On Dec. 18 the Michigan House voted on party lines to defeat a measure prohibiting state environmental regulators from basing electric generating plant permit decisions on factors other than ones related to pollution, such as whether they think the state really needs the plant, or the owner should look for alternative forms of electricity. The issue arose due to Granholm Administration efforts in the past year to throw roadblocks in front of new coal-fired power plants, including a $2 billion facility in Bay County.
In February, Gov. Jennifer Granholm issued a directive delaying consideration of permits for five proposed plants, which required operators to submit revised applications addressing whether the plants are actually needed, and whether other alternatives are available. A few weeks later, Attorney General Mike Cox ruled that the action was not authorized under the law, and the permit process was restarted.
The effort to stop the plants then shifted to the Michigan Public Service Commission, a three-member body appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Under a law passed in 2008 mandating that utilities get 10 percent of their power from "renewable" energy sources by 2015, the PSC was essentially given the power to make the "need" determination upon which the DEQ had over-reached. In September the PSC ruled that the developer of a proposed plant near Rogers City "failed to demonstrate the need" for the plant, and that the Bay City plant wouldn't be required until 2022 - seven years after its expected completion date.
This did not sit well with trade union members looking forward to the jobs the construction would provide. On Oct. 6, some 2,000 of them assembled in front of the state Capitol to protest the Granholm administration's efforts to stop the construction of two new coal-fired power plants. Speaker of the House Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township) told the crowd, "I feel betrayed."
House Bill 5220 had started out as a controversial air-emission permit fee increase, supposedly "required" under new federal EPA regulations. Unable to reach a consensus on the fee hike, the House passed the bill and sent it on to the Senate as just a "shell" or placeholder, basically saying, "After you."
Instead, the Senate used the bill as a "vehicle" to ban the DEQ (soon to be an arm of the reconstituted Department of Natural Resources) from basing electric generating plant permit decisions on factors other than ones related to pollution.
The measure failed in House on a party line vote, 43-54, with 12 Democrats not voting, among them Speaker Dillon.
(The Speaker and other non-voting members of his caucus may have been tied up in meetings with school union leaders trying to water down education reform legislation required to make Michigan eligible for federal "Race to the Top" grants.)
The renewable energy mandate law passed in 2008 was a dishonest assertion of a goal that no serious person believes is possible - 10 percent of the state's electric power from "renewable" sources by 2015. It was passed for political purposes, specifically to burnish the "green" credentials of the careerist politicians who populate the current Legislature. To give statutory lip service to that insincere assertion, the law added a whole new layer of byzantine regulations and costs to the process of generating the electricity Michigan needs to grow in the future.
The bill that was passed by the Senate and defeated by the House on Dec. 18 represents an ineffective attempt to partially clean up the mess lawmakers made a year earlier. Even if it had passed, the measure would have been ineffective at preventing the regulatory and economic sclerosis that is the true outcome of the 2008 renewable energy mandate.
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