Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gov. Rick Snyder as a blank slate on conservation and natural resource issues: Let's paint a picture of Teddy Roosevelt or William Milliken, shall we?

Snyder: Blank slate

Sweeping changes to the political landscape effected by voters last week are not good news for environmental protection in Michigan or across the nation. The new Republican majorities and angry Tea Party-style anti-government pols in the Michigan and U.S. Houses will be less inclined to support the bold action we need on issues like climate, transportation, Great Lakes stewardship and scaling back huge subsidies for destructive and finite energy resources like oil.

But how will Michigan’s new governor, Rick Snyder, respond to the challenges of protecting natural resources in a bankrupt economy and amid a political climate where enforcement of environmental laws is  frowned upon?

TR: Speak softly, carry big stick
Will he be the man who excelled on conservation and water issues in a primary debate last spring, who served on the Nature Conservancy Board of Directors and who was endorsed in the primary election by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters?
Or will he be the man whose recent statements on cutting regulation and oversight are boilerplate anti-government talking points; the man who wants to fast-track dirty coal plants and whose platform includes a plan to grease the skids for huge polluting factory farms owned by out-of-staters at the expense of small, locally-owned farms?

No one knows, of course. But Great Lakes environmentalist, author and historian Dave Dempsey wrote perhaps the best analysis of the Rick Snyder question mark here.

In the meantime, every word Snyder utters will be magnified and overanalyzed and probably blown out of proportion. Every appointment he makes – especially for key environmental posts like director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, will be scrutinized and dissected and agonized about.

But for the moment….he’s a blank slate. And we can always imagine that he will become the kind of Republican environmental champion that are so few and far between these days.

There's precedent. Dearth of environmental backbone hasn’t always been so prevalent in the GOP. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was a crusader for conservation and established our national parks system against hostile foes in his own party. Even President Ronald Reagan, the poster child for conservative principles, signed tough tailpipe emissions rules as governor of California, later stating: "I'm proud of having been one of the first to recognize that states and the federal government have a duty to protect our natural resources from the damaging effects of pollution that can accompany industrial development." Yeah, Ronald Reagan.

In Michigan, Republican Gov. William G. Milliken stayed true to his GOP principles while protecting the state’s resources. He helped establish Michigan’s pioneering “Bottle Bill” deposit on beverage containers. During his tenure he was considered a moderate Republican. In today’s climate there is no room for moderates. Right Wing bloggers – most of them too young to remember Milliken or moderate politics at all, vilify him as a liberal traitor.

Many Republicans believe conservative principles aren’t synonymous with abandoning environmental protection. They continue to keep the faith through organizations like Republicans for Environmental Protection. The group’s president, Rob Sisson is a proud Michigander and the former mayor of Sturgis.

So we'll see what the next couple years bring with Governor Snyder and a new legislature. It's gonna be interesting either way.


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