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1st Friday Focus on the Environment: MI Senator Debbie Stabenow prioritizes her final term


U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow made history in 2000 when she became the first woman from Michigan elected to the United States Senate. She is known for her ability to build coalitions to get things done for Michigan and our nation.

As Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Budget Committee, and a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, she has a powerful and unique role to play in shaping our nation’s health care, manufacturing, infrastructure, environment, and agriculture policies.

Senator Stabenow is laser focused on standing up for Michigan families, expanding affordable health care and lowering the costs of prescription drugs, helping Michigan businesses create good jobs here at home, and protecting our Great Lakes and outdoor heritage. She is a true champion for Michigan.


Lisa Wozniak
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak

Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a bachelor's degree and two ensuing master's degrees in social work and Education.

Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'


Michigan League of Conservation Voters

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'd like to welcome you to the February edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. On the first Friday of each month, we get together with Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak. And together, we discuss issues of environmental importance to Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan and sometimes the nation. And, each month, we invite an expert guest to make sure you get the best and most up-to-date information, and this month is no exception. Lisa, glad to be with you again.

Lisa Wozniak: Oh, it's a pleasure to be here, Dave. And our guest today is the honorable U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. Senator Stabenow is our senior senator, and she sits on a number of critical committees, including the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the Committee on Budget, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the Committee on Finance.

David Fair: Welcome to WEMU, Senator.

Debbie Stabenow: Well, thanks so much, Dave and Lisa, It's always great to be with you talking about one of the subjects I am most passionate about.

Lisa Wozniak: Well, at the beginning of the year, you announced, Senator, that you will not be seeking reelection after a very long and successful career. I want to first say thank you. Thank you so much for your service to our state, to our Great Lakes, and to our nation. And I'd like to ask you, as you think back across the years, what are some of your proudest moments during your tenure as U.S. senator?

Debbie Stabenow: Well, Lisa, thanks so much. You know, I am born and raised in Michigan, grew up in a little town up north. And, two years from now, I'm no longer in the Senate. I'm still going to be in Michigan. So, I'm still going to be working with you to protect the Great Lakes and tackle the climate crisis and all the other things that we need to do. I just think it's a good time for me in my life. And we've got such great leaders coming up. It's a good time to pass the baton in the next couple of years. You know, it's hard always to pick one thing, but I do have to say that I have been passionately involved in protecting our water, protecting the Great Lakes, and our inland water every step of the way for me in elected office from chairing the Ingham County Board of Commissioners years ago and dredging Lake Lansing too, you know, in the Legislature, authoring the bills that put us into the Great Lakes Compact with other states and Canada to protect our water and protect, you know, massive efforts to try to take our water. Every place I have served. I have been involved. In fact, the very first bill I passed in the U.S. Senate was about to stop any discussion-- a successful discussion--about drilling in the Great Lakes. At that time, John Engler was governor. He was proposing the possibility of drilling for oil and gas in the Great Lakes. I couldn't imagine anything worse. So, I went to work to pass legislation in the U.S. Senate that would override that, which is permanently in law today. So, since then, going on to co-chair the Great Lakes Task Force, bipartisan Task force in the Senate, Rob Portman and Charlie Crist retired, was my co-chair. So, a whole range of things. And, in the farm bill, part of what I've done is greatly expand the water in social protection programs for our bays, everything from Lake Erie and the runoff to Saginaw Bay to down in Saint Joseph. And the rivers are up north. I mean, it's so much of the time I've spent, including authoring what's called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is really the largest permanent ongoing investment now in our water. So, a lot of things that I care about, but I feel like the Great Lakes are in our DNA. They're certainly in mine. And that's been a big priority for me.

David Fair: Even this past year, there's been major action when it comes to climate change and reducing pollution. Last year, you were a critical voice in the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. What provisions in those bills did you work to get included that benefit the environment in Michigan?

Debbie Stabenow: Well, first of all, in the infrastructure bill, we broadly looked at infrastructure, which is really important, not just roads and bridges, but water systems for the first time, high speed Internet, other critical kinds of infrastructure. I got the funding necessary for the Soo Locks. We need a separate lock, and I've been leading an effort there. But, in addition, $1 billion for the Great Lakes, to address Great Lakes issues. It was the largest single investment in the Great Lakes that we've ever passed and a piece of legislation we put in perspective. We are able to get about $350 to 400 million a year through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, but this was a $1 billion investment. So, that was very, very important. And then, in the what we call the Inflation Reduction Act, where we really focused on climate and what's happening in the climate crisis, I led efforts to support--to my agriculture hat--our farmers and our foresters and rural communities to focus on reducing carbon, reducing methane, and to really robustly increase what we're doing around soil and water conservation. I mean, major investments, $20 billion in new, what we call smart agriculture. But it's really working farmers who want to be part of the solution. Frankly, when you're looking at something like carbon pollution, the more carbon in the soil, the healthier the soil. So, farmers want more carbon in the soil, but we just don't want it in the air.

Lisa Wozniak: Right.

Debbie Stabenow: We don't want it in the atmosphere. You know, we don't want the methane, you know, to be going into the atmosphere. And so, there's a whole range of practices that farmers are interested in doing. And they're already doing some. We just need to greatly ramp that up. So, there's a major effort, and it will have a significant impact--not the only thing, but significant. And then, the other piece with my finance committee had on that I worked on that ended up in the bill, which I'm pleased about, are all of the clean energy tax cuts, manufacturing tax cuts from general clean energy to solar to batteries to, you know, there's a whole range of things. And my push was to make them production tax credits. We don't get the credit unless it's made here in America. So, we're not just innovating, but we want the jobs here. And that's one of the most significant parts of these new credits is that it's all about making sure the jobs are in America.

Lisa Wozniak: So, Senator, we are hearing that there may be some efforts to take away portions of funding that was meant to help farmers. And you've really, you know, doubled down on your focus on climate, smart agriculture, and conservation. How are you thinking about protecting the money as Congress debates the farm bill in 2023?

Debbie Stabenow: Well, this is a top priority for me, and I'm going to need the wonderful advocacy of LCV. And, you know, you've done just such a fantastic job in Michigan, as well as nationally, and we have to, working with the Secretary of Agriculture, to be able to move these dollars out to farmers and other producers, foresters, for the right kind of sustainable forestry. We want to move those dollars as quickly as we can, so that they're being implemented. And that's what they're doing right now. And then, we really need to tell the story about how this is such a win, not only to tackle the climate crisis, but it's a win for our producers because, as I said before, the more we are keeping carbon in the ground, the more fertile the soil, the better the production. I mean, there's just all kinds of ways in which this is a win-win, using new kinds of strategies. There's something that sounds very simple called cover crops. You get done with the crop in the fall, you get done with the harvest, and then, you plant another crop over it. Also then, it takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it's growing, but it holds the soil in place, so it holds the fertilizer, it holds any pesticides, and so on. So, it's not running off into the water. There's things that sound very simple that can be done on a much bigger scale that, again, help farmers, help them with their cost. But it's actually a big deal for us as we're trying to tackle the climate crisis.

David Fair: One of the areas of focus in the Inflation Reduction Act was the Justice 40 principles to focus on equity, ensuring that the benefits you've been discussing go to communities of color and those that have been disproportionately affected by climate change. How is that going to play out in some of our most affected areas here in Michigan?

Debbie Stabenow: Well, this is very, very important. I believe we have about $60 billion in investment, a large investment to support communities through grants, through other kinds of things, to support local communities, to both remediate what's happened. I mean, you know, what we have seen is that in low-income areas and, you know, areas of poverty or areas of pretty low income, high poverty, areas of people of color, and so on, we've tended to see the plants that pollute. You know, there's less political connection. There's less, maybe years ago, advocacy to stop them from going into a community. And so, we end up with these plants or corporations that have been the biggest polluters. And then, we see the largest numbers of asthma, children with asthma or other challenges, and so on, that health challenges and a whole range of things that that result as a result of decisions about, you know, where operations are. And so, that has to change. And so, there's a whole range of things that needs to come, I think, from ideas in the community, supporting communities, supporting advocacy groups. But there's a whole range of things that need to change about where decisions are made, you know, in terms of what is happening, as well as stopping the pollution in general. But we have a lot of communities. I've worked with Detroit and planting trees in neighborhoods and in parks and so on. We have less tree canopies. We have hotter summers when, you know, when you're dealing with just concrete and not parks with trees and so on. And it's not just something that is pretty, "Oh, let's plant a tree." Again, we are, also, you plant a tree, you're taking carbon out of the atmosphere. You know, you plant a forest, you protect a forest, you're keeping carbon in the trees instead of releasing it. But there's a whole range greening of Detroit and a whole range of wonderful groups that have been doing this for years. And I've been working with them to get them money through the farm bill for years. And we have new grants now that we've been involved in print together, so when you make a park more livable, when you make it better for children, when we increase the quality of life, that's part of what we're talking about with environmental justice.

Lisa Wozniak: Well, Senator, according to experts, the Inflation Reduction Act could lead to 40% reduction in emissions by 2030. But we all know that we need to get to at least a 50% reduction to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, which you've been discussing. What solutions are available to us in Congress and within the Biden administration, whether it's through EPA or other agencies, to get us to that very important watermark?

Debbie Stabenow: That is so important. And I would say, unfortunately, with the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives right now, the chances of moving, you know, aggressive things through that we really need to do is is not very high. So, we have to look to what the administration can do. And I know Michael Regan at EPA, who I work with closely, and I know he's looking at, you know, what he can do. Certainly, President Biden is very committed to this and has done more than, frankly, any other president to move things forward, even though we should have acted sooner. We should have a price on carbon. We should have a whole range of things happening. But they're looking now at what can be done administratively to get us the rest of the way. And so, it's important that people advocate. It's important that we're advocating for rules and advocating for administrative action. It's also important in our daily lives. I drive an electric vehicle. I would strongly urge it. You know, I drive a, you know, all electric Chevy Volt made in Orion, Michigan with union labor. And it's great. I love it. And so, we, you know, we need to look at ourselves about how we are all doing what we can do. But, in the big picture, we obviously need bigger, bolder things happening to layer on top of last year, which was the biggest, boldest effort so far. But we know there's lots more to do. And we also know, internationally, it's not enough for us. We can lead. We need to. But my former Senate colleague, John Kerry, is deeply involved in what is happening internationally, which is also a very big piece of that. And I will just say to go back to agriculture that, you know, most of the world's economy is agriculture. And so, you know, I was in Africa talking to folks. I've been in South America and other places. When we do better practices of what we're talking about here and they can be adopted around the world, it has a bigger impact than we're even thinking about right now. I had a conversation with Al Gore at the Glasgow climate conference, where he really stressed that to me, that with so much of the world's economy and agriculture, doing sustainable practices, being smarter about what we're doing here to reduce carbon and methane and other gases has a much broader impact. But there's more to do.

David Fair: And you have said there's some things that should have been done. There is more to do. 2025 seems somewhat far away, but time moves rather quickly. And, as you've made the decision not to seek reelection in 2024, what policy questions, particularly on the environment, would you like to have settled by the time you step away? And how differently do you believe that will be from what actually gets settled?

Debbie Stabenow: Well, first of all, every five years, we write what's called a farm bill, which is a misnomer. because it's not only supporting our farmers, it's supporting our families in nutrition, again, largest investment in land and water conservation and so on, bio energy and so on. So, it's time to get that done. I want to get that done. I want to make sure we keep all of our climate funding in place. That's very important as we move forward, because it's going to be several years before we see the full impact of that. We also made a major investment to support rural electric co-ops to get off of fossil fuels. Some of the biggest areas right now of coal are in rural communities. And so, we've invested $14 billion to work with our rural electric co-ops. This is a major piece of the savings we're talking about in terms of carbon reductions. And so, I want to make sure that gets done, and that those funds are protected. But the farm bill is very, very important. And then, making sure, frankly, with our new House of Representatives here, that we're going forward, not backwards, because, you know, I'm hearing an awful lot of crazy talk that, you know, would send us in the wrong direction as a state and a country. And so, I'm going to be spending a lot of time making sure that we are protecting the gains we've made and that we're continuing to solve problems.

David Fair: Well, Senator Stabenow, I think that will probably be the impetus for one of our next conversations. Thank you so much for the time today, and we'll look forward to talking to you again in your final term.

Debbie Stabenow: Absolutely. Take care. Thank you.

David Fair: That is Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, our guest on WEMU's First Friday. Focus on the Environment. Of course, the other voice this morning is that of my First Friday partner, Lisa Wozniak. She's the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and will be back to join me again in March. I look forward to it, Lisa.

Lisa Wozniak: As do I. Thank you, David. Thank you, Senator.

David Fair: For more information on today's First Friday conversation and to visit our archive, visit our web page at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Lisa Wozniak is Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.