron & Elsewhere

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 30, 2017

Environmental Law & Policy Center Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron and Elsewhere 

 “Efforts to Scale Back Only Fresh Water Marine Sanctuary is Misguided”

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in response to the Trump Administration’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy Executive Order that directs the U.S. Commerce Department to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other designations and expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries:

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.

“Shrinking the protected area of the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is yet another Trump Administration attack in its War on the Great Lakes and should be stopped in its tracks.

“ELPC will work with bipartisan partners across the region to oppose the White House’s War on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes is a national treasure that provides fresh drinking water to 42 million people and represents 21% of the world’s fresh water supply.“

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC Working with Michigan to Consider Tapping VW Settlement Funds for EV School Buses

Michigan School Districts Eye VW Settlement Money for Electric Buses

By Andy Balaskovitz

Michigan school districts looking to lower the emissions of their transportation fleets are eyeing millions of dollars from the Volkswagen settlement to be used for electric buses.

As part of a consent decree following the German automaker’s scandal involving its diesel vehicles, Michigan is in line to receive $60.3 million for an “environmental mitigation trust,” which is meant to offset the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from vehicles involved with the case.

Advocacy groups have been working with school districts in the region, including in Michigan, about potentially using some of that funding to purchase electric buses.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has released a draft plan for spending the money over 10 years by replacing a variety of vehicle types, zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and staff. About half of the proposed spending — $32.3 million — would be for replacing 323 government-owned school buses over the 10-year period.

“We think that’s a really positive thing for a number of reasons,” said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. The ELPC has been informing Midwest school districts about the settlement fund opportunities, and has identified at least 17 Michigan districts interested in electric buses for their schools.

Mudd pointed to the roughly 700,000 Michigan K-12 students who ride in buses every day and who have greater risk to exposure from diesel exhaust.

“Diesel school buses historically have all sorts of emissions,” Mudd said, adding that NOx and other particulate emissions from diesel vehicles are a precursor for ozone and exacerbate asthma, particularly among children. “It would not be accurate to say school buses are the cause, but they are a contributor to the direct exposure kids are having.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Says Volkswagen Settlement Funds Will Help Transition to Cleaner Transportation, Reduce Impact of Climate Change

Advocates Hoped for More Volkswagen Funds for EVs to be Directed to Midwest

By
Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

‘More than just Chicago’

The Ecology Center and other nonprofits recently formed Charge Up Midwest to promote and seek funding for EV adoption in the region. One of Charge Up Midwest’s first projects was obtaining funding from the Volkswagen settlement.

“We would have liked to see more than just Chicago selected as one of the communities,” Griffith said.

Other critics have said the settlement agreement gives Volkswagen a leg-up in the electric vehicle market and that the company will be able to control where infrastructure is located to improve its bottom line.

The other cities selected in this first cycle — New York City, Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Miami and Raleigh, North Carolina — were chosen largely based on anticipated EV demand.

Michigan and the Detroit region in particular seemed like a good candidate based on the number of EV registrations there and of major U.S. automakers’ interest in breaking into the sector, Griffith said. The state of Michigan also made a separate pitch to Volkswagen for EV funding.

Also, Columbus — which was selected last year for a $50 million Smart City grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation — has been making strides in the clean transportation sector, he said.

“There’s no explanation (in the announcement) about why that wasn’t convincing enough,” Griffith said of the two cities.

According to the plan, Chicago was chosen because of its existing leadership on EVs, including a $14 million city EV program and the electrification of city buses, and because of its relatively dense population, commuting patterns and consumer interest in EVs. The city was chosen despite past troubles with its EV program, including the indictment for fraud of the owners of the provider the city hired, 350green.

“Electrify America notes that it was not able to select every metropolitan area that submitted a strong proposal, but it intends to expand its Community Charging investments into metro areas with supportive government policies and strong utility integration in future investment cycles,” the announcement says.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”

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Take Action: Tell Bill Schuette to Drop His Litigation to Stop Sensible Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards that Protect Children’s Health

What is Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette thinking? He seems to somehow believe that more mercury pollution in Michigan’s water and in your food is just fine.  Attorney General Bill Schuette continues to lead endless litigation to stall and delay the important federal Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which protect children’s health, clean air and safe water. Have you had enough? Click here to take action.

Let’s look at the facts.

  1. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is harmful to children, impacting fetal brain development and leading to harmful effects on language, memory, visual-motor skills and attention.
  2. The Mercury & Air Toxics Standards require utilities to install widely available mercury pollution reduction control technology, and that limits both in-state mercury emissions as well as pollution that often drifts across state lines.
  3. Michigan coal plants have already stepped up to comply with these standards, so why is AG Bill Schuette still leading the federal litigation against those standards?
  4. Since December, AG Bill Schuette’s repeated appeals have been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Enough is enough.
  5. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has “disassociated” the State of Michigan from these appeals. AG Bill Schuette is doing these appeals of the mercury pollution standards on his own.
  6. The implementation of MATS is moving forward, even as AG Bill Schuette’s latest appeal proceeds.

Bottom line: AG Bill Schuette should drop his litigation, which is being fought with taxpayer dollars and at the expense of public health. Let’s work together to hold AG Schuette accountable.

Michigan’s leaders should stand up to better protect children’s health, safe water and safe food. Please ask AG Schuette to drop his litigation against sensible mercury pollution standards.

Crain’s Detroit Business: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Flaws in Economic Study of Mich. Clean Power Plan Options

 

Seeking Answers on Emissions

By Jay Greene

The statewide and national conundrum over clean energy regulations could be partially solved by a tax on carbon producers or a system of tradeable permits for pollution producers, according to a new report.

A report by the Anderson Economic Group LLC in Lansing concludes that using a “cap and trade” or “carbon tax” approach in Michigan to comply with the proposed Clean Power Plan — the Environmental Protection Agency regulations to significantly reduce U.S. power plants’ carbon dioxide — would be costly for Michigan residents, raise business costs and act as a damper on economic development.

But doing nothing and allowing current energy production and efficiency trends to continue over the next decade will not reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants enough to comply with carbon reduction targets contained in the EPA’s proposed plan, said Patrick Anderson, the study’s author.
For two years, Michigan legislators have debated how best to replace the state’s 2008 energy law that mandated 10 percent renewable energy generation and set targets for energy efficiency savings. The law helped create 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 1.3 million homes, and generate savings to rate payers of $4 billion, state officials have said.

But it appears Republicans, who hold a solid majority in the state Legislature, can’t agree on issues like customer choice, net metering, a strong integrated resource planning process (which, among other things, uses predictive modeling to estimate future energy costs) and how best to encourage utilities to replace coal with renewable energy or natural gas.

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Victory! ELPC Wins Federal Court Case Protecting Michigan’s Pristine Sylvania Wilderness Area

Victory! This week, the Federal District Court ruled in favor of ELPC, our clients, and the U.S. Forest Service to uphold restrictions on the use of loud and disruptive gas-powered motorboats in the beautiful interconnected lakes of the Sylvania Wilderness Area, which includes 18,000+ acres of old-growth trees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the Wisconsin border.

Federal District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar’s decision enables the U.S. Forest Service to enforce the laws to protect the Sylvania Wilderness as place to canoe, hike, camp and enjoy the quiet of the outdoors. The Court held that restrictions on large gas-powered motorboats “are precisely the type of regulation that Michigan courts have upheld as reasonable” and are rationally connected to achieving the goal of preserving Sylvania’s wilderness character.

ELPC attorneys represented Sylvania Wilderness Cabins, Friends of Sylvania, and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition in this case. ELPC’s legal victory will help preserve pristine water quality, reduce the spread of damaging invasive aquatic plant species, and preserve the wonderful quiet and scenic enjoyment of this special natural place. This is an important court victory that sets a precedent for protecting the Sylvania Wilderness Area and other protected National Lakeshores and Wilderness Areas around the Great Lakes and Midwest.

Kudos to ELPC Staff Attorney Jen Tarr and ELPC Board member Bob Graham, who worked with me on this important case.

Best wishes and bravo all on this victory for the Midwest’s wild and special places!

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