Rep. Chris Kolb’s background in environmental consulting is key to his vision for Michigan’s future.
The Democrat is stressing the importance of green policies – both on a global scale and in the Ann Arbor area – as he campaigns to keep his 53rd District seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. Kolb will face Republican John Milroy in the Nov. 5 election.
Steps must be taken locally and statewide to curb pollution, preserve rural land and promote alternative energy sources, Kolb said in an interview with The Michigan Daily earlier this week.
Kolb said urban sprawl springing up around Ann Arbor is a problem faced by many Michigan cities. The result is increased pollution, caused by traffic backups and power plants that fill the air with smog and chemical runoff that contaminates ground water, he said.
“You have a lot of people moving closer and closer to Ann Arbor because it is such a vibrant city,” he said.
“You have the potential to lose the very nature of the community.”
He said he spent much of his first term in the House developing legislation to address these issues aided by his experience in the private sector. He also served on the Ann Arbor City Council for eight years before joining the House in 2001.
Kolb said the state can combat pollution by increasing environmental law enforcement, giving businesses financial incentives to clean up their acts, and promoting alternate sources of energy.
Michigan should form environmental industrial parks to encourage companies to use each others’ by-products, cutting down on waste and pollution, he said. “What we have to realize is that environment protection is not a negative impact on economic development.”
There are also viable ways the state can encourage homeowners to make their own energy using windmills or solar panels, Kolb said. Using a net metering system, homes would pay lower bills if they returned energy to their electrical company.
One of the environmental issues Kolb said concerns him most is the preservation of agricultural land.
“Urban sprawl is basically the inefficient use of land, and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.
To solve the problem, Kolb said the state must find new sources of funding for the Purchase of Development Rights programs that allow local governments to plan how land will be used.
Apart from environmental protection, Kolb named stimulating economic development and improving public education and health care as his top priorities.
As a member of the House committee that allocates money to higher education, Kolb also wants more funding for Michigan’s public universities.
“We can see a direct proportion of how much the state gives universities and how much tuition goes up,” he said.
“I doubt there’s a better investment of public revenue than into our public universities.”
Michigan State University’s proximity to the state capital of Lansing gives it an edge over the University of Michigan in funding that needs to be addressed, he said.
Budget shortfalls will require cuts in some programs, and Kolb said one place to look is the state’s prisons, clogged with drug users and the mentally ill.