September 12, 2023
Environmental, Infrastructure, and Climate Change Challenges and Opportunities
Infrastructure, environment, and climate are interconnected and interdependent systems. Michigan has multiple challenges involved with rebuilding and maintaining infrastructure, as well as remediating and protecting the environment. Several of these challenges are amplified by climate change.
Environment Paper Highlights
- Michigan’s environment and natural amenities could be a core asset to attract new residents and investments. Michigan’s water resources, in particular, are unmatched by any other state. Leveraging these assets will require increased attention to environmental protection and related human health impacts.
- It is very difficult to develop a comprehensive assessment of environmental quality In Michigan or elsewhere. The complex nature of environmental systems and related data precludes confident assessment of trends and meaningful comparisons to other states. However, it is clear that Michigan has many environmental issues that negatively impact ecosystems and human health.
- Air quality in Michigan has drastically improved in the decades since the adoption of the federal Clean Air Act. Most Michigan counties are currently in compliance with federal air quality standards. However, many historical urban neighborhoods are frequently subjected to toxic emissions, impacting quality-of-life and imposing myriad health issues.
- By most measures, water quality in Michigan is better than it has been in over a century. However, Michigan’s industrial legacy has left the state with hundreds of contaminated sites that continue to leach pollution into groundwater and surface waters. An additional concern is nutrient pollution from industrial farming operations, which can rapidly degrade water quality and promote the growth of toxic blue-green algae.
- Light pollution and noise pollution are underrated detriments to environmental and human health. State policy related to these issues is practically non-existent.
- Invasive species have already caused irreversible ecological damage in Michigan, such as sea lampreys, zebra mussels, and Dutch elm disease. Dozens more invasive species are proliferating across the state, imposing complex changes to the environment that reduce species diversity, impose economic costs, and even threaten human health. Most management programs are local and volunteer-based. Increased state coordination and resources would provide substantial benefits for residents’ quality of life and help maintain Michigan’s natural beauty.
- Many urban neighborhoods near industrial facilities are subject to multiple environmental stressors: air, water, noise, and light pollution, as well as invasive species. In some cases, none of these issues independently require regulatory remediation responses, but the culmination of pollutants imposes extremely detrimental consequences to people living in these neighborhoods. Such areas have been referred to as “sacrifice zones,” as the health and well-being of the residents have been sacrificed for perceived economic benefit. These areas could become centers of urban renewal and economic development, but only if the local environment is remediated and protected such that living there does not make people ill.
Infrastructure Paper Highlights
- Many of Michigan’s infrastructure funding problems relate to the state’s embrace of suburban ‘sprawl’ style development in an era of marginal population growth. As cities depopulated and suburbs expanded, Michigan residents are now responsible for more infrastructure per person than in previous decades.
- Estimations of Michigan’s transportation ‘revenue gap’ are substantial with no clear solutions. Michigan’s approach to transportation funding and asset management deserves a full, independent review.
- The condition of Michigan’s water infrastructure is generally accepted to be poor, but is largely unknown. Water infrastructure is underground, and much of it was installed before digital record keeping, making condition assessment costly and difficult.
- It will be a substantial challenge to transition to a modern, renewables-based power grid while maintaining affordability and improving reliability.
- Michigan is relatively well-served by various broadband services, but challenges remain with affordability, reliability, and equity.
- New technologies and approaches provide opportunities to better and more coherently manage Michigan’s infrastructure systems for broad public benefit.
- Many of the challenges in maintaining Michigan’s infrastructure in good repair are the result of decades of uncoordinated policies emphasizing short-term goals. Assuring fiscally sustainable infrastructure systems across the state will require decades of concerned effort and long-term strategic planning.
Climate Change Paper Highlights
- Climate change due to human emission of greenhouse gases is an observable phenomenon that has already impacted Michigan’s climate and weather. Michigan is getting warmer, particularly in winter and spring months. Additionally, Michigan is experiencing more precipitation (rain and snow), much of this coming in increasingly powerful and destructive storms.
- Michigan, the U.S., and most advanced nations have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in recent decades, largely from substituting natural gas for coal in power generation, as well as adoption of renewable energy such as wind and solar. However, global emissions of greenhouse gases are at record high levels and are likely to increase in the coming years as developing nations grow their economies.
- Michigan has recently adopted the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which aspires to achieve statewide “carbon neutrality” by 2050 to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, as a global phenomenon, it is not possible for Michigan to measurably mitigate climate change through state-level emissions-reduction policies.
- As Michigan pursues the laudable goal of carbon emissions reduction, policymakers must also prepare for the inevitable impacts of continuing climate change. Approaches should emphasize climate resilience and adaptation to put Michigan in the best position to build healthy communities and achieve economic sustainability in a changing world.