1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Meet EGLE's new director, Phil Roos
ABOUT PHIL ROOS:
Phil Roos was named director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) in July of 2023. Roos oversees EGLE’s $1 billion budget and 1,400-person team dedicated to protecting Michigan’s environment and public health through managing the state’s air, water and land and energy resources.
Nestled in the heart of the world’s greatest freshwater ecosystem, Michigan EGLE has a unique regulatory role in ensuring the Great Lakes and their connecting waters remain the vital cultural, recreational, ecological and economic engines of the region. The agency also regulates air quality, waste management, drinking water, groundwater, oil and gas extraction, and contaminated site remediation.
Roos is an entrepreneur, business leader, and a consultant with deep expertise in organizational strategy, innovation, and growth. He has held senior leadership positions in numerous large and early-stage companies, as well as two consulting firms he founded.
Environmental protection has been a constant in Roos’ life. He has been a longtime board member and officer of wildlife, conservation, and health organizations and was vice chair of Michigan’s Council on Climate Solutions.
Roos holds an bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School.
Phil is married with three adult children and two wonderful dogs. His hobbies include playing hockey, cycling, music history and health and fitness. He lives in Ann Arbor.
ABOUT 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.'
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the August edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair. And each month on the first Friday, we get together with the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and explore important environmental issues that affect our county and our state. Each month, Lisa Wozniak brings us a special guest with whom we can better explore these issues. Lisa, welcome back. And, as always, thanks for your time.
Lisa Wozniak: Thanks, Dave. I always look forward to being here. And this month, we get to go straight to the top. Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently appointed Ann Arbor businessman Phil Roos as director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. And over the past many years, Phil has served in a number of different capacities. This is a new one for him, but he's been on the state's Council of Climate Solutions, on the board of the National Wildlife Federation, and, in full disclosure, Director Roos has served as a member of the Board of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters as well. Today, he's our First Friday guest. Thanks very much, Phil, for being here.
David Fair: Thank you, indeed.
Phil Roos: Thank you both. It's such a pleasure to be here with both of you on this, my very first interview as a director.
David Fair: Is that right? Well, we're glad to have the honor, sir.
Lisa Wozniak: It's great. And I want to start off with a key question for you. You're taking on a really vital government position at a really critical time. And we are seeing almost everywhere the increased impacts of climate change. What about your professional experience to this point has prepared you to address these challenges?
Phil Roos: Well, you're right to highlight the magnitude of the challenges we face, not just climate change, but, certainly, climate change is near the top of the list in terms of urgency and the scope of the impact. My experience isn't maybe the typical job description for this role, but I have kind of a blending of leadership roles in the business world, as well as in environmental advocacy and protection. My business experience comes from working with large and small companies, as well as consulting in a variety of different roles: strategy, consulting. The focus is really around helping companies map out the future. What is the next five, ten, 20 years look like? What are the big changes and disruptions awaiting us? And how do we thrive? And how do we make a difference in the world as a result of that? And I think that perspective is very much what's needed here as it relates to addressing climate change and some of the other challenges we have. And, by the way, some of the companies I worked with are the very kind that we want to attract to this state. On the environmental protection side, that's pretty deep in my bones. I found out a few years ago I'm a seventh generation Michigander. I care about the state a lot. I grew up in Flint and saw that toxic contamination legacy from our industrial past that we're trying to clean up. I also saw all the beauty of the state, spent a lot of time in the Great Lakes and also stewarding some land that is adjacent to a farm my family homesteaded in the post-Civil War era. I take that pretty seriously that role--kind of a seventh-generation, do no harm perspective. But I've also spent a lot of time--the last 15 years--in leadership positions in environmental advocacy organizations that are focused on these issues all the time. Those two perspectives--economic development and business and environmental protection--a lot of people want to see those as opposing forces, and I just don't buy into that dichotomy. I think there's opportunity to do both. And I think EGLE is going to play a key role in that.
David Fair: Well, one of the things that you can look forward to stewarding is a budget. You walk into a position after the state Legislature passed a budget that includes about $1 billion for environmental priorities. Yet, I imagine as you survey the state's environmental needs, EGLE could use far more than that. What is your take away from the budget?
Phil Roos: Well, my team--and it's a wonderful team, from what I can tell after two and a half weeks, so impressed with all of them and the great work that they do--they take a lot of pride in this budget. This is a bipartisan budget focused on growing the economy and lowering costs and, as the governor says, helping anyone to make it in Michigan. And the EGLE part of it is actually $1.5 billion, including a supplemental package. And that's going to be used for some really important things: increase staffing for key areas, like inspections and enforcement, drinking water compliance and contaminated site clean-ups, programs to replace lead service lines, upgrade water infrastructure, enhance the electric grid, incentivize renewable energy and improve air quality and environmental justice communities, and so much more. I could go on. The team is really proud of it, but, of course, we could use a lot more. And I'm going to put a lot of focus now in trying to work on the next budget for the next fiscal year and trying to supplement this with whatever federal funding opportunities are available. And there are many.
Lisa Wozniak: So, on that, on the budget piece, I want to talk about our changing climate again. And this has been front and center for Michiganders, and we've seen more extreme weather events causing flooding and again and again and again, widespread power outages and the Canadian wildfires have made this region really unbearable in terms of extremely poor air quality. What is EGLE's role, budgetary and otherwise, in dealing with the impacts and adapting for the future?
Phil Roos: Well, let me speak first to the wildfires, and this is something I didn't realize. EGLE has a team of meteorologists, and most of the public alerts that you're seeing actually come from EGLE. We have a whole team focusing on that. There's been an intense focus on clear communications in coordination with our friends at the Department of Health and Human Services to just make sure residents know the situation, know what they need to do to protect themselves and stay safe. And I encourage everybody to check out our social media for updates on that. But on the broader question of climate change and the implementation of MI Healthy Climate plan. That's our state's road map to getting us to 100% carbon neutrality by 2050 or hopefully sooner. There's a lot going on already. I'll give you a couple of examples. We have a program called Catalyst Communities that helps communities leverage federal funding to address climate resiliency and clean energy in their communities. We have a department-wide effort around our own areas of climate focus within each of the different divisions of EGLE and also across divisions. We're aggressively pursuing federal funding opportunities, most of them under the Inflation Reduction Act, including the Climate Pollution reduction grants, and a lot of effort around helping regional areas within Michigan develop their own climate plans. And, as you may remember last week, the governor signed a couple of new bills, a package of bills, both to accelerate the deployment of solar energy and help businesses finance clean energy. We have an enormous kind of a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We have federal funding. We have a great state budget. We have a governor and a state Legislature that want to take action on this. The governor said that clean energy and climate action is going to be one of our top priorities in the fall. And that means also working with the legislation on some key areas that, I think in her words, will cement Michigan as a national leader in climate and clean energy jobs.
David Fair: 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues with my co-host, Lisa Wozniak, and our guest, the new director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, Phil Roos. And, Director Roos, you are a Washtenaw County resident. And there are some local issues here that may help highlight a sense of priority from EGLE moving forward. For several decades, we've watched the Gelman Sciences one-four dioxane plume expand and move closer to the Huron River--the Ann Arbor municipal water supply as well. The Huron River is grappling with PFAS, as are many waterways in the state of Michigan. There are a number of brownfields in the county that require immense remediation, like the Water Street property in Ypsilanti. I'm sure most every county in Michigan can and will come to you with similar issues. How do you plan to look at these matters from the state perspective?
Phil Roos: Well, I'm very aware of the issues that you mentioned here in Washtenaw County, and many others are coming to my attention across the state. I wish I could step in and snap my fingers and resolve those immediately. I can't do that. But I can tell you that the whole area of cleaning up toxic sites, legacy contamination, as well as preventing exposure to new contamination, it's a top priority. And we have funding to do that this year. I also am hopeful from one of the things out of my business background is you learn to take a strategic approach at some of these issues. They're complex. There are a lot of stakeholders and learn to really talk to the right people, bring the right people together, build bridges where we need you to get to really great solutions. And I'm committed to doing that.
Lisa Wozniak: So, all of the issues that David mentioned in Washtenaw County have put the burden of clean up on the taxpayers. And I understand that it is not your role to design or pass a state law, but I would really love to hear your thoughts on the reinstatement of bold and effective polluter pay legislation, legislation that would help hold polluters financially liable for the messes that they create.
Phil Roos: Well, I can say on that my team is currently working with legislature on a number of proposals to get at that very issue. I am completely supportive of making sure that companies that contaminate our air, land and water are responsible for cleaning it up and are held accountable. And we're going to do all we can to support that. Right now, as I mentioned, we've got a bunch of the new funding that we're deploying to help clean up sites, particularly orphan sites where there is no responsible party. And we're going to use that money to really take some action in those areas.
David Fair: You have already mentioned the kind of companies you would like to see brought to Michigan and working with the companies that already exist here. How do you see EGLE's role in working with Michigan industry to collaboratively create more corporate responsibility and prevent further contamination of our air, land and water?
Phil Roos: Well, we have an opportunity to engage with the business community all the time. They need permits to operate in our state. And based on my experience in the business world, this may be surprising to some people, but more and more of them want to do the right thing. You hear more that are focused on triple bottom line on trying to be part of the solution and help make this a better state for all of us.
David Fair: Do they not want less regulation, though, in agreeing to these things?
Phil Roos: Well, I think some are really willing to accept it and play a role in helping to make it better. We do have, of course, some companies that aren't in that camp. What this goes back to just building bridges and working with people and working on complex solutions to problems, I'm going to be committed to that. The other thing I'll say is that we're going to work on being as clear and transparent as possible about what the law requires of companies and, at the same time, streamline the process of helping them to operate in a way that protects our air, land and water.
David Fair: Once again, we're talking with the new director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, Phil Roos, on 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair, alongside my co-host, Lisa Wozniak.
Lisa Wozniak: So, you have mentioned the governor's release of her MI Healthy Climate Plan last year, which lays out the steps that Michigan can take to not only address climate change, but also the trend to transition to clean energy. And the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions is a council that you've been a part of. You were, I believe, the vice chair. And now, as you step into the directorship at EGLE, it is a council that you now chair. And you helped to develop that plan, and it has some bold goals in there, including a goal of getting to 60% electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030. Is that achievable?
Phil Roos: Yes, it's not only achievable, but aggressive action to clean our electric grid is absolutely critical to meeting our goals outlined in the plan. As you know, the climate plan included a pretty comprehensive set of recommendations, policy-wise, to reduce greenhouse gases. The goal was 52% by 2030. I hope we do much better than that. But it doesn't go far enough. We have to go much further. And I think we're going to see additional policy changes and actions and they're going to be necessary in every sector of the economy to meet our goals and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And I'm ready to roll up my sleeves to make as much of that happen as we can under my tenure. We have an opportunity now with the funding, with the will of the legislature and governor. Let's make it happen.
David Fair: The Michigan Public Service Commission recently approved a long-term energy plan for DTE Energy. The integrated resource plan, as it's being called, requires DTE Electric to, among other things, reduce its reliance on coal and speed up renewable energy projects. How important will it be to the success of the MI Healthy Climate Plan to get better and more expedient buying and implementation from the utilities?
Phil Roos: Well, I can say that this settlement was certainly welcome news. We have a lot more good work that's going to be needed to get us where we want to go, but we're pleased with that progress. I'm actually confident we can get by, and that's something that it's a bit of my orientation is how to bring people together, how to build bridges. But I'm not sure we need me to do that. I think all it takes is the severe weather events that we've had, the smoke from the Canadian wildfires, so much of it. Like so many people I know in southeast Michigan, I was out of power three days the last week, and that's becoming a regular occurrence. We have to make progress on these issues. And I think people, communities, businesses, government, everybody is feeling the effects and ready to do something about it. I think we're making progress. We really need a whole of economy approach to solve this issue and to meet our goals. That's going to need buy-in from every individual, every industry, and that includes the utilities.
Lisa Wozniak: Well, some of the concern around the DTE agreement is that it does not address issues related to keeping energy affordable for customers. And that's also true when it comes to access to clean and safe drinking water. Are you optimistic on those fronts?
Phil Roos: We have a lot of work to do to rebuild our infrastructure, our water infrastructure, and make sure everybody has access to affordable water. No doubt about it. I think we've made a lot of progress during this governor's administration. In four and a half years, there's been $4 billion in investment in water infrastructure. That's unparalleled. And the budget that the governor will sign later today adds another $600 million to protect drinking water and rebuild our water infrastructure from replacing lead service lines to upgrading sewer systems. All of those dollars are going to be invested in local communities, and I think we'll make a real dent in the cost of that. They would have had to pay for those upgrades and go a long ways towards water affordability. On top of that, there was $40 million allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services to build developed community water affordability programs. I'm excited to see what the impact of that will be. In the meantime, what I can control is go get as much money as we can from the federal government or other sources that will help us add more to the pot and make this the biggest investment we've ever seen or will see.
David Fair: Many times, when a new leader takes their position for the first time, they set a list of goals and aspirations they have for the first 100 days or for the first term. What do you want to get out of your first term in office as director of EGLE?
Phil Roos: I'm holding on that because I'm doing intense conversations with my team, and I'm learning a lot. You know, we're going to successfully implement the climate plan and really drive that at state government. We're going to address water infrastructure and affordability. We're going to address clean air. We're going to work on building the organization as well and letting the world know about the good work of EGLE because they do some really awesome work.
David Fair: Well, Director Roos--
Phil Roos: But more to come on that.
David Fair: I thank you so much for taking time to spend with us today. Thank you for making your first ever media period here on 89 one WEMU. We do appreciate your perspective, and we're most grateful for your time.
Phil Roos: Thanks. It's a great honor and privilege.
David Fair: That is Phil Roos. He is the recently appointed director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. He's been our guest on First Friday Focus on the Environment. We bring you this monthly conversation series on the first Friday of each month. So, we'll look forward to our next visit with Lisa Wozniak and a special guest in September. Thanks as always, Lisa.
Lisa Wozniak: Thank you. And I look forward to it, David.
David Fair: Lisa Wozniak is the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which serves as our content partner for First Friday Focus on the Environment. If you'd like more information on today's conversation and access to the First Friday archive, visit our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
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