Sierra Club asks Snyder for policy changes

By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 12, 2014

The results are in, and the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club has given Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder weak reviews.

The club’s “gubernatorial Scorecard” — an evaluation of environment-related actions during Snyder’s tenure — ranked Snyder on energy, environment and what the group calls “good government” policies. The group found that the governor made only eight decisions the Sierra Club approved of as environmentally sound.

The evaluation was originally based on the group's evaluation of 36 bills and administrative actions, giving him a 22 percent approval overall. However, several factual inaccuracies were reported after the scorecard’s initial release. The group dropped four bills in question on Jan. 8, changing the ranking to 25 percent approval.

The scorecard was released a week before Snyder's annual State of the State address, during which he will outline his agenda for the next legislative year. Mike Berkowitz, legislative and political director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, said the rating's timeliness should prompt Snyder to weigh environmental issues more seriously.

“We hope that Governor Snyder will see this and reflect with his team the impact that his decisions have had on the environment,” Berkowitz said. “We think that he has not been primarily concerned with that.”

Public Policy prof. Barry Rabe said the Sierra Club’s low score may come from ideological differences between themselves and the governor on approaches to environmental policy.

“On this one, the Sierra Club has probably taken one of the more aggressive stands of any environmental group against any further development of fossil fuels — the use of coal, oil and also natural gas,” Rabe said. “The Sierra Club has probably gone farther than most other major mainstream orgs. in making that a signature focal point.”

In contrast to the Sierra Club’s pro-conservation stance, Snyder emphasized his belief that energy and the environment that protecting the environment does not mean abandoning the development of energy resource in a Nov. 2012 address.

“We have many successful companies that have safely produced oil and natural gas in Michigan, while protecting Michigan’s waters,” Snyder said at the time.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel characterized the scorecard as erroneous, adding that in contrast to the Sierra Club’s scorecard, the governor has done many things during his tenure to help the environment.

“Gov. Snyder is working to ensure a Pure Michigan for years to come — a place that all will want to live, work and play,” Wurfel said.

A similar scorecard, maintained on an ongoing basis by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, ranks Snyder higher, characterizing 72 out of a total of 124 tracked actions as positive, 24 as neutral and 32 as negative.

The one major policy referenced on the scorecard that the Sierra Club and Snyder did agree on was the creation of a regional transit authority, which will bring a unified public transit network to Southeast Michigan.

Public Policy prof. Elisabeth Gerber, one of Washtenaw County’s representatives on the regional transit authority, said the creation of the authority should be seen as a major success for the governor.

“The state legislature has attempted 33 times to pass legislation to create a RTA,” Gerber said. “This is try number 34. I would say that his political leadership was essential — it wasn’t the only factor that helped pass it this time, but I think without him it would not have passed.”

The RTA is projected to be a positive development for the environment because of its role in shifting people away from traveling using individual vehicles.

None of the policies on the scorecard directly relate to students, but Rackham student Charlotte Jameson, who is studying environmental policy and planning, said the governor’s environmental track record should still be seen as important.

“I think the whole argument about this is setting the stage for future generations and really should resonate with people my age and younger,” Jameson said. “It sounds kind of cliché to say that because it’s generally overhyped in a lot of communications and organizations, but I think it really does matter.”