THE BLOG
11/02/2012 08:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Sierra Club Makes Case for Detroit's Support of Proposal 3

As to be expected, there has been a lot of distortion around the Michigan Clean Energy ballot Proposal 3 in the weeks leading up to the election. Those distortions, coming from the usual suspects, are confusing voters about one of the more meaningful proposals on the state-wide ballot this year.

Fortunately, there is still time for voters in the Detroit metro area to cut through the distortions and put Michigan on the path toward a more sustainable and environmentally just energy system. That path has resulted in lower utility rates, healthier communities and more high-paying, non-exportable jobs like 30 other states across the country. Doesn't Michigan deserve the same?

That is why Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune visited Detroit to make the case for the organization's endorsement of the Proposal 3 at a special press conference held at the Sierra Club Detroit office on Monday. Brune was joined by Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Rhonda Anderson and Michigan Interfaith Power and Lights' Father Charles Morris at the event which was followed by a volunteer phone bank to advocate for the proposal.

"People in Detroit deserve clean air and clean water just like people in the rest of the state do. People in Michigan in general deserve a clean energy future just like other states," Brune said. "Coming here to Detroit, you see one of the most historic and beautiful cities in the country. People in Detroit are desperate for strong leadership and they are desperate for principled leadership. That's why this initiative is so important."

Unfortunately, that's not what Detroit and Michigan have been getting. While 30 other states have passed similar legislation requiring energy providers to transition from polluting energy sources like coal and nuclear to alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, Michigan has yet to decide. The proposal requires Michigan utility companies like Detroit Edison (DTE) to move from the current requirement of 10 percent alternative energy sources to 25 percent by 2025.

Thirty states already have strong renewable standards in place, and our neighbors in Illinois are already seeing their rates decrease. The proposal stipulates that only a maximum increase of one percent (or 50 cents per month) could result from the requirement -- if justified to the state's energy regulatory commission. In fact, according to a study by the Michigan Environmental Council, passing Proposal 3 would eliminate an unfair payment structure put in place by DTE and immediately start saving Detroit residents $16 per year on their utility bills.

"If Iowa can get 25 percent of their power from wind, why can't Michigan? If South Dakota can get to almost 30 percent of their power from wind, why can't Michigan? If Colorado and California can almost get to 30 percent, then why can't Michigan?" Brune said.

"There is entrenched power in the fossil fuel industry right now. They are sponsoring all these ads that you see on television and it's designed to manufacture confusion. We know that with more clean energy production, our air and water will be cleaner and there will be less asthma and mercury pollution. Our economy will improve with good-paying jobs that can't be exported. And, we've got a chance at improving our climate."

DTE has been staunch in its opposition to clean energy initiatives while other state utility companies have acquiesced to the need to transition to cleaner energy in the face of climate change. While Michigan's energy needs have decreased as a result of a shrinking manufacturing sector, DTE has struggled to keep its old coal plants open. It is largely due to DTE's refusal to face these realities that Michigan is regrettably behind the eight ball on this one.

The main reason for DTE entrenched refusal to move forward is that the company is not just an energy producer. It is also invested in the coal production and transportation industries. With their corporate headquarters located here in Detroit, two coal-fired power plants in the Detroit Metro area and nuclear facilities further down river, DTE has an enormous foot print in Michigan. However, DTE also is a major distributor of coal nationwide.

With their energy production profit margins guaranteed inside the state, it's the potential loss of revenue from the decreasing demand for coal that continues to keep DTE away from an economically and environmentally responsible position. Alternative energy sources such as wind and solar just so happen to have no need for out-of-state distribution. They also have the added benefit of their jobs not being exportable as well.

"Right now if you live in Detroit, and DTE is your provider, then your rates are already increasing," Brune pointed out. "Rates have been increasing over the last couple of years and that's all because of the increase in what it costs to mine coal, to ship coal and to dispose of the coal ash. The whole process is not only dirty. It's becoming more and more expensive."
Instead of Michiganders continuing to bear those expenses, wouldn't it make more sense to try alternatives?

"Clean energy on the other hand, like solar panels have dropped by 70 percent in the last three years," Brune added. "The cost of wind has dropped by 90 percent in the last decade. Once you install solar panels, once you install wind mills, it gets delivered for free every day. No one is going to charge you for the sunshine. No one is going to charge you for the wind mills."

Rhonda Anderson, who is a life-long resident of Detroit and grew up in River Rouge where DTE has a coal-fired power plant, pointed out that utility companies have already continually raised rates for Detroiters, who already pay the highest rates in the state. Anderson added that instead of being misled by opponents of Prop 3, Detroiters could use the same price decreases, health improvements and job opportunities other communities have gained.

Prior to attending the press conference, Anderson had attended a special community meeting with state representative Rashida Talib, announcing the findings of a cancer cluster study done by the Michigan Department of Community Health. Those findings along with a previous study by Dr. Paul Mohai of the University of Michigan showed that Detroit Metro Area residents are disproportionately affected by cancer and asthma. It also showed that residents and school children in particular closest to heavy industry in areas like Southwest Detroit, River Rouge and Ecorse suffer even more so from neurological disorders.

"We just left a meeting where there was a discussion around a cancer cluster study done around the city of Detroit. The results of this cancer cluster study were unbelievable. The rates of cancer in Detroit and Wayne County, far outweigh any rates of cancer in the rest of the state of Michigan," Anderson said. "This was supported by Professor Paul Mohai's study that looked at toxic sites and their proximity to schools. His study showed that the greatest in the categories of illness as it results from toxic emissions were neurological illnesses, and that impacts our children."

"So we here in the city of Detroit as well as across the state and the nation, we need relief. We need clean air now. We need clean jobs now. We need clean water now. This should not be a situation where we are thought of after the fact."

Some of that relief can come from the passage of Prop 3. Given the obvious economic and environmentally just benefits of the measure, opponents should be held accountable for their positions. Of course, many area residents not in favor have largely been misinformed by the multi-million dollar disinformation campaign currently being waged. It is for reasons like this that the proposal comes in the form of a proposed amendment to the state constitution.

"The reason why this is designed to be embedded into the constitution is because we shouldn't be arguing about whether clean energy plays a role in building a strong economy," Brune said. "With the whims of the state legislature and the governor, we shouldn't be intimidated by the fossil fuel industry. We need a commitment to policies and an infrastructure that is good for everybody in the state. In Detroit, as much as any place else, we have an opportunity to resurrect the manufacturing base and the middle class through investments in clean energy."

"Paid for with regulated funds by Sierra Club: Organizing for Renewable Energy in Michigan, 109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906."