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Lawmakers refocus attention on environmental policy

A group of people stand outside the Michigan State Capital building around Senator Sam Singh, whose holding a bright red and orange sign that reads "Our Clean Energy Future Now."
Colin Jackson
Michigan Public Radio Network
Democratic state Senator Sam Singh says 2023 is a crucial year for green energy legislation in Michigan.

Hearings on the Michigan Senate’s proposed clean energy plan could start next month.

The plan was announced in April. It includes policies like requiring carbon neutrality in any new buildings this decade, shutting down coal plants by 2030, and creating a new carbon-free energy standard by 2035.

Senator Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) said he wouldn’t be surprised if a “master deal” comes out to get things done. He and other supporters said the state has resources this year — like federal funding it may not have again — to support these plans.

“I think what we have here is a very unique opportunity because ... we have federal dollars and resources like we’ve never seen before. And, as you pull down those federal resources, with the state dollars that we’re going to put into our budget, this is going to make the transition much easier,” Singh told reporters during a press conference Tuesday.

Another part of the package would let regulators consider issues like health and equity when deciding whether to approve Integrated Resource Plans from utilities.

Senator Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp) said conversations are already underway to push utilities toward carbon neutrality.

“If you watch the ads, they’re already there, right? If you watch the reality, it’s not quite the same as the ads. And so, we’re having conversations, I’ve heard a great willingness, and where we’re really going to see it is where they take positions on the legislation that we’ve introduced,” Shink told reporters Tuesday.

When the plan first came out, the state’s largest utilities signaled an openness to working with lawmakers on a clean energy transition.

But some Republican lawmakers have their reservations.

In an op-ed sent out by the Senate Republican communications staff Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) questioned its feasibility.

He argued it could lead to higher energy costs for residents.

“Wind and solar require massive upfront investments and despite their misleading marketing, are not 'free' sources of energy. The other hidden detail behind renewable energy is, at least as of now, is traditional plants must remain online because the sun isn’t always out, and the wind isn’t always blowing,” Outman’s piece read.

The renewed attention on the plan and other environmental policies comes as the state’s budget-writing process plays out in the background.

Democrats in the legislative majority are signaling they expect higher environmental spending.