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Snyder on Michigan’s Energy Future and Fracking

November 30, 2012

On Wednesday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder delivered a talk in East Lansing on the future of the State’s energy and environmental policy.Picture 1

The summary of the Governor’s message on the government site is of course glowing, naming the talk as Affordable and Reliable Energy, A Cleaner Environment, No Regrets for Our Future.

In his talk on the state’s energy future, Snyder tends to focus on the need to get home owners to make their homes more energy efficient and relying on the private sector to solve some of our problems of energy generations and transmission.

Snyder perpetuates the notion that the state needs to produce more energy in order to be more economically prosperous. The Governor is operating within the Capitalist framework, thinking that economic growth can co-exist with environmental sustainability, which we believe to be an impossible outcome.

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On the matter of how Michigan should generate more of its own energy, Snyder identifies three areas of what he believes would create energy independence for the state. First, he identifies Nuclear Power, but only talks about waste disposal and that Yucca Mountain seems like a reliable solution for Michigan’s nuclear waste. This has been an ongoing debate in Congress and there has been substantial public resistance as well. In addition, there has been plenty of new evidence of safety concerns over both the Palisades and Davis Besse reactors, an issue that Snyder never addresses in his recent talk.

The second area of energy that Snyder addresses is electrical energy, generated by coal-powered plants. Snyder focuses on the issue of a national grid and then states, “I know people disagree about the new EPA rules for coal plants, but I think we can all agree it’s not in the best interest of the environment or the country to risk massive outages to get there at a breakneck pace.” Seems like Snyder is not in a hurry to cut Michigan’s dependency on coal for electricity generation, which would be an unsustainable and environmentally destructive route to continue.

The third area of energy the Governor addresses is natural gas. Snyder states:Water-and-Fracking-Dont-Mix

A recent presidential order recognized the benefits of natural gas as a reliable, affordable, clean and domestic part of our energy future.  The President got this right and we need him to follow through.  We need timelines that will let us look seriously at transitioning existing plants to this fuel, a commitment to pipeline infrastructure and a stable, environmentally protective set of regulations that allow companies to create a business plan built around new natural gas supplies.  Michigan has done what it can in leading the way on this issue.  We will do whatever we can to help our federal partners develop and implement a consistent strategy in short order.

Snyder makes it clear that he is sold on natural gas being the savoir of the state’s energy needs. Later on in his talk Snyder addresses the issue of horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has received increased attention lately. This technology is being used in combination with horizontal drilling to reach some natural gas and other resources that otherwise could not be developed.  This innovation is already benefitting Michigan in the form of unusually low natural gas prices and additional money from state leases that goes to our public lands and our parks.  But some have expressed concerns about what these technologies mean for Michigan’s environment. 

Neither fracking nor horizontal drilling is a new technology—they have been used in Michigan for many decades.  None of the fracking that has been done in Michigan has resulted in a single water quality problem.  In fact, fracking’s deeper wells likely pose less risk to our groundwater than the shallower wells we are more used to. With our water withdrawal statute, as well as our strong regulatory history of natural gas drilling, we are better prepared – more adaptable – than most other states.  

That said, it’s important that our citizens understand what fracking is really all about. That’s why the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute is undertaking an evaluation of fracking.  At their invitation, the state is participating in the steering committee for this effort alongside environmental and industry groups.  At the end of the process, the public will have well-reasoned, objective explanations of what this technology is and is not.  We will also have a Michigan-focused evaluation of the various implications of fracking.  This is a great example of collaboration and a public university serving the needs of the state, and I am looking forward to seeing the results.  

Snyder is clearly embracing the coming explosion of fracking in Michigan and the lie about it not being a risk to environmental destruction and public health. Snyder presents the illusion that the state is engaged in doing research to determine that the fracking is safe and beneficial for the state. The University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute might sound like a bastion of environmental integrity, but the Institute often promotes a Green Capitalism approach to environmental issues and their advisor’s are made up of the Big Green Groups and corporations such as Dow, neither of which have a commitment to environmental or climate justice.

Snyder’s position on fracking should be a clarion call to activists across the state that we need to get ready for a serious battle to stop the fracking onslaught coming our way.

 

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