Enviro protections bolstered in gov’s 2021 budget proposal

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $61.9 billion second executive budget proposal includes a sizable boost in funding for climate change adaptations, clean drinking water, Asian carp prevention and other environmental protections.

“Climate and water” was one of three top strategic investment areas prioritized in Whitmer’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget, as state Budget Director Chris Kolb laid out in his presentation to the packed House Appropriations room Thursday morning.

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“This budget prioritizes cleaning up our drinking water and combating harmful effects of climate change, so we can build a stronger, more sustainable future for our kids for generations to come here in Michigan,” Whitmer said at a media roundtable with Kolb afterward.

Whitmer recommends funding increases to address environmental contamination, local infrastructure improvements to mitigate the effects of climate change, more options for low-cost lead remediation efforts, clean drinking water and more.

Here is a breakdown of some key numbers and initiatives from Whitmer’s proposed budget.

There’s $40 million in grants for local climate-resilient infrastructure projects. This will aid local governments in planning for, preventing and mitigating the impacts of climate change in Michigan, like shoreline erosion resulting from abnormally high water levels.

Essentially, local governments would more easily be able to adapt their infrastructure and zoning ordinances to the increasingly damaging effects of climate change.

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There also is $40 million in one-time grants for school districts to make health-related improvements to their infrastructure to ensure safe environments for students. This includes lead and asbestos abatement, filtered water fountains, air and water filter replacement, heating and cooling upgrades and more.

The budget plan has $20 million for rapid response to environmental contamination and further cleanup of polluted sites. This one-time funding would provide additional resources for identifying, prioritizing and abating contaminated properties.

This new funding is especially pertinent given increased statewide concern about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, as well as the PFAS-laden toxic “green ooze” that leaked onto a Madison Heights highway from a nearby manufacturing plant in December.

Kolb said that there are thousands of contaminated sites across the state that still need to be addressed, many without responsible parties.

There’s a $10.6 million increase for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to reimburse farmers for using environmentally friendly conservation practices, with ultimate the goal of mitigating toxic algal blooms in the Great Lakes, something of particular concern to Lake Erie. This includes $600,000 of ongoing funding also provided for water research and outreach in affected areas.

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Whitmer proposes a $10 million investment in lead poisoning prevention efforts. This one-time general fund money within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) budget would create a “Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund” to “inject private capital into lead remediation efforts in homes.” 

This is meant to encourage lending for lead remediation at below-market interest rates, which would make it possible for some families to protect their homes against lead without breaking the bank.

This particular funding recommendation was lauded by the Lansing-based Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), a coalition of more than 65 state environmental organizations.

“With 70% of Michigan housing stock at risk of having lead paint, we can’t continue to make homes lead safe one by one. … We look forward to getting more details and ensuring that our most vulnerable residents are eligible for these loans as well as families who face a desperate need for help but fall just outside the current income criteria to receive state and federal lead grants,”  said Tina Reynolds, MEC’s program director for environmental health, in a statement Thursday afternoon.

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There’s $8 million for an Illinois barrier preventing invasive Asian carp from migrating into the Great Lakes. This is in addition to the state’s continued funding of $5.1 million for invasive species prevention and control.

The budget proposal includes $5 million for a “Green Revolving Fund,” which would provide green energy initiatives at state facilities. There’s also $5 million for a “Michigan Saves” green bank, to encourage private investment in renewable energy improvements.

The governor wants $4 million in additional funding to support Attorney General Dana Nessel’s legal efforts to protect residents from chemical contamination of drinking water and commercial pollution.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released a statement Thursday afternoon expressing their overall support of Whitmer’s proposed budget and funds for environmental protections.

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“If there ever was a moment for our elected leaders to come together, it’s amid constant headlines about toxic chemicals in our drinking water, contaminated sites polluting our lakes and rivers, and the impacts of extreme weather events from climate change,” said Michigan LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak.

“… Gov. Whitmer’s budget prepares our state for the effects of a rapidly-changing climate and makes cleaning up contaminated sites and protecting our drinking water top priorities. Safe, clean water is not a partisan issue.  This is a Michigan challenge that we must face together.”