Michigan Governor Granholm this week issued an Executive Directive (No. 2009-2) that effectively prevents any new coal plants from being permitted or built until a comprehensive analysis of alternatives, including use of renewable energy and energy efficiency, is performed. This strong and decisive executive action is justified under federal and state environmental laws and could prevent decades of unnecessary coal plant pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past few months, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center has worked with many other regional and state environmental organizations to oppose new coal plants and consider renewable energy alternatives (as well as energy efficiency) to meet the state’s electricity needs. Specifically, we provided detailed comment letters on the state’s obligation under the federal Clean Air Act to deny permits for new coal plants unless less polluting alternatives are fully considered. Further, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act gives the state the ability and the duty to protect its natural resources from the avoidable pollution and degradation of new coal-fired power plants. It seems that this work has paid off with the Governor’s Executive Directive.
The Executive Directive is firmly grounded in state and federal law. It specifically acknowledges the state’s duty under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act to prevent pollution when “there is a feasible and prudent alternative.” It further relies on the federal Clean Air Act, Section 165(a)(2), for the state’s authority to consider alternatives to proposed sources of air emissions when determining whether or not to grant a permit. While a prior 2006 Executive Directive projected that Michigan’s total electric generation requirements would grow at 1.3% annually until 2025, more recent data shows that electricity sales decreased 1.4% in Michigan in 2008, negating much of the claimed need for new coal-fired power in the state. The Executive Directive thus requires the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to consider whether new electricity generation is needed, and if so, if it can be meet with clean renewable sources (wind and solar) or demand-side management (energy efficiency and conservation) before permitting any new coal-fired power plants.
While I’ve been critical of Governor Granholm in the past, she has now taken bold and decisive action on one of the most important environmental issues facing the state. She has the law and science on her side and is using her executive power wisely. She is also positioning the state to be a leader in the national transition to clean energy. Just this week, Congressional leaders introduced the American Renewable Energy Act in the U.S. House to create a federal renewable electricity standard that would require the United States to draw a quarter of its electricity from clean sources by 2025. With the Governor’s Executive Directive, Michigan will be prepared to meet this challenge.