Whitmer: ‘Fighting climate change is good for our health, economy’

Pledges for Michigan to be carbon-neutral by 2050 

Six men were federally charged with conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and another seven were charged with violations of Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws connected to alleged involvement with the “Wolverine Watchmen” militia group. | Gov. Whitmer office photo

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed executive orders to create the MI Healthy Climate Plan and “protect public health and create clean energy jobs by making Michigan carbon-neutral by 2050.” 

At the United States Climate Alliance “Leading the Charge” virtual event Wednesday afternoon, the Democrat discussed this new plan and Michigan’s role in combating climate change. 

“Fighting climate change is good for our health, it’s good for our environment and we know it’s good for our economy,” Whitmer said at the event. “It’s really critical and a major step forward. I’m excited about the work that we’re doing here in Michigan.”

With the MI Healthy Climate Plan, Michigan will aim to achieve a 28% reduction below 1990 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, Whitmer said. This would make Michigan the ninth state to commit to 100% economic carbon neutrality. 

The Department of the Treasury also will develop and implement an Energy Transition Impact Project, which will help communities maintain critical services and ensure high quality employment for workers. 

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“The science is clear – climate change is directly impacting our public health, environment, our economy, and our families,” Whitmer said in a press release. “This dangerous reality is already causing harm throughout Michigan, with communities of color and low-income Michiganders suffering disproportionately, which is why I’m taking immediate action to protect our state. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave them a cleaner, safer and healthier world.” 

Whitmer’s order was praised by a slew of environmental organizations.

“People and communities are at the center of the solution to the climate crisis. As states continue to lead the charge in this fight, Gov. Whitmer has set a new bar in the Midwest and across the country to halt the rapid advance of climate impacts,” said Samantha Williams, climate and clean energy Midwest regional director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We now need to take today’s bold action, and go even further. We must ensure that the commitment to cutting carbon pollution out of Michigan’s economy is accompanied by an equitable and inclusive process that charts the path forward.”      

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 25 governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement targets, according to their website. Some of the governors at the virtual event included Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. 

Together, the states in the alliance represent over half of the nation’s population and economy, the Climate Alliance website says.

At the event, the governors discussed the progress the states have made on climate action over the past four years, as well as their commitment moving forward. 

Whitmer discussed what action she has taken since she’s been governor — including creating the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), joining the Climate Alliance and creating the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.

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Whitmer said that “we will rise to the challenge” of climate change. She noted several challenges that the U.S. has faced this year, including the pandemic, wildfires and flooding. 

“Over the past month, we’ve seen devastating wildfires across the western United States that have once again exposed the harsh realities of the impact of climate change on our daily lives. In Michigan, we saw historic flooding in the midst of this pandemic — the likes of which we hadn’t seen in 500 years,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer said she wants to build a stronger, more sustainable future, which will ultimately protect public health and the environment.

She said she’s constantly inspired by the generation of young people who are stepping up to fight for a more sustainable planet.

“Real change requires leaders across our country working hand in hand with these activists,” she said. “When we combat climate change and we improve the health of almost every Michigander, we’re going to save millions.”

When Whitmer was asked how she is going to ensure that the additional clean energy policies won’t put an additional burden on constituents economically, she said climate change is a public health crisis and that there’s an “incredible high cost of not making these investments.”

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“The conventional wisdom where we save a little bit of money in one realm but have an incredible human cost in another never bears out to be in anyone’s benefit,” she said. 

Whitmer cited the Flint water crisis as an example.

“I created the Office of Environmental Justice Advocate because we know that… when decisions are based on a few dollars as opposed to what it means for people’s lives, it often has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and certainly people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum,” she said.

She said there’s an “ongoing analogy here: When we don’t pay attention to the science, when we don’t heed the calls to take action that protects people’s lives, we all pay the worst kind of price.”

Inslee, a Democrat who made fighting climate change the centerpiece of his 2020 presidential run, said it is more vital now that states become really robust leaders in our democracy.

“The message fundamentally that we want to share with the country is this: The states that have embraced clean energy climate change actions have grown their economies faster than those that have not,” he said.

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Hogan, a Republican, said we need more leaders “on both sides of the aisle” who are willing to think outside the box to meet these environmental issues head on. 

“In Maryland, we have consistently pushed for meaningful and innovative policies and programs to protect our environment,” he said.

When the governors were asked what individual people can do to help, Whitmer said to vote. 

“The most important thing that comes to mind is vote,” she said. “If we had national leadership that had the same set of values, and knew how to get things done on this particular front, and was committed to it, we could really make a much bigger difference.”

Raimondo agreed with Whitmer, saying the U.S. needs a new president. 

“I would just say vote… up and down the ballot,” the Democrat said. “It’s the local races too that matter.”

The Climate Alliance says the governors plan to accelerate climate action regardless of the November election outcomes.

Katie O'Brien Kelley
Katie O'Brien Kelley is a Michigan State University graduate with degrees in journalism and theatre. She was previously a reporter, editor and podcast coordinator at The State News — Michigan State's award-winning student paper. As a reporter there, she covered the university's administration, including its mishandling of reports against former doctor Larry Nassar's abuse, as well as academics and student experiences. She was also previously an intern at the Lansing City Pulse.