Unemployed Michigan workers are being told by environmental groups and our governor that we should forgo shovel-ready construction jobs in building new, environmentally cleaner coal-fired power plants for the promise of jobs sometime in the future building windmills. Approximately 1500 construction workers gathered at the state capitol on October 6, demanding that Gov. Jennifer Granholm abandon her anti-coal bias and let them go to work. Most of the workers are unemployed and need a job — even if it isn't a politically correct green energy job that the governor and environmental groups seem to think they should have.
When the Michigan Legislature passed a bill to facilitate the building of more coal-fired power plants, Cindy Roper with Clean Water Action lamented, "It was extremely disappointing for us to see legislators who know the future's in clean energy pandering to people who need work."
House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Twp, who had fought for the bill, saw things differently. Speaking to the protesters, he said: "I feel betrayed ... We fought for two years to change these rules and we got bi-partisan support. ... We got support from business, from labor and from environmentalists, and after that day happened, after we put up a very tough vote, six weeks before an election, the bureaucrats stepped in the way and took it out from under us" (MIRS News, subscription required). Although bureaucrats played a role, the buck stops at Gov. Granholm's desk, where the executive order was issued earlier this year giving the Department of Environmental Quality unprecedented authority not only to adjudicate the environmental conditions of coal-fired power plant permits, but to decide if these plants should even be built.
This de facto moratorium clearly violates the rule of law. Energy legislation that passed last year with bipartisan support required compromise on the part of utilities, consumers and environmental groups. The executive order on coal-fired power plants undermines the new energy law.
Regardless of one's view on energy policy, it is hard not to argue that the governor's action sends a chilling message to businesses wishing to invest in Michigan: that our laws don't count for much. This regulatory uncertainty stifles the creation of new jobs.
New baseload coal-fired power plants built with state-of-the-art environmental controls that replace aging power plants are good for Michigan's environment, as they significantly reduce air emissions. Contrary to some claims, Michigan's future primary power needs cannot be met with unreliable wind and solar energy — wind turbines operate less than 30 percent of the time and the sun does not shine much in Michigan during the winter.
It is inevitable that Michigan utilities will have to build new baseload power plants in the future in order to meet new tougher environmental standards. Gov. Granholm has two choices: Continue to pander to extreme environmental groups while the state's unemployment rate continues to climb, or follow the law and allow Michigan workers to go back to work investing in the future energy security of the state. Governor, tear down the anti-coal order.