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The Press environmental coverage Part II

March 24, 2010

On Monday, we looked at three stories in the Grand Rapids Press that were part of their Michigan 10.0 series leading up to the 2010 Elections. These stories all dealt with what the Press called an “environmental” theme.

However, as we noted in our previous analysis the coverage on Sunday was mostly focused on economic development and the role that Michigan’s natural resources play in that development. Virtually every source cited in those stories affirmed the need for and importance of using Michigan’s natural resources to help rebuild Michigan’s economy. The Press continued with this trend in the stories that ran on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday there were two articles in the Press that explored the use of Michigan’s natural resources. The first was a Q & A with Rebecca Humphries, the director of the newly reconfigured Department of Natural Resources and Environment and Russ Harding, former director of the DEQ and now with the ultra-conservative think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Harding was also a major source for the lead story in Sunday’s paper as well.

There were a total of seven questions asked of the two “experts” and it is interesting to note how similar their answers were. All seven of the questions pretty much had to do with the theme touched on Sunday, “how can Michigan benefit financially from the use of its natural resources?” Both Harding and Humphries emphasize that environmental protection can occur with economic growth, although neither of them provide much concrete analysis of how this will work or whether it will be truly sustainable.

The second article from Monday dealt with the current battle over putting up wind turbines along the lakeshore. This article features a bit more diversity in terms of sources used, such as a spokesperson from the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Michigan Environmental Council, an environmental consultant and a resident who opposes wind turbines. However, the story also cites someone from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Growth, The Right Place economic development agency, Mackinaw Power and the Executive director of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, a pro-business coalition that has tremendous influence on economic development and policy issues.

The conversation about wind turbines ranged from creating jobs, to reducing the state’s need for coal power, to the economic benefits of wind turbine energy. Nowhere in the story was there a discussion about current energy consumption for the area or projected energy use based on industry and population size. There was also no discussion about energy conservation or the issue of whether or not energy production should be done by the private sector or be run by residents and taxpayers.

On Tuesday, the Press ran the last article in this series with an environmental theme. The story’s focus was on farmland preservation versus urban sprawl. Much of the article discussed a recent tactic to preserve farmland, know as “purchase of development rights” or PDRs. PDRs are when municipalities get farmland owners to legally agree to not sell their land for development purposes.

The sources cited in this article were a dairy farmer, president of the Eastbrook Development Co. and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance. The article did not explore the environmental impact of urban sprawl nor the issue of roads and transportation problems that come with urban sprawl.

Like the feature stories in Sunday’s Press, these additional articles were too narrow in scope, used a limited range of sources and continued to accept the premise that Michigan’s natural resources are essential to economic growth.

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