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1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Governor Whitmer lays out her environmental priorities

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
State of Michigan
/
michigan.gov
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

ABOUT GRETCHEN WHITMER:

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a lifelong Michigander who is focused on getting things done that will make a real difference in people’s lives. As governor, she has signed over 900 bipartisan bills and four balanced, bipartisan budgets to deliver on the kitchen-table issues, grow the economy, and create good-paying jobs in every region of the state.

Since the governor took office, Michigan has announced 25,000 auto jobs, will fix 16,000 lane miles of road and 1,200 bridges by the end of 2022, and funded programs putting tens of thousands of people on tuition-free paths to higher education and skills training. She has worked across the aisle to empower Michigan’s economic development and brought critical supply chains home from China to Michigan.

The governor has made the largest education investments in state history four years in a row, delivering the highest state per-student funding ever, increasing on-campus mental health resources, and helping hire thousands more qualified teachers. Additionally, the governor has expanded low or no-cost child care to 150,000 kids and enrolled 35,000 four-year-olds in affordable, high-quality pre-K.

Governor Whitmer has also protected clean water for every community, investing $4 billion to upgrade drinking water infrastructure and replace lead service lines, supporting 57,000 jobs.

Her leadership has been fiscally responsible, as she has made progress without raising taxes by a dime. She cut taxes for small business owners, paid down nearly $14 billion in debt, and brought the state’s rainy day fund to an all-time high of $1.6 billion.

Governor Whitmer achieved this progress alongside three dynamic elected statewide leaders: Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Governor Whitmer and her husband Dr. Marc Mallory live in Lansing with Kevin and Doug, the First Dogs of Michigan. Her daughters, Sherry and Sydney, are undergraduates at the University of Michigan. Her three stepsons, Alex, Mason, and Winston all live in Michigan as well. Governor Whitmer earned a bachelor’s degree and law degree from Michigan State University.

ABOUT LISA WOZNIAK:

Lisa Wozniak
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
/
michiganlcv.org
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.'

RESOURCES:

Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Michigan Legislature

Gretchen Whitmer

MI Healthy Climate Plan

Building Michigan Together Plan

Futures for Frontliners

Michigan Reconnect

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair, and we launch into 2023 with a different look in Lansing. Democrats have the majority in both chambers for the first time in 40 years, and Michigan voters in November reelected Governor Gretchen Whitmer to another four years. What might that mean in terms of environmental policy? Well, that's what we're going to find out today. My co-host is Lisa Wozniak, and she's executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And Happy New Year, Lisa!

Lisa Wozniak: And Happy New Year to you, too! And to our very special guest. As you mentioned, Governor Whitmer has been reelected and will serve another four years in office. Governor, thank you so much for carving out time for us today.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Thank you. I'm so glad to be with you both.

Lisa Wozniak: Well, Governor, at the end of the 2022 legislative session, Democrats introduced a $1.5 billion housing package to lower energy costs, weatherize homes, and to make low and moderate income housing available to Michiganders. This is a really big deal. Is this something that you see happening in the supplemental budget or in the larger fiscal budget? When will this be decided?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Well, you know, first, let me say I'm so excited about kind of what I think we're going to be able to get done on issues that are long overdue to be addressed, like affordable housing and sustainable infrastructure and climate. But affordable housing, we know, is an issue from Detroit to Traverse City and everywhere in between. I know that conversations on this topic have been robust with the Legislature, and as I'm currently writing next year's budget and working with Speaker-elect Joe Tate and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks. We're working on kind of what our agenda is going to look like for the first few months of next year. And so, I've got a proposal on the table to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which will help give over 30,000 working families a combined federal and state tax refund of $3,000. So, there's a lot of pieces to helping people get ahead. And housing is the first and foremost fundamental concern for so many Michigan families. And so, I'm excited and eager to really make some major headway in this space.

David Fair: There are a lot of folks who are equally excited about the MI Healthy Climate Plan you introduced last year to boost Michigan's investments in clean energy and achieve 60% clean energy by 2030. What needs to happen in this new, two-year session to ensure those goals are met?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: You know, we created the MI Healthy Climate Plan as a statewide roadmap. And a lot of different organizations were critical to informing it. And I want to acknowledge LCB, who has been a great partner. As we think about the policy, we've got to now translate it into, you know, statutes that will transcend any one administration. I've got four more years. I'm going to do everything I can in those four years. But, certainly, our climate goals have to be an overarching agenda item for multiple administrations. So, making Michigan carbon neutral by 2050 economy-wide with interim goals and 25 and 30, generating 60% of our electricity from reliable renewable energy sources, building a charging network to support 2 million electric vehicles and protecting our land and water. These are all critical parts of the plan. We need to have that reflected in both our budget determination, as well as statutory changes that will be necessary to make that transition from one administration to the next.

Lisa Wozniak: So, Governor, in implementing your plan to help Michiganders leverage and capture the hundreds of millions of federal dollars in tax credits that are available through President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure and Jobs Plan, how do you see that happening and coming together?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Well, you know, we are going to be the recipient of a lot of investment in this space. And whether it is the announcement that we made, you know, about how acknowledging that we have the number one state in the country for clean energy job growth, when we invest in the future mobility and clean energy, we face our climate change head-on. We create thousands of good paying jobs and build prosperity and address climate change. So, we'll be investing in clean energy jobs. We'll be ensuring that we've got policies that, you know, support a quick transition and make it affordable, so that the average person can participate in the transition in mobility and have a clean energy vehicle and afford to operate it, buy it in the first place. And over the life of that vehicle, it will be a lot more affordable than the traditional internal combustion engine.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. And our guest today is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. And, Governor, as we expand clean energy technologies and EV manufacturing, job training, apprenticeships, talent retention, that's going to be a big part of developing and servicing those industries. How do you plan to make sure we provide a skilled workforce while also making sure those opportunities are available in communities that have often seen disinvestment over the years?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: I think, you know, a lot of the investment that we've made in our K-12 schools across the state have been about closing the gap and building equity and creating real paths to prosperity, whether it is through the Michigan Reconnect or the Futures for Frontliners, or it is just making sure that our students understand that there are great paths to a good living in these clean energy jobs through internships, through apprenticeship, through partnerships with our labor unions, so that we are creating opportunity but also giving people the chance to see what path might be right for them. Not every person has the same path, but every person deserves a path that leads them into a job that is fulfilling and that pays well enough that you can raise a family on it. And no matter what community you come from, that path is real. And so, that's our challenge. We're making headway. But I think with this new Legislature, we'll really be able to open up a lot of doors for people and, ultimately, build the kind of sustainable economy that every person benefits from.

Lisa Wozniak: So, last year, you signed into law the Building Michigan Together Plan, a nearly $4.8 billion investment in our water infrastructure to replace lead pipes, upgrade drinking and wastewater systems, invest in state and local parks, and create jobs rebuilding our infrastructure. Can you talk a little bit about how this is part of your economic development plans and how we keep the momentum going in your second term? I'm thinking of things like the much-needed stormwater investments and addressing drinking water affordability.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the Building Michigan Together Plan really was an example of really important bipartisanship and using federal dollars. It's the biggest environmental package in state history, and it invested nearly $2 billion, supporting 27,000 jobs to remove lead service lines, to reduce toxic contaminants like PFAS, rebuild wastewater and sewer infrastructure, and protect groundwater resources, providing clean water for schools and child care centers and preventing highway flooding, and so much more. And we invested $450 million in our state parks to improve state and local parks, to make it more accessible, to do long overdue investments, and to build out charging stations at our state parks. So, there's a lot of creativity that is happening that is going to, I think, to our collective benefit, because when we create those ways of participating in this new economy, it benefits our general economy but also individual or household academies.

David Fair: I know your time is running short, so I have one final question for you, Governor. PFAS water contamination. That has been a huge issue. And accountability has been lacking. Do you intend to solicit the Legislature to draft new polluter pay laws?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Yeah. So, you know, on PFAS, we've been a leader. We've got the strongest standards in the country. We've urged the U.S. Air Force to comply with our standards because everyone should be held up to the same high standards we are. And I'm looking forward to conversations on polluter pay. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work with anyone who wants to find solutions. And I know these new leaders in the Legislature are eager to do the same. So, I think it's important we both protect the public and our natural resources, while offering businesses some certainty. We can do both. It's not one or the other. And, like so many things, I think if we work together, we're going to find a solution that protects, that ensures accountability and holds people responsible at the same time, giving business some confidence. And that's what the law is, so they can all comply.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time today. And Happy New Year to you, Governor.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Thank you. Happy New Year!

Lisa Wozniak: Happy New Year! Thank you, Governor.

David Fair: That is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, our guest on First Friday Focus on the Environment. And thanks to you too, Lisa. I look forward to our February visit.

Lisa Wozniak: It's always great fun. David.

David Fair: That is Lisa Wozniak. She is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and my partner for First Fridays. For more information on today's topic in conversation, we invite you to visit our website at WEMU dot org. This is your community NPR station, 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.
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