I am about half way through my time here at MLUI, so I am going to do some back tracking to start.
MLUI, the Michigan Land Use Institute, was founded in 1995 by Keith Schneider (a Haverford alumni!), and has grown from 3 employees to around 16. There are three main areas where we work: Food and Farming, Thriving Communities, and Energy and Environment. I am working in “Energy and Environment” but hopefully will be able to write about the fascinating things the others are doing as well.
Right now the foci of “Energy and Environment” are promoting energy efficiency, working to encourage smart renewable energy plans for the state, fighting the Michigan “coal rush,” and generally being tuned into energy (and environment) policies and programs.
So what does this mean for me?
Well, it meant learning A LOT more about MI than ever before. Trying to navigate my way through the policies of a state I had never been to before July took some work – but I have been wrapping my head around it with the help of Jim and Brian (my bosses).
MI is in a unique place in terms of energy. The previous governor (Jennifer Granholm) really promoted expanding renewable energy and bringing more of it to the state. But unlike states where that might JUST mean encouraging installing wind and solar – in MI this means manufacturing and designing it. Having been hit hard by the recession and the decline in the automotive industry, MI had a lot of un-used potential. There is a great capacity for R&D, it is the largest producer of engineering degrees per capita than any other state, and there is a “heritage of production” here. AND it’s a swing state.
Many people, including the former governor, see this huge capacity as a reason to emphasize the renewable energy industry in the state: a chance to diversify the economy, create jobs, and help propel MI to the future.
Others are skeptical about putting too much emphasis on renewables and think that “forcing” the market toward “green” industries is not sustainable or helpful. The new governor, Governor Snyder, has reduced the corporate tax for ALL industries, and has eliminated many of the incentives and programs set up by Granholm. He has only been in office for 6 months, but his failure to show sincere interest in the renewable energy and related industry is a cause for concern amongst many.
And that’s where I find project number one. I have been working on trying to better understand the information available about Snyder’s reorganization of the government and about the programs created by Granholm. It is still unclear whether or not Snyder’s “economic gardening” approach will attract the same volume of renewable companies to the state and what this will mean for MI in the future. Right now I am trying to see what the actual businesses – the ones impacted by the changing tax rate and loss of funding for certain programs – think about the shifts. Within the next little while the research and interviews will turn into advocacy articles talking about the innovative, exciting work already being done by MI based renewable energy companies AND about the lessened focus on renewable energy in the new administration. I have never been a “journalist” before, let alone written advocacy articles – so this process has been delightfully NEW for me.
Check out our website: www.mlui.org/