U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., led a town hall at the Wyandotte Boat Club to address the public’s environmental concerns on Monday evening. The event featured a panel of ten speakers, including state Sen. Stephanie Chang, state Rep. Cara Clemente, spokespersons from Friends of the Rouge, Clean Water Action and other members of environmentally oriented organizations. Around 100 audience members from the community attended, including a group of student volunteers representing the Sunrise Movement.
The event began with a welcome from Dingell, who thanked the Wyandotte Boat Club for hosting. After a reminder for the audience to remain civil, the panel opened the conversation up for questions. The first questions concerned the preservation and protection of Michigan’s waters and ecosystems, specifically regarding clean water and the prominence of invasive species.
Later into the conversation, Dingell received a question from an audience member asking if she believed corporations and utilities would take advantage of the recent Environmental Protection Agency rollback. Dingell declined to answer directly.
She then moved on to address some of the legislative progress made in cooperation with the United Nations, especially targeting carbon emissions. Dingell also hinted a new measure would be introduced in the next couple of weeks.
After she finished speaking, a younger member from the audience stood up. He had come with several other high school and college students from the Ann Arbor branch of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led action group committed to combating climate change and enacting the Green New Deal. He claimed though Dingell did not affiliate herself with utility companies, she did in fact take donations from fossil fuel corporations.
Following this, LSA junior Talia Yaari, another member from the Sunrise Movement, took the microphone to elaborate further.
“We have had various interactions with you over a period of about eight months now, asking you to co-sponsor the Green New Deal and we have continued to receive mixed messaging and unclear reasoning as to why you have not signed on to this thus far,” Yaari said.
Yaari said while she and her peers had had opportunities to speak with Dingell, they still had not received a clear answer regarding whether or not Dingell supported the Green New Deal and would go further to co-sponsor the proposed legislation.
Dingell responded to Yaari’s comment by thanking the young activists for their work while bringing up her constituents’ fears of potentially losing their jobs.
“I’m going to begin by thanking our young people,” Dingell said. “I’m working with a lot of people. I’m working with many environmental groups… but I’m also working with people that are worried about their jobs, and the labor unions. So, we got to move quickly… We want to get a plan that will pass. That’s why I’m very steady, very detailed, and talk to everyone in the community… I’m building that coalition.”
After the town hall, Yaari told The Daily she was dissatisfied with Dingell’s response.
“She says things that make it seem like she hasn’t really read the Green New Deal,” Yaari said.
Other attendees voiced similar concerns regarding the climate crisis globally and in Michigan. Ann Arbor resident Leva Lessure was among those who attended. Like members of the Sunrise Movement, she believed that climate change is the biggest issue to address.
“I’m most interested about the climate issue,” Lessure said. “I believe that’s the most urgent thing. We need to address it sooner rather than later. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be sooner, and I think that’s, you know, a strong issue that affects everything.”
In her closing statements, Dingell addressed the activists once more, ensuring that she was working hard to pass legislation despite their concerns.
“I thank you for your caring and for being out there,” Dingell said. “I was you, at your age…We need you and I thank you, but you’ve got to believe us that some of us are really working at these issues.”