What is the Michigan Environmental Council?
A non-profit agency, we work on environmental related policy issues at the federal and state level. We represent about 60 environmental, interfaith, and health advocacy groups in the state of Michigan. The area I work on is energy policy which includes such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change legislation and green jobs.
What brought you to take a role at the MEC?
I think it was that I wanted to stay in the state of Michigan and this talk of a green energy economy was just coming into relevance when I left MSU. Also to have young minds and voices work on this sort of issues. Also I think this is something that will be the next growth sector for the nation and definitely for the state of Michigan.
On the topic of green energy, President Obama has endeavored to bring this topic to the forefront. What are your views on his stance?
I think that he's been amazing so far. He's been firm in saying that this green energy economy is not just a fad or niche, but truly a necessity. If we don't start thinking about renewable energy, not only are we facing dire consequences in climate change and pollution but in terms of being relevant in this new economy internationally. If we don't begin to take a lead on this, such as the renewable and wind industries in Europe who are far outpacing the United States or energy efficiency companies in Asia who are far outpacing the US; if we don't catch up and start manufacturing those goods here we will lose in this economic race.
What are some typical goals in the MEC?
One large part is funding, we're a non-profit so most of our funding comes in from foundations so we have to make sure we're meeting the goals of several different grants. You have numerous grants working at the same time, and each grant has different goals and outcomes and you have to keep track of them to ensure that you're meeting those deliverables, while making sure you're keeping those relationships intact. Then there's the daily grind of continually working with the legislature which can be difficult at times. Like with this renewable energy and energy efficiency package we passed in 2008. I personally worked on that for three years and my colleagues at the MEC had worked on it for seven and it just got passed. So you really have to have due diligence and you have to keep with these things, you can't be lax, they're not going to happen quickly so you have to be persistent.
On a day to day basis or week to week what would you describe that you're typically doing at the MEC?
Personally, and it differs with what grants we're working on, but right now we're doing a lot with the Granholm administration. We've been working with the Granholm's staff closely and assisting them on bringing to reality a new clean energy economy in the state of Michigan. We also may take great policy examples from other states or internationally, and try to bring them here to Michigan. One example of this is a feed-in-tariff which rewards people for using renewable forms of energy like solar panels. First created in California then really ramped up in Germany and now we're trying to bring it back to the US and have in implemented in Michigan as a way to aggressively put renewable energy online. Another thing is to talk to our member groups, again we're an organization that represents 60 member groups across the state, so it's keeping them involved when legislation comes across that they may want to be connected into. These member groups will then be more apt to continue to be a vibrant part of our organization. So there are a lot of different things that occur on a day to day basis.
Now I know you do some travelling, what do you typically do when you're traveling?
Recently, because of this stimulus package, a lot of travel to Washington D.C., also there's climate legislation coming up very soon. You want to be able to work with legislative offices very closely, have certain specific ‘ask' of our Representatives and Senators, while also seeing what information you can take back to their constituents to help them in our collective causes. There is also a number of national conferences about various issues, people all over the nation are trying to come together and bring to fruition a new clean energy economy, so there is sometimes lot of travel involved.
You mentioned you work with Granholm's staff, but what about the Michigan legislature?
In terms of the Michigan legislature it depends. I guess right now we're in a political climate where legislation is not going to move very quickly through the legislature and that's because the political climate is unstable. 2010 you're going to have a Governor's election, you're going to have all 38 senate seats up for reelection, you're going to have an Attorney General up for reelection, and the Secretary of State up for reelection. In terms of legislation, once campaigns begin to ramp up, things may slow down quite a bit.
What are some of your typical challenges you face at the MEC?
I think one of the really interesting challenges is the media. We do a lot of combating and compromising with the media. Just recently we had two commentary pieces in the Detroit news on the same day. Then you have different newspapers that have different politics. Now we have this thing going on where some media forms are being decimated like newspapers. So now we're trying to use new media forms like Twitter, blogging, and we are actually aggressively using Facebook. It's really about winning this media message on all these different environmental issues and trying to eliminate this debate that it's the environment or jobs. Right now with this clean energy economy we can definitely prove that pursuing programs that benefit the environment ,such as renewable energy, can also provide economic benefits and can produce many jobs as well.
What specific goal are you working on now?
I guess things aren't as easy as they were in 2008. This year I think what we are really looking to work with the utility companies in Michigan and ensure that that they are meeting the standards set in our 2008 energy package. Trying to make sure things are implemented correctly. Another thing is that there is a climate and energy bill and this is possibly going to be the most important and one of the most difficult bills ever crafted in the federal legislature. Also we have international climate change talks coming up in December in Copenhagen. We're really trying to work with our Reps and Senators to make sure that they come up with strong climate and energy legislation in order to bring them to the talks in December. I can say that those are two things that are taking up a lot of time and that we're working on pretty aggressively.
What are some of your personal goals working at the MEC?
Personally I think that it's a commitment to Michigan. Being able to not only help to right the ship in terms of our fallen automobile economy and maybe having them diversify into cleaner vehicles and battery development. But also to right our economy by creating new sources of manufacturing such as energy efficiency products and renewable energy components. I believe this state has great potential in the future. I think I have a long term commitment to the state and I see the MEC as being an important aspect of turning Michigan back on the right course.