GLEN ARBOR — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed her six-point presidential agenda for the Great Lakes in a tour across northern Lower Michigan.
The Michigan governor on Thursday detailed a strategic plan which a group of Great Lakes governors want all 2020 presidential candidates to embrace. She told crowds gathered in Glen Arbor she invited other governors to help her create this Great Lakes agenda so the region can wield its “incredible power” in national elections.
“It really became clear to me we could drive the national conversation,” Whitmer said during a lunch session with members of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
Great Lakes states amount to 25 percent of votes from the Electoral College, which she said means the region can effectively decide the presidential election.
Democratic governors from Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin signed onto the Great Lakes 2020 presidential agenda, though governors in New York, Indiana and Ohio opted out. The agenda pushes for increased water protections and federal spending across the Great Lakes basin.
“Water is not partisan. Water is a fundamental human necessity. It’s critical we are protecting it,” Whitmer told a group of environmental advocates and business leaders at Glen Arbor’s Lake Street Studios.
“The freshwater coast is what we really need to focus on,” she said.
Now it’s time to press — or even demand — all presidential candidates from both parties agree to embrace that Great Lakes agenda, Whitmer argued.
The six points in the Great Lakes agenda include:
- addressing extensive water infrastructure problems the region faces by tripling federal dollars invested in the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds to work on the $179 billion backlog of needed work in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems;
- ramping up funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to $475 million per year to boost projects for coastal resiliency, toxic contamination cleanup, runoff pollution reduction, invasive species prevention, and restoration of wetlands and other habitats;
- fully funding and expediting plans to build new prevention measures at a lock and dam on the Des Plaines River in Illinois, and supporting strong ballast water rules, to help stop and control the introduction and spread of invasive species, such as the Asian carp;
- committing to help states meet nutrient pollution reduction in the western Lake Erie basin by 40 percent by 2025 with federal funds and new technologies to address harmful algal outbreaks;
- supporting federal funds for ports, harbors and critical marine infrastructure, including the Soo Locks reconstruction project;
- and, pushing for increased federal action of both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense to address PFAS contamination.
The governor said these are issues that should be important to anyone who lives in the Great Lakes region, and they should be important to national politicians too.
“This is going to be a litmus test for presidential candidates,” Whitmer said.
Members of the public peppered the governor with questions about her positions on the Enbridge-owned Line 5 pipeline that runs underwater in the Straits of Mackinac, renewable energy programs, climate change and more.
Whitmer said she’s wary of prolonged litigation surrounding Line 5, which is why she tried to negotiate with Enbridge about its plans to relocate the pipeline into an underground tunnel. But now she’s being sued by the energy transportation company to enforce a tunnel deal from the administration of her predecessor, former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Meanwhile, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has sued to end the company’s easement through Great Lakes waters, Whitmer said.
“I want to get that line out of the water at the earliest possible moment,” Whitmer said to cheers and applause.
The assumption is there will be a court ruling within the next several months, she said.
The governor also said a position on the controversial underwater pipeline did not make it into the Great Lakes 2020 presidential agenda because the goal was to “build a coalition of fellow governors in the Great Lakes and a number of them have different opinions on Line 5.”
Instead, they created an agenda all the governors might endorse, she said.
Kate Madigan of Traverse City, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, said she was pleased to hear Whitmer talk about having a daughter concerned with climate change, and asked how the worldwide climate crisis is part of her goals for the state.
Whitmer said she started by creating an office dedicated to climate change in the new state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy — formerly the Department of Environmental Quality. “It is focused on making decisions based on science and best practices,” she said.
Whitmer said she also directed state departments to immediately implement cleaner energy solutions to reduce the government’s carbon footprint.